08 January, 2016

Traditions and Truth

Goodness can you feel it?  The weight of 2015 has lifted!  As a collective we have embarked on a new journey, a new energy, and a new year.  Before we get too caught up in making plans and setting our sites on renewal, it might be wise to clear the desk- so to speak, before you go piling on more stuff for 2016.

Clearing is also a good practice for emotional baggage and clutter.  We just celebrated a New Year, and most of us a winter holiday.  Holidays usually are spent with family and close friends, you know people who make you want to celebrate and enjoy yourself.  But what happens when spending time with family becomes more of a chore, a "should", a guilt trip?   All in the name of "tradition" we are bound by some unspoken command to show up?  This is my emotional clutter that needs addressing.  I believe there are some of you reading now also struggling with this very topic.

Traditions and family are tricky combinations.  What happens when older generations pass on, family members move away, hardship befalls on someone, the family grows through marriage and birth, or work commitments interfere?  It is hard to maintain the fabric that was.  After time the threads become worn and loose.  I dare say that what my family considers traditional, is not what our ancestors were doing 200 years ago or even 100 years ago.  There have been too many changes since, that have to be managed.  So how do we maintain honor our traditions in the face of such flux? 


What a great word!  Compromise helps us find a balance between opposition.  Throughout your ancestral lineage, there have been numerous compromises.  Change has a way to forcing us to move in different directions and we adapt.  Humans a flexible that way. 

This past Christmas, I along with my immediate family, were Facebook "shamed" for not attending the Christmas Eve "tradition" with our extended family.   This angered me greatly, as I read the comments and posts.  Mind you, I was lying on my back pumped up with pain meds, antibiotics and anti nausea pills dealing with a kidney stone too big to pass, irritated by a plastic stent inside my body to help alleviate pain while waiting for my New Year's Eve scheduled surgery.   First off, shaming a person in my condition was bad form.  Secondly?  What is a tradition anyway?

I find it helpful to review the definition when attempting to discuss something.  Merriam Webster so kindly helps us better understand what we are dealing with.   

Full Definition of tradition
  1. 1a :  an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)b :  a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
  2. 2 :  the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
  3. 3 :  cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
  4. 4 :  characteristic manner, method, or style tradition>
“At the holidays you want to create a feeling, an emotion, an atmosphere,” said Linda George, associate director of the Center for Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke University. “But it doesn’t mean you have to do things exactly the way they’ve been done in the past. It’s the feelings that are important, not the details that elicit those feelings.” 

Patterns, feelings, passed down ideas... I can deal with that.  

Growing up my family was able to maintain a traditional practice around the holidays, for a few simple reasons... there weren't many additions to the family for a decade, no one moved away, no one died, and my parents were willing to traipse their young family along while they ditched their own right to create a family tradition.  Instead they absorbed what was already in place and made us go along with it.  

Feast of the 7 Fish
Once other members got married and started having children, the family expanded and adjustments where made.  Over the years, I have seen the traditional menu change because someone didn't like what we made.  We changed the time on when we did things, due to cousins spouses demanding they leave earlier.  Witness to hijacking the festive mood and gift opening, because we couldn't locate a married spouse.  Experienced a no present Christmas due to the poor economy and bare resources.  Work and business commitments took precedent over family time and the schedule changed to accommodate a few people.    Silly things such as not being able to open presents until 2 am, because we had to wait for the procrastinators to wrap what they just bought at midnight.  I walked away from my father's family when I came face to face with childhood sexual abuse.  Family members moved out of state, so our celebrations were smaller.  Then I moved...Atltanta, Illinois, Atlanta, New Orleans, Miami... 

Change happens, there is literally nothing you can do about it.   What I learned through all of the experiences and moves... I was capable of sharing my traditions with my children and those around me.  I knew how to make the traditional meal items, I was certainly capable of passing on the stories and meaning behind it all.  For you see, not only did I grow up observant, but I took the idea of culture further than most in my family.  I have a double major in Italian culture and history from my undergrad, spent months studying in Italy, visited with my relatives still in Italy on more than one occasion and learned the language.  It takes more than a simple routine to embrace tradition, it takes a real desire to replicate the feeling involved.  

I believe we confuse routine with traditions often times.  Routine is the set time and day, schedule if you will.   My husband is a chef, he works most holidays and therefor we would move our Christmas celebration to a day and time when he was off.  Does this lesson our tradition or strengthen it as we found a way to carry on?  Tradition embodies so much more than a schedule.

And sometimes... the traditions we choose to follow are more out of necessity than anything cultural! There is a story, where a granddaughter asked her mother why they always cut off the bottom of the ham and not cook that part.   The mother tells her to ask grandma, she would know.  So the little girl asks her grandma why they cut off the bottom part and not cook it.  Grandmother defers once more to great grandma.  Finally the little girl asks her very old great grandmother why they always cut the bottom of the ham off before cooking the remaining part for their Christmas meal.  Great grandmother replied that she never had a pan big enough to fit the entire ham, so she made an adjustment due to the size of her pan.  Necessity will cause us to claim many things... not all of them are sacred traditions.   

In the end, I know I honor my cultural heritage quite well.  Passing on the meaning of traditions are important to me so my children are aware of why we do things.  Embracing my husband's Jewish traditions are as equally important.  However, I do not need to be tied to a certain day, or time table to make things happen, just because others are unwilling to be flexible.   

Lighting of the Menorah
As the oldest great grandchild of this family, and the only one for 6 years, I am quite aware of traditions and what they mean, how they play out and where they come from.  I also understand the value of everyone helping out and picking up where help is needed.  For the past 10 plus years I have witnessed older cousins not helping out with either food prep or clean up.  They come when dinner is ready, and don't leave their spot at the table.  Happily watching our grandmother lean over her sink while cleaning up for 20 plus people.  Now that my children are older, I have had them help clean up.  The idea that the generation today doesn't appreciate or help out dismays me.  This lack of gratitude and overall togetherness for who we are as a family has really hindered my ability to gather in the spirit of a joyful heart.  Certainly we gather out of obligation or some sort of Catholic guilt.  When these patterns emerged, my immediate family when into silent mode.  The mode you go to when family has lost its joy and you just deal with it for the sake of dealing with it.  God forbid we call someone out on their behavior and upset them.   

Silence is the result of ignoring bad family choices.  It is what happens when we do things out of shaming or guilt.  We don't want to cause a scene, so we just be quiet for the sake of... the older generation?  Pretty sure silence is a hindrance for truth and honesty.   

As I was lying flat dealing with the pain of my kidney stone too big to pass, it occurred to me, that maybe this wasn't a coincidence.  Stones are a by product of toxins growing because you are unable to release its flow.  Hmmmm... did this emotional clutter add to the growing stone inside my body?   

What I have come to learn is that being authentic is important to me.  Living a life according to "shoulds", is not one I am willing to live.   I will not be shamed, or made to feel guilty for creating a life that is authentic.  

Tradition is a feeling.  A feeling of togetherness and celebration for the moment at hand.  The hows and why are really up to you to fill in.  I am committed to do what I do with a warm heart and a clear head.  This is my truth, it may not be popular, but it is something I am able to preserve.