The Family Tradition That Makes My Holiday Complete, According to 14 Dads

As a parent, it's your job to construct — and sustain — family traditions. Here, 14 dads, from Super Bowl-winning coaches to regular Joes, discuss the traditions they've started over the years.

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Say what you will about Interstellar, Christopher Nolan’s high-concept sci-fi story in which Matthew McConaughey searches for inhabitable planets because the earth is a scorched wasteland, but it has one of the most insightful comments about parenting. At one point during the film, McConaughey’s Cooper, a single father of two who’s about to leave his children — perhaps forever — remarks: “We’re just here to make memories for our kids. We are the ghosts of our children’s future.” In other words, one of the main jobs of a parent is to construct traditions your children will remember.

Is it a bit schlocky? Sure. But it’s nonetheless a poignant notion, one that’s very apparent than during this holiday season, the Super Bowl of memory making. Yes, the high-stakes have to do with pop culture’s spit-shined image of seasonal merriment. But it’s also because this time of year presents a big opportunity to do forge family traditions. Some of these traditions happen by accident; others will be sustained through a lot of effort. They can be major events or small occurrences. Either way, they matter. So, to give you some tradition inspiration, we spoke to a handful of fathers, from Superbowl winning NFL coaches to regular Joes, about the holiday traditions they started with their families in hopes they’ll inspire your own.

Raffles and Horseback Riding

“We invite friends of all ages to our house and have a large raffle of gifts where the kids are Santa Boy and Santa Girl giving the gifts away. We also go to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and ride horses in the snow (if there is any).”

Juan Devis, Los Angeles, Chief Creative Officer at KCET

A Sledding Showdown

“I organize a giant sledding day in New Hampshire and have all the kids and aunts and uncles young and old go sledding.” – Ryan Shorthill, San Diego, CEO and Founder of Positive Adventures

Santa Inspections

“Before coming downstairs Christmas morning, all us kids had to line up on the stairs. Dad told us we had to wait while he went downstairs to check to ‘make sure that Santa came last night’. He would disappear downstairs for a while then would return telling us that indeed Santa had come, and that we could proceed downstairs to claim our toys. Now that I’m a Dad, and I do the same thing, I know that he was just buying some time to start the coffee machine and get the beer bottles cleaned up for the pictures.” – Alex Ridings, Princeton, New Jersey, Chief Financial Officer at Rainforest Distribution

Tree Shopping

“I come from a big Italian family. We love food and have a ton of traditions around food during the holidays. Now that I’m a father (of a 9-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son), the holiday tradition that I look forward to most is going to pick out a real tree and see Santa at Dudeck’s Pine Country with my wife, Julie, and the kids. Seeing the excitement on my daughter’s face as we pull up and find ‘the one’ is priceless, and seeing how she includes her little bro, who has a number of special needs that leave him unable to walk, talk, or eat orally, is truly amazing every time. She makes sure to talk to him about the tree we are picking and tells Santa what her brother wants as well. In my eyes, it’s hard to top traditions and moments like that.” – Tony Bombacino, Co-Founder of Real Food Blends

Giving Back in a Big Way

“During the holidays, my daughter Keli and I do hospital visits with my nonprofit the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation to families tackling the unthinkable so that they know we’re there to support them.” – Tom Coughlin, former Super Bowl-winning NFL coach and current Jacksonville Jaguars Executive VP of Football Operations

A Football Game For the Whole Family

“My family of fathers has one long-standing tradition that I couldn’t live without. My grandfather and father used to toss a football around in the backyard. That has thankfully carried over to my dad, my two brothers, and I playing football together before dinner. Now that my brothers and I have five sons between us, all over 7, we have enough for a full-on game of four-on-four. It’s something that we all look forward to and cherish every year. An unmistakable highlight of the holiday season.” – Caleb Backe, Marketing Manager for Maple Holistics

Yuletide Tidying

“I take down all the decorations when I go out for boxing day shopping so that my life is easier. I clean the house from top to bottom with the kids, which makes them realize cleaning and tidying is not ‘women’s work.’” – Mark McVanel, Ontario, Canada, teacher

A “Dad Rules” Day At Disney

“Each year, I take my two girls and we spend the day at Disney Springs (mom stays at home). We have dad rules: We must get up early. We are always the first ones there. We eat an early lunch. We Christmas shop for mom and secretly buy a Christmas decoration that we display in the house and see how long it takes her to notice. We then see a movie.” – John Crossman, Florida, Realtor

Painting a Memory

“I paint a painting for my kids for the holidays. It is based on their interests or the time we spent together that left a memory.” – Scott Deuty; Evergreen, Colorado; Fine Artist

An Australian Dinner for Foster Kids

“The night before Christmas Eve is a special day of joy for us. Each December 23, my Australia-born wife cooks a very Australian style dinner for our family. Many years, we are joined by a number of foster children from foster care who have lived in our home and with our family. One year, we had 22 children eating with us.” John DeGarmo, Foster Care Consultant, who has been a father more than 50 times over to biological, foster, and adoptive children.

Feasting on Seven Fishes Before Raising Funds

“This is our seventh year doing the Italian tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes for Boston Children’s Hospital to raise money for sick kids. Each year my girls put on a performance revolving around song and dance. They work the door charging the adults admissions and they sell tickets for a raffle. They put on their prettiest dresses and host all the kids at the party to a Christmas movie in the home theater.” – Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com

A Christmas Morning Movie

“I’m a father of a 6-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. Every Christmas Eve morning, my son and I go to see the newest Star Wars or superhero movie.” – Jim Hastings, Marketing Copywriter for The Powerline Group

A Month-Long Holiday Routine

“We get into the holiday spirit nice and early every year. The day after Black Friday, my kids and I go to a Christmas tree farm and cut down our own the old-fashioned way. Then, we put it up that night, listening to the same album every year as we do so — Handel’s The Messiah, which is what my father used to make us listen to. I hated it when I was a kid, but now I love the tradition. Also, every day of December, we gather in the morning and put a new ornament on the advent tree. It’s nice to have that daily routine.” — Justin Pollack, father of two, Georgia, electrician

Fried Bologna Sandwiches

“We make sure to do our share of charitable acts throughout the month of December. During the weekends, we volunteer at soup kitchens and at our church. Other than that, we have our Christmas Eve dinner. One year I burned our actual dinner, so we ate fried bologna sandwiches with Ruffles chips because that’s all we had. Ever since, that’s been our silly little tradition. We eat the sandwiches while watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story. My kids are now almost 18 and we all still do it. Last year, my son’s girlfriend joined us for it. It’s funny how it stuck.” — Jerome L., Dallas, stay-at-home dad

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