Thursday, February 17, 2011


Rituals and traditions are part of the glue that holds families together.  As President's Day approaches, I find myself thinking about my mom's Cherry Pizza.  I don't know what its real name is but basically, it's a pie crust spread on a pizza pan, slivered almonds pushed into the crust, cream cheese spread over that and topped with cherry pie filling.  In my mind it's George Washington Cherry Pie because we always ate it on February 22nd, Washington's Birthday.  There were other pie traditions too: the first rhubarb pie of the summer came on my parents' anniversary in June.  The ONLY Lemon Meringue Pie of the year came on Dad's Birthday in August.  It was our family ritual - created by my mom.

So special pie for special occasions was a ritual  that held us together.  Not being the pastry chef my mom is, I had to look outside the kitchen for some glue for my own family.  And I found it on one of the numerous book cases that fill my dwelling.  We had seasonal book themes.  Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight and other silly tales by James Howe were re-read in October every year.  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson filled up our December bedtimes.  Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary was  handy before dance recitals.  As I've probably mentioned, we read aloud together long past the ages most kids quit getting bedtime stories.  So books were a glue that held us together.

Over the years, some traditions grow more treasured, while others are outgrown, only to be revived when the child becomes a parent.  My mom baked pies, but she, and my dad, read to us every night too.  I say bedtime prayers (and mealtime prayers) and so do my kids.  These are traditions, passed down through generations.

The birth of some rituals is carefully planned and executed, sometimes by blending traditions from two families. Other rituals happen completely by accident - like my family's annual ritual of going to the last matinee on the day before school started.  Though it originated as a bribe, it grew to become a ritual everyone looked forward to doing every year.  And when the theater failed to provide an appropriate movie, we rented one. I hope my girls will do this with their own children some day.

There is a lot of literature about the value of ritual and tradition.  I think sometimes we throw things away too soon - before they've had a chance to become meaningful.  And sometimes, we may let traditions from the past get in the way of a more meaningful new ritual.  Whether they are simple (lighting candles before a meal), heirloom (baptizing each child in the same gown) or complex (five course Christmas Eve dinner sandwiched between three separate worship services) your rituals and traditions bind you together.  Discard with care, and don't neglect creating new ones that are special for your own family.

What's your favorite family ritual or tradition?

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