Sharing Holiday Traditions with Children
Sharing Holiday Traditions with Children

By the Rev. Thomas A. Simonds, SJ, EdD
Associate Professor of Education
College of Arts and Sciences

How do you celebrate the holidays? Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. We each have our favorite holidays and our cherished traditions for celebrating each one. But when you sit down and start thinking about holidays and their meaning, you can learn a great deal that is new.

For example, some holidays are religious, such as All Saints’ Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Passover and Easter. Other holidays are related to national remembrances and commemorations, such as Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day. Some holidays, such as Labor Day and Thanksgiving Day, have both national and religious significance.   

So our nation and our religions give us reasons to remember and to celebrate. But are we teaching our children why we celebrate our holidays? When we think about how we celebrate holidays, it is important to remember that the origin of the word holiday is from the Old English hāligdæg or “holy day.”

Celebrating Thanksgiving

So let’s consider how we might celebrate Thanksgiving Day. There are many ways to celebrate the fourth Thursday in November. I did an online search for Thanksgiving Day, and here are the options that came up on my computer screen: 

  • Thanksgiving Day dinner
  • Thanksgiving Day run
  • Thanksgiving Day 5k
  • Thanksgiving Day buffet
  • Thanksgiving Day parade
  • Thanksgiving Day prayer
  • Thanksgiving Day games
  • Thanksgiving Day sales

Of the eight terms that were found in my web search, only one has explicit religious significance, and this one thing, prayer, can be easily set aside in favor of the other seven activities. So if the religious meaning of Thanksgiving Day and other holidays is important to you, the children around you need to experience that importance through your actions and through engaging in religious activities themselves.


If you need some help thinking about how to share the religious significance of holidays with children, I would suggest these resources.

From our National Archives:

  • President Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

From the National Catholic Educational Association:

  • Advent and Christmas Reflections: Ideas for Teaching the Catholic Faith in the Home, School, and Parish
  • 500 Plus Ways to Teach Prayer for Students of All Ages
  • A Working Reading List for Catholic School Students: Early Childhood—Grade 2

From Paraclete Press:

  • The First Christmas Tree
  • The Story of the Other Wise Man
  • O Christmas Three

If the religious significance of particular holidays is of importance to you and your family, consider how you can create a time and a space for your religious faith to be practiced. At Creighton, we talk a great deal about finding God in all things, and God is especially easy to find on holi-days if we intentionally take the time to look.