Wednesday, February 24, 2010

CELEBRATING TRADITIONS: Our Children's Birthright

Nephew Dan Helfenberger and grandson Jacob Black. Family campout at Bumping Lake Campground, WA

Even in our past-paced world, many families maintain close and loving relationships. Their members live near each other, respond when needed, and socialize together. Other families, due to a variety of reasons, cannot be so close, but still manage to share their lives whenever possible.

Family traditions--the yearly or regular celebration and sharing of personal events-- greatly nurture such closeness. Whether they involve holidays, reunions, or sports, these ritual gatherings not only strengthen families, but also provide life-long memories.

Our grown children now have children of their own. Among the joys of being a grandparent is watching our children pass along the "customs" they enjoyed as kids.
One favorite is sharing ghost stories which their father would tell during family campouts. Years later, our son recited the same eerie tales at a campout. As one of his stories unfolded to ghastly delight, I watched with enchantment as our little granddaughter inched closer to him. The grandchildren have outgrown ghost stories, but not the campouts–they’re still a yearly favorite.

Our campouts began many years ago, starting out with our children, then expanding as they married and had children of their own. Now we include extended relatives and even relatives-to-be. The campouts have traditions of their own–special nights around a crackling campfire, roasting marshmallows and making ‘smores.

Holidays provide a wealth of family traditions. Children love to take part in rituals that commemorate religious, seasonal, or historical occasions. By adhering to certain procedures prescribed for each, precious memories are woven into their sense of belonging.

When I was young, our Christmas stockings consisted of one sock from a new pair of knee-high stockings stuffed with nuts, candy, and small gifts. I continued this tradition with our children and now, our grandchildren. This year we stuffed 13 pairs of Christmas Stockings. Many family members have told us how special these “lumpy socks” are to them and how they look forward to this tradition.

Food is another important part of family celebrations. My daughters, and sometimes granddaughters, too, and I prepare for Christmas by gathering on a chosen day and baking dozens of cookies and other delights. We're always open to trying new recipes, but tradition mandates that old favorites appear on the cookie tray. Each of us prepares cookie trays to give as gifts. For years, in whatever neighborhood my husband and I have lived, we make our rounds to our neighbors, distributing colorful plates of Christmas cookies.

Remember, not every event has to be perfect. Let other people help and add their touch. Personal involvement helps solidify traditions. Failures and challenges are a way of life–it’s how we handle them that can become opportunities for growth. Try to keep a sense of humor and a positive attitude. Who knows, maybe a deviation from the norm will pave the way toward a new tradition.

You don’t have to have a holiday in order to form a tradition. Even the simple tradition of the family eating dinner together is important. Eating together wasn't even an issue when I was growing up--to do otherwise hadn't occurred to us. But in today's on-the-go world of two working parents and conflicting schedules, it's a practice that should be revived more than occasionally. Mealtime is a good time to make family connections.

Each summer, our grandchildren, one at a time, have spent a few days with us. The visit allows us to "catch up" with each grandchild and gives that child an opportunity to soak up lots of individual love and attention. Some of our grandchildren are now on their own and it is no longer possible to carry on the tradition, but the memories remain.

Many traditions, like respect for thrift, are passed down. My husband can fix almost anything, often using materials from other discards that he has carefully dismantled and stored, as his father did before him. Mending clothes, recycling articles among siblings--these and other traditions have proven valuable to our family over the years. These practices have often freed up funds that otherwise wouldn’t be available.

Adolescents sometimes scorn or avoid the family events they loved as little children. My advice: Be patient and allow them to actively make the choice whether to participate. This ambivalence may go on for years, but more often than not, they will return to tradition when they have families of their own.

It's fun hearing our children and grandchildren recall good times from their childhood. Now, when I watch these same traditions being recreated within their own families, it is particularly gratifying. Good times, family times, are important. The magic of tradition is that it not only makes for fun and family enrichment in the present, it also creates strong bonds for future generations.


Lani said...

Hi Mary,

I agree!

Thank you for these wonderful reminders to practice our family traditions.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reliving our traditions by reading this blog. Fabulous subject!