Christmas Eve: Lessons on Building Traditions and Culture

If you love fish, you’d love my family’s, meatless, Italian, Christmas Eve tradition: The Feast of the Seven Fishes, featuring seven or more seafood dishes. In the form of soups, apps, and entrees, you’ll find everything from shrimp to clams to calamari to baccalà…you name it, it’s there.

The smell of fish, pasta, cookies and zeppoles cooking. Guests’ footsteps as they come up the stairs to our home. The greetings, and my dad immediately pouring a drink. The wine we toasted and enjoyed together. The gifts we opened one at time at midnight. The look on everyone’s faces when, for a moment, all their problems and troubles no longer mattered.

Christmas Eve holds a special place in my heart because of the traditional value it holds in my family. Every Christmas Eve, you can find us all together, eating, drinking, and being merry.

Let’s face it: Italians have mastered the art of Christmas Eve – filled it to the brim with family, food, wine and rich conversations. Holiday cultures, recipes, and activities passed down and enjoyed for generations. It’s also a great place for anyone who wants a lesson in creating a strong team bound by trust, tradition and a culture of success.

My mom and dad perfected Christmas Eve, and along the way, without even realizing it, I learned values I would use for the rest of my life.

The traditions we experienced over and over were specific, purposeful, and intentional. These rituals often told a story, and on a macro level, taught us about family and gave us insights into creating strong culture.

Research consistently finds that teams that engage in frequent traditions at the same time, provide face-to-face interaction with each other, give people the opportunity to know and build trust, and create a strong team culture that instills the feeling of being a part of something unique and special.

Tradition teaches, reinforces values, and adds to each teammate’s personal identity. It was at Christmas Eve my family all got to sit 16-24 strong and relate to each other.

Why is teamwork important?

  • A team rich in tradition and culture provides benefits for the individual, the business, and community: when someone is a contributing member of a team, he/she feels appreciated and valued, happy and content.
  • Everyone had a role at our Christmas Eve, and if you didn’t, you were given one and held accountable to complete it. This provided achievement and development.
  • Teamwork delivers higher productivity in business. Healthy teams mean engaged employees and a vibrant workplace culture. They also mean people interact more, which helps work get done.

Even recognition for helping to set the table and put out the appetizers can improve someone’s morale and increase efficiency.

We were family and that team was job #1.

Teams gain a tremendous boost by having people contributing their time and energy to the greater good through community events, adding to build a solid culture and supportive infrastructure.
As a family we all felt and learned the value of community. My mom cooked tons of dishes and cookies just to give away to others. My dad would invite everyone and anyone to stop over the house! Friends and even strangers would drop by all throughout the night. Even neighborhood Santa Claus.

So, the simple steps I learned from Christmas Eve that will create strong teams and build a culture of success are:

  1. Make sure everyone knows their role.
    Divide up the work and give people tasks based on their strengths, what they love to do, and can succeed at…it’s crucial to create small wins. We all had tasks throughout Christmas Eve, but the results belong to Mom and Dad.
  2. Be available to aid and course correct each person along the way.
    Being there ensures and helps their confidence. Heck, I was taught and corrected several times how to set a formal table and make zepoles and an antipasto. Inspiration, expertise and support are key to strong cultures.
  3. Work out loud.
    Create small milestones. Getting quick, informal updates on where they’re at, how they’re doing, can be a game changer to keeping people on track and engaged. I will never forget how mom always checked in to make sure we did things to our best efforts. Communication is key. Openly communicate, coach, correct, and celebrate.
  4. When people get side tracked, rally them to a common goal.
    If you want to be a team with strong culture, you must share a common goal. What is the grand goal you’re striving for? How does each person’s contribution achieve the next milestone? Where does each teammate’s contribution fit in? Knowing your work matters will build the foundation for tradition and culture.
  5. Take time to say ‘thanks’ for small, specific contributions to the team effort.
    And when you do achieve a milestone towards your goal, take time to celebrate together.
  6. Finally Celebrate together when it’s time.
    Christmas Eve had such an impact on me, and I yearn for a full family to do it over again. We all still celebrate the best of those traditions in our own way, somewhere in the world, but I can’t say I don’t miss the togetherness. One thing’s for sure, wherever we are, we make sure to keep the richness of the traditions, the building blocks of who we have become, alive.

Well, it’s time to begin the planning for our Holiday…like I said, planning ensures happy and engaged individuals contributing to amazing efforts and traditions that will last a lifetime.

Apply these to your team, and watch them grow, sparkle and succeed.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Or as we say in Italian “Buon Natale!”

-Jerry

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