Why it's essential to celebrate holidays with family

When teaching, I always assigned the traditional holiday essay: "what I'm thankful for." Invariably, students from preschool to adult responded "family." That says something about our priorities. Over everything, loved ones matter most. That's why it's important, nay crucial, to celebrate the holidays as a family as much as possible.

* Kids need family time. No matter how much kids protest, they need family. Kids don't often realize this until they're older, though. My grown-and-gone kids say they miss little family holiday rituals most: baking, writing the annual family letter, delivering homemade cookies to neighbors.

* Bonding takes time. The debate over quality time versus quantity time is a false dichotomy. Both are essential. Most of life is lived in the little moments. Making happy, healthy memories doesn't require non-stop entertainment. It's time spent together that counts. Capitalize on teachable moments. Seize opportunities to connect.

* Memories sustain in difficulty. Spending time together builds "immunity" to adversity. We've weathered scary holiday experiences like death, fire, miscarriage, emergency surgery, I believe, because of our strong family connection.

* Bonding happens even in imperfection. Holidays aren't all tinsel and gingerbread. Kids act naughty and families bicker; we're human. One son spent the entire Christmas pageant glaring at me and angrily denuding the church poinsettias, because I'd made him be a shepherd when he wanted to be a Magi. In retrospect, those silly quarrels make hilarious stories.

* What goes around comes around. Harry Chapin's song "Cats in the Cradle" is more than just poignant; it's prophetic. Kids whose parents didn't make time for them, in turn don't make time for their parents. Kids learn not to rely on family and get needs met elsewhere (often in unsafe ways). Happily, the reverse is also true. Our kids have each requested no gifts this year, in lieu of spending the holiday together. We're each taking what we'd spend and chipping in to fly to Louisiana, so we can all be with our oldest daughter.

* Kids grow and fly the nest quickly. In the throes of parenting, the trials may seem endless. But they aren't. Spend the holidays as a family and enjoy childhood (yes, even the teen years) while they last. Those happy memories will make the empty nest easier to bear.