Traditions: Our Values in Action

by Stephen Abbott on 12/04/2012

This is the time of year when family traditions really start to kick in. The freedom and flexibility of summer is long gone, and as we settle back into a routine wrapped around school days, our traditions—the rituals of food, frolicking and formality that define our family—become little seasonal milestones.

The word “tradition”, from the Latin tradere, literally means to hand over, to give for safekeeping. As a dad, that is exactly what I am trying to do.

We share our family values through the way we honor our traditions.

Some traditions are important beyond our family. We honor the culture of our community with ceremonies and observances that have been practiced for generations. We participate because we belong; we belong because we participate.

Some traditions are deeply personal. We re-live first dates walking in the autumn leaves; we harvest an orchard, bake pies and indulge our taste buds; we snuggle in to watch a movie where every line and song is as familiar as our best friend.

Some traditions simply capture a moment in our own special way. A new outfit for the first day of school; a special recipe for the bake sale; something borrowed, something new; a silly rite of passage ritual between generations.

With a growing family, I am keenly aware of the need to sustain our traditions. If a tradition slips away—if we forget or neglect to give it importance—I feel I’ve let my family down.

As children, we don’t get the full meaning of traditions. We don’t appreciate the extra effort adults put into making sure we shared a familiar experience; we don’t grasp the full story nor the history behind the tradition; we don’t connect the activity to the ritual…to the family…to the love. Traditions, to a child, are just the life we know. It’s only upon reflection that we uncover the meaning of traditions—our values, our community and our history neatly packed into familiar moments.

It’s my responsibility to discover and explore the experiences that are worthy of safekeeping for our family.

Blending family traditions takes a little creativity, especially when family gender roles are also blending in unconventional ways. We’ve worked hard to continue some traditions, had surprisingly honest conversations about failing traditions (“I thought you loved brussel sprouts.” “I only eat them because I thought you loved making them.”), and even tried to build new traditions around new passions.

We’ve tried to capture the meaning and value of important traditions without being confined to the activity. Blending traditions—re-imagining activities based on values—is about building a family that’s both rooted and growing.

When I was a kid, we would go ice-skating on Christmas Day. After the gift-wrapped chaos of the morning, and once the turkey was comfortably stuffed and roasting, we’d grab our skates and head out to a local lake for our traditional skate together. Other families were there, too, so there was always a subtle but genuinely festive atmosphere. A couple hours later we’d return home with frosty noses and warm up with hot chocolate. My parents had hot chocolate (wink) in their mugs, too. I loved this tradition.

Today, with my own family, we honor this simple tradition in our own way.

Our ponds don’t freeze in the winter. Often, we’re dreaming of a wet Christmas. But we can still head outside and walk together, enjoying the crisp winter air, strolling along the beach wall and sharing the genuinely festive atmosphere with other families. It’s the time together, a break from the chaos of Christmas, that holds value. And of course, we still come home to hot chocolate. Only this time, it’s mine that has a little ‘wink’ added.

I can see the look in my parents’ eyes when they see that we are continuing a tradition of togetherness—a value worth safekeeping—that I learned from them. It’s their legacy that’s taking root.

With our increasingly diverse and hectic communities,

  • What traditions are important to you?
  • Have you evolved an old tradition, either to make it more personal or more modern?
  • Have you discovered a new ritual or festivity that you’ve adopted as your own?
  • How have you blended traditions from both sides of your family?


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