December is the month that reminds me most of traditions. Traditions are the maps we create as individuals and as families to guide us through the days, months and years of a life together. They are signposts for those who are coming behind us to teach them the legacy and the stories of a family’s history. Traditions come in all forms. They can be food or the preparation of food or rituals or trips to special places. They can be secular or they can be religious. In fact between mid November to early January practically every world religion celebrates one ritual or another, making it a true holiday season. Traditions also remind us of our humanity and keeps memories alive.
When celebrating weddings, Christmas, birthdays or milestones, certain rules should apply! They are traditions after all. That word has always had a weight and a gravity, a suggestion that something momentous is about to come around and we don’t just pass it by. Traditions give life structure and we look forward to them eagerly each year.
One of the traditions of my large extended Italian family is making homemade ravioli to eat on Christmas Day. The eating itself brings us all together but for me the actual tradition happens weeks earlier when the women of the family get together to make the ravioli. There are mothers teaching daughters, sisters exchanging tips across the miles, cousins using the old recipes as we all strive to make the tradition our own. The preparation of the dough and the filling and the meticulous sealing of each little meat filled dumpling has a certain reverence to it and is often accompanied by several glasses of wine as the hours long process takes patience and energy. Yet on the day of feasting, the work and the love put into the effort is all worth it. And yes, wine must accompany that too.
So many families have special traditions. They recreate old family recipes for special cookies or treats, they decorate their homes or trees like they remember when they were young while adding something new for their own children. It’s the way of traditions. They strive to stay the same but they must grow and evolve with the people who are recreating them. When I had my own children, it was time to create our own traditions. We made it tradition to open one gift on Christmas Eve and after we would get the plate of goodies ready for Santa and the reindeer. A favorite Christmas story was read with the warmth of two small bodies tucked up against me. Then as they slept, I kept the fantasy alive by leaving nibbled cookies and chewed carrots on Santa’s plate (with a thank you note from the jolly old elf himself), special writing on Santa’s gifts and full stockings by the chimney. It was as much a tradition for me as for them and Christmas morning was always magical and joyful.
Last spring an old southern tradition was recreated the morning of my son’s wedding. In the south, where the wedding took place, the women of the bride and groom’s families gather that morning to celebrate the bride’s wedding day. It was an amazingly beautiful and spiritual event. It was a time for us to welcome a new woman into our fold. I have been blessed with the women in my life: sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins, friends. My sisters and our daughters were there with me and we symbolically and truly brought my daughter in law to be into our family with lovely food and champagne and the blessings of the women who were already married and those who would be future brides. The women of my family had all come to stand for my son and to bear witness to this joyous union.
But Karma is a harsh mistress. This Christmas our son will be starting his own traditions with his new wife. Their first Christmas together, our first Christmas apart. I left my home when I was 22 and have only ever been back for Christmas one time since then. I think of my own mother now that I too will have an empty seat at the dinner table. It’s never easy letting go of your chicks but it is the right thing to do no matter how conflicted emotions might be.
And yet I feel at peace. I have to trust that things are as they are meant to be. This weekend my husband helped me make the ravioli we will eat for our Christmas dinner. Some traditions never change. We will have another mother’s child who is far from home, our daughter’s friend, stay with us and celebrate. We will honor traditions new and old and look forward to a new year of possibilities and challenges and indescribable joys. We will give thanks as we celebrate yet another tradition. And yes just maybe we will start a new tradition that is waiting for us in the wings. I will welcome that one too.
May your own traditions bring you and yours comfort and joy this season. Merry Christmas. Aid Moubarak. Happy Hanukkah. Blessed Solstice. Happy Kwanzaa. Peace on Earth. Namaste.