From the time I was six or seven until well into high school, my family’s home was where most of my mother’s family gathered for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. It wasn’t that we had the largest house to accommodate assorted aunts, uncles, cousins, boyfriends, girlfriends and my grandmother. But our house had the largest space available for the tables – a large screened porch which was eventually enclosed to become a den. (Even in New Orleans, Christmas could be on the cool side.)
For a time, one very long table was sufficient to handle the family. Then a card table was added to handle the growing children. And then another. Eventually, two long tables were needed.
My parents prepared most of the food, and I think this was the cause of the demise of the gatherings. As they got older, it became too much work, and the gatherings had ended by the time I had graduated from high school.
But, for the child that was me, the gatherings were great fun and eagerly anticipated – noise, laughter, the occasional argument, the food and desserts, playing with my cousins. It was a tradition even before I knew what that meant. (A related one was the gathering of family and friends at my father’s business in downtown New Orleans on Mardi Gras day – a place to escape the crowds and find a bathroom.)
We grew up; the family scattered in various places around the South; one of us moved way up north to St. Louis. The tradition of the big gatherings at holiday times fractured into small fathers celebrating with themselves.
For a time, my wife and I spent long hours in the car, going back and forth to Shreveport or New Orleans for holidays, until we decided we had to have our own traditions for our two boys.
One tradition started in December, 1985: the baking of the Christmas bread. A local grocery store had a monthly magazine about food and recipes, and that year had a recipe for Christmas Wreath Bread. I was in the bread-baking habit back then, and so I decided to make it. It was a hit with the family – most likely because of the filling: chopped cranberries, pecans, butter, sugar, and spices, which any of us would be glad to eat straight without the bread.
I’ve made the bread every Christmas since then, with the exception of 2006, when we spent the holiday with my oldest son in Phoenix (and met the future daughter-in-law). But 27 years and only one excused miss counts as a tradition, I think.
In Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families, Ann Kroeker argues for the observance of family traditions, and more than traditions at only the major holidays. Traditions like family board game night, or the birthday honoree getting to choose the menu for all meals for the day, or annual vacations with family to the same place. These are the things that not only glue families together; these are the things which come to express the meaning of family.
Consider your family when you were growing up, and your family now. What traditions can you remember, and what traditions are important?
Over at The HighCalling during April, we’re discussing Not So Fast. To see where this week’s discussion is, and what others are posting about, please visit The HighCalling.
Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.