Monday, December 17, 2007


I'm sure sociologist have a word for it but do you come a family that values traditions? Do you make concerted efforts to ensure your family follows what has been passed down through the generations?

I watched a movie the other night called the Namesake. A family from Calcutta has moved to Boston. The story is their struggle to maintain those family traditions which are treasured and seemingly necessary to identify themselves as Bengali from the Ganguli family.

I look at my own family, my immediate family (Dave, me and the kids) and wonder what traditions will these kids pass on to their families. We are certainly not practicing the way my family celebrated Christmas.

Growing up Christmas was almost exclusively secular. I don't recall attending mass on Christmas day, only waking up as early as possible, opening presents, playing with the new toys, and waiting for extended family to come over for the turkey dinner. Today, we live so far from family, and given Dave's vocation, we rarely are with them on the holidays and we haven't had turkey for at least a decade.

My parents grew up in the old country (Ireland and Poland). I'm sure their family's had specific traditions for the holidays. What my parents did was not passed down to their children. They were in America and wanted to do things the American way. This grieves me a little, to have to look in books and on the internet to find out how my father's family remembered Christmas.

The continuity of family traditions seems to get lost when that family is thrown into the melting pot of the U.S. of A. , for good, bad or indifference. The young man in the movie (the Namesake) realizes how out of touch he is with his heritage when his father dies. His American girlfriend is of little to no comfort during his mourning as she is focused only on their relationship and not his family's. He leaves behind those things which were pulling him to the melting pot and returns to the Bengali practices, ending up in a semi-arranged marriage.

It seems our family traditions are put together piece-meal. Why just last week I added another "tradition" into our sack (Sundays during Advent are celebrated with food from other culture's Christmas traditions - we've done Poland and South Africa so far) that I wonder if it will stick to next year or the year after or even 30 years from now (when I'm most likely dead and gone).

Traditions are important (Again, ask the sociologists!). They bind us together, mark us out. It's easy to see other's. What are your's? What's important to pass down do your generations?


Oma said...

Well first of all I hope you're not dead and gone in 30 years.....I'll only be 95 and maybe living with you!!!!Granted John will be 99 but if he keeps running...who knows??
Traditions are important but as life changes I think we pick and choose our traditions, all the more reason to have a mom like you who introduces lots of traditions. Choosing traditions may take place more also as we get older. This Christmas will certainly be different with John out of town.
I think having traditions triggers memories...good memories. Maybe that's one of the reasons for traditions.

Orrange said...

i love traditions. A lot of ours are food related when it comes to the holidays. Going to church on christmas even is a tradition my parents passed down to me as well as celebrating advent. when it comes to birthdays my parents would decorate our chair at the dinner table (streamers, balloons etc) and make the day all about us... i do that with our kids. A lot of our traditions also have to do with the attitude and general way we do things. Things that are hard to pin piont, but are obvious b/c all three of us kids do them the same. Christmas at my house will look a lot like it does at my parents house. Relaxed atmosphere, opening presents all at once, enjoying and loving one another. Being so thankful. that's some of the stuff my parents passed down.

ps---i loved the movie, but if you haven't read the book.. it's fantastic!

MamaTina said...

We have a lot of traditions. My husbands family has a saying, "Do something three times and it's tradition."
It makes it interesting to call during the holidays, because they ask about certain traditions that Joel has completely forgotten about. We practice all the ones that meant something special to him or that he really liked when he was little. We also added in some of our own just to make life interesting.
My personal favorite is Christmas breakfast, where we do the Advent reading, light the Christ candle and eat sour cream eggs and homemade bagels!

klasieprof said...

Good post.
We started our own traditions, especially when we were homeschooling. Traditions take TIME, and thought.
Kids are old enough now to make me do the traditions.


Marti said...

Good post. I think there are some other things about America that work against traditions, so here are my sociological musings. 'Traditional' cultures (like that of the woman you blogged about who wrote 'Infidel') have powerful tools for staying that way: They punish those who leave, try to break in, or deviate.

Charming as it is to think of passing down one's traditions from one generation to another, it doesn't necessarily happen without the exercise of some kind of power. It's pretty hard to maintain traditions without authority. But in America, freedom, experimentation, and individuality are probably our top values.

To some extent a desire to honor and please - or avoid displeasing - a family's matriarchs seems to keep things going that might otherwise melt away, but after Grandma dies there we don't have those kinds of authorities.

If John and/or Suzanne DID move in with you your kids would have a stronger sense of traditions from their side(s) of the family, though - it might be enough to take root in the most traditionally minded of your kids, who if they felt strongly enough about such things and married people who went along with it, would pass them on to their kids and grandkids as well. But it's all on a voluntary basis, isn't it?

Some of us are superstitious, and maybe kids more often than the rest of us ('It's not Christmas if xxxx doesn't happen') but even our expectations and superstitions tend to be a private thing: nobody is saying the gods or the ancestors or the neighbors are going to get mad or smite us if everyone doesn't 'do' the holiday right.

And without caste, or cousin marriage, or something like that, our families are constantly changing. Not always so you would notice but kind of like a powerfully moving glacier.

Family boundaries are permeable. Every generation people are joining the family, and chances are they are (yes, maybe especially in America) not coming from the same community or background. So my grandmother was 100% Norwegian and made sure we always had lefse and krumkake, but my mother was only 50% Norwegian and not quite as committed. She married a guy who wasn't Norwegian at all, my dad. His family had their own traditions. Now both of my parents have married people from still other families.

All of this works to dilute any sense of 'these are my people and these are the ways we've always done things.'

And the thing is, as, well, 'world Christians' we're likely to raise our kids with the skills and interest in building relationships with people from other cultures and people who are different from them, and that works against the maintenance of traditions as well, doesn't it?