And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word… Tradition.
Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof
These words come from the song by Tevye, the main character and father of the family in the movie, Fiddler on the Roof. If you have never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it. There are some valuable lessons about tradition in there. Why it is important to have traditions and sometimes why traditions should be broken.
But this post is not so much about breaking tradition. It is about the importance of traditions and what it does for a family.
If habits and routine provides part of the foundations of our dream house, then traditions form a few of the cornerstones. Think about it. When people ask a little one about their family they will talk about their mom and dad, their brothers and sisters, their pets and… their traditions. These are the things that we do. The things that make our family, OUR family.
Like Christmas. My mom started this wonderful tradition in our family. It started with the pocket money we received for buying gifts. Gifts had to be small and there was a monetary limit. Because we only received a small amount, my younger brother and I combined forces and bought ours together. Wrapping was my duty.
We did not have a Christmas tree beforehand but on Christmas Eve my mom allowed no in the lounge since early in the morning. She would put up the Christmas tree with all the presents below it next to my father’s chair. It was the only decorations in the room. No one was allowed in. Everyone had to hand in their gifts to her to place underneath the tree. Then the food preparations would start. The best cutlery and crockery went on the table.
The guests started arriving late afternoon. My parents were always willing to share. Extended family often came and also friends with nowhere else to go.
At dusk she the curtains were drawn to make the room as dark as possible. My mom knew that by this time the little ones could not wait any longer. We have Christmas in summer and the sun sets a little later. She knew that if she waited too long, the little ones would become cranky. And, to be honest, even the adults were looking forward!
She would switch off all the lights and have only the Christmas tree lights on. By this time, everyone had been through the bath and dressed neatly. We would file quietly into the lounge. Everyone with a smile on their face, the little ones with their eyes on the tree, the adults watching the children’s reaction.
When my grandfathers were still alive, the one would read the Christmas story and the other would pray. We would all sing a few hymns. Then my father would put on the record (it became a CD later on) of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing Silent Night in many different languages. We would listen to the first verse in German. No one saying a word.
After the first verse my father would turn the sound down so that the music continued in the background. Then my mom sat on her knees next to the Christmas tree and started handing the gifts to him. The little ones received theirs first. Then the grandparents. Then the rest of the children and finally the adults. She tried to let everyone have at least one gift and then started the round again until all the gifts were handed out. After having oohed and aahed about your gifts, you would get up and go down the circle, looking at everyone else’s gifts and thanking them for yours. Whether they gave you one or not. That was not important.
Someone switched the lights on and sent a bag around for the wrapping and packaging. Then the eating and visiting started with the little ones playing with their new toys. If someone received a CD that was put on. The cleanup would start as soon as most of the food was done. Everyone left fairly early because on Christmas morning we would go to church and the service started at 8. Everyone went. Whether they believed or not and whether they understood or not.
After church preparations for the Christmas feast started. By 12 all the visitors had arrived and the real visit started.
There is no one in my family who does not light up when they tell the story of our family’s Christmas. It was not similar to the neighbors’ Christmas… It was ours. It set our family apart from other families. Our Christmas tradition contributed to who our family is, even today as adults.
Identity and security
That’s what tradition does. It provides a sense of identity and security. Tradition says this is who my family is. In times of difficulty it also says, not to worry, this is how things will be.
Tradition can be small too
Not all traditions need to be so big. Some can be really small like the chocolate my mom placed on the pillow at the beginning of the school holidays. Or sitting in the lounge listening to music while waiting for my older siblings to visit for the weekend from university. Or the cheese my sister melted for me on a saucer in the oven when I visited her as a young girl.
Or the way we sat in the car. It was not open for discussion and I don’t remember ever fighting about it. If my mom and dad were both in the car, they were in front. Then the oldest sat behind my dad, the second oldest behind my mom and the youngest in the middle. If only one parent was in the car, the oldest could sit in the front and the rotation moved on.
The girls made tea and coffee, the boys held the tray. When we came home from university to visit there was a welcome notice on our bedroom door with a small gift on our pillows.
Every family needs tradition
Every family needs traditions. Not a lot, but something that will set them apart from other families. One doesn’t need money to start a tradition. It is only a habit that becomes a pillar of how things are done in your family.
Don’t make a mistake, traditions are great but sometimes it is good to break them. Can you imagine the turmoil when my mom announced one year (we were all adults) that she and my dad were going away for Christmas… alone! 😁 But that is a story for another day.
A wise parent will plan some traditions with great intention “because of our tradition everyone knows who he is…”.
Sarah Dee 🌻