Article and Photos by Pam Vukelic

One of the great joys of retirement, I’ve recently learned, is that I have more time to spend with my grandchildren. There is nothing quite as satisfying as doing things with them. With the holiday season approaching, it is a good time to consider the value of establishing traditions.

Traditions help form links between generations as grandparents take on the roles of historian and mentor. Some traditions link us to our ethnic backgrounds, and some have the purpose of celebration. They are a means of sharing family values.

I have fond memories of being the errand girl for my household during the Christmas season. My parents worked jointly on projects to give to friends each year. It might have been a lantern, a candle holder, or an ornament, probably learned by my mom from her homemakers’ club. My folks created them together, and I had the privilege of delivering them.

This evolved into a similar tradition for our son, Reed, and his Grandpa Firemann. For many years they worked together to create a project in Grandpa’s woodworking shop. They were simple at the beginning (i.e., a ceramic tile framed in wood to create a trivet) and got progressively more difficult as the years went by. They replicated each year’s item for delivery to grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Reed values the skills he learned and feels fortunate to have spent that time with his grandpa. The idea that it is more fun to give than to receive was quickly learned and appreciated.

When I was very young I was invited to Mrs. Christianson’s home, three houses down the street. They were a childless family. She taught me how to make Norwegian woven heart baskets. I still have the baskets I made with her, though the blue construction paper has grayed and the aluminum foil has frayed. Since then our family has made hundreds of these using them for wedding favors, for hanging on the bottles of wine Jim makes, for holding small gifts on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Easter, and, of course, for Christmas tree decorations. I taught dozens of students how to make them when we discussed the value of traditions in my parenting, family living, and child development classes.

Many families prepare traditional foods when families gather for the holidays. Lefse is much more easily done as a family project, although, history shows it might get eaten nearly as quickly as it is grilled. (Note: check last month’s IW magazine for a wonderful lefse recipe.) Some families make tamales; and no doubt strudel, placinda, and fleishkuekle are prepared when families gather. Decorating sugar cookies has been another favorite activity in our family as we could count on Jim’s mom to deliver ice cream buckets full of the cookies she baked for all the grandchildren. Children who help with cooking and baking learn many skills.

Playing games around the kitchen table is a favorite pastime in our family. Many raucous games of Spoons ended with everyone out of their chairs. It doesn’t matter the time of year, when we gather as a family, this is a tradition. We’ve recently learned the game of Sevens, another card game that can be played by all ages. Many skills are acquired through game playing—fair play, being a good loser, taking turns, and strategic thinking. Compare the value of this activity to queuing up a movie and sitting on couches with phones in hand.

The importance of reading to children cannot be over-emphasized. For many years my sister-in-law, Linda, spearheaded the reading of “Why Michael Whispered” as part of Christmas Eve festivities. As grandchildren grew older they became the reader and nativity costumes were improvised for the other grandchildren to play the various roles. This year, with all our grandchildren at our house, among the books we will read will be “The Gingerbread Man,” followed, of course, by decorating gingerbread boy cookies. I’ve made a card game of the characters in the book—the little old woman, the little old man, the butcher, and all the others, to expand the activity for the little ones. If you’re as ambitious as my dear friend and neighbor Lois, create “lumber” for gingerbread houses, a task she has already completed for this year’s village.

Many online resources provide ideas for fun activities to adopt. I like and Find a woven heart basket pattern and instructions at Instructions for Spoons are at, and learn how to play Sevens at