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Tradition is the glue that holds the family together. The sense of history and belonging that repeated acts can generate are important in building family ties.

The word itself comes from the Latin word "tradere," which means "to hand over." Traditions hand over memories and knowledge from one generation to another, building the bonds of a common heritage. They provide structure to family life and heighten the significance of events and emotions.And while this should be a year-round concern, traditions seem to take on special flavor at Christmastime.

Tradition gives Christmas its rich, deep color, its warming memories, its satisfying aftertaste, says Lasley F. Gober, author of "Christmas Lovers Handbook" (Better Way Books, $14.95). "The traditions of Christmas are what heighten our anticipation and bring our family and friends together."

We all have an important need for celebration, says Elizabeth Berg, author of "Family Traditions: Celebrations for Holidays and Everyday" (Reader's Digest, $12.95). Celebration, she says, "lifts days away from other days, gives us something to look forward to, makes a formal statement that life is full of things to be grateful for."

And traditions are an important part of celebrations. Anything that a family enjoys doing together can become a family tradition, says Berg. Traditions can be something that "everyone does" - such as decorating a tree and giving gifts - or they can be things that you put your own spin on, that are meaningful to your family.

According to a survey conducted by Hallmark, mothers are the main carriers of holiday traditions. "Moms are the ones who most often shape how a family celebrates Christmas - far and away the most popular holiday among mothers," says Linda Collier, Hallmark consultant. "Christmas is special to moms because it gives them an opportunity to share family traditions with their children and others. Traditions, in their eyes, are the greatest gifts they can give their children at Christmas. Traditions give them a chance to give a little bit of themselves to their children, and their children's children, in a way that evokes good feelings and fond memories."

On the Hallmark survey, families defined traditions as activities they did at Christmas year after year and that were missed if they did not take place for some reason. Based on that definition, those surveyed said that the eight most common traditions they followed were: decorating the tree, baking holiday goodies, hosting a family get-together, having Christmas dinner, exchanging gifts, attending church, decorating the home and sending Christmas cards.

According to the survey:

- More than 80 percent of all American families buy and decorate a Christmas tree.

- American families typically wrap anywhere from 20 to 60 Christmas presents.

- More than one-third of American families entertain a Christmas, hosting get-togethers that include relatives and friends as guests.

But, says Berg, anything that the family enjoys doing together can become a cause for celebration and, in turn, a family tradition. "There's no mystery to it. You do something, you all like it, and so you do it again. You have now created a new family tradition."

On the other hand, traditions should not be continued just for tradition's sake. Don't do things just because you've always done them. Do them because they are fun and meaningful for your family. You may need to stop and evaluate your celebration from time to time to be sure you are getting the most glitter from your tinsel, so to speak.

As Shakespeare asked, "Hath not old custom made this life more sweet?"