Each holiday season, we find ourselves taking part in traditions - perhaps it's the way you decorate the tree, certain Christmas movies you "have to" watch, or a certain type of cookie you bake. Traditions sometimes become so ingrained in the routine of the holidays that we may not even remember why we're taking part in them, but they really are important. Traditions connect us to family and friends and also with the past, by giving a sense of continuity from year to year and even between generations. They also provide stability, for no matter what may happen or change from year to year, traditions remain constant. Lastly, traditions provide a sense of identity or uniqueness, because no two family's are exactly the same.

Traditions create memories and generate stories that are treasured by all who partake. With that said, it's also important that not everything your family does around the holidays becomes a tradition because that will leave you completely overwhelmed and your calendar full. So, how should you determine what to preserve and what to toss? Here are some guidelines to help you streamline your holiday traditions and capitalize on the best ones that are truly special.

1. Realize that traditions should never be forced. If you feel obligated or begrudgingly go about it, think about revising or eliminating it from your holiday schedule. It's not worth hanging on to if you don't find value in it.

2. Choose activities that are helpful. Serving others at the holidays is a great way to remember the reason for the season and have valuable family time. Your local community center or church will be able to provide you with a number of worthwhile volunteer opportunities, especially around the holidays.

3. Select traditions that are fun! This is key. If traditions don't provide enjoyment and ease stress, they're bound to feel like an obligation. Think about what you and your family truly enjoy and make sure your activities align with your preferences.

4. Keep it simple. Think about the traditions that meant the most to you during your childhood. Was it reading "The Night Before Christmas"? Carolling? Or baking cookies? All these activities are uncomplicated and easily reproducible year to year. Traditions need not be elaborate to be treasured.

5. Include Everyone! For a tradition to be truly special, it should include everyone and be valued by everyone as well. If one person begrudgingly goes to "The Nutcracker Ballet" every year, maybe think about making it optional or an every-other-year activity.

Are you looking for some new ideas to get in the holiday spirit? Here are some of my favorite holiday traditions for December:

-Watching Christmas specials - "Charlie Brown Christmas" & "Garfield's Christmas" are both great!

-Christmas Ride - pack the family into the car and take a drive around to look at holiday decorations.

- Baking Christmas cookies - this is a great way to get the kids involved and also make gifts for friends and relatives.

- Reading Christmas stories - it just wouldn't be Christmas without a retelling of the "The Night Before Christmas".

-Christmas Movies - let everyone in the family select one or two that they like best and make a point to watch a few each weekend before Christmas. (Some oldies but goodies are "Christmas in Connecticut", "It's a Wonderful Life", "White Christmas", and "The Bishop's Wife".)

- Carolling - Singing carols is a great way to celebrate the holidays and spread Christmas spirit. Whether you bundle up and carol door-to-door or invite friends and family over for some piano-side singing, it's bound to leave you feeling very "Christmasy".

Traditions give a sense of importance to our holidays. It's so easy to get caught up in holiday stress with shopping and decorating and hosting parties. But traditions are a great way to remember the real reason for the holiday season by creating a sense of continuity, comfort, and security for everyone.

For more information about Cailen Ascher Design or my upcoming book, Well-Designed Living, visit or email