Larry Banman: Traditionally, I haven’t valued traditions
May 20, 2008
Traditions are sometimes cast in a negative light. They are blamed for the inability to accept change, the inability to move forward.
They can stand in the way of looking at something from a fresh, new angle.
From a very narrow perspective, traditions can be nothing more than doing something in the same old way.
While growing up, I can remember doing things in a repetitive manner, which, I must admit, felt a little like falling into a rut.
Many traditions revolved around holidays. For example, in our family, Christmas morning was celebrated at our house, Christmas lunch was spent with my mom’s relatives and Christmas dinner was at the home of my father’s parents. This was an immutable schedule. I don’t recall ever varying from that pattern in the 17 years that I lived at home.
Thanksgiving had its own schedule, as did Easter. Oddly, Fourth of July didn’t have the same set schedule. Part of the reason is that, if the holiday didn’t fall on a Sunday, we were likely doing some sort of farming chore. There were no family barbecues. A town about 20 miles away had an annual fireworks display, but we often found the traffic and the late hour to be incompatible with the work that had to begin early the next day.
There were other items which became traditions. My mother was big on assigning tasks and sticking to those tasks. For her, Monday was wash day and Saturday was baking day. With five children and two adults in the family, our family numbered seven, just right for each of us to take a turn at prayer for the evening meal. My day was Friday. Dishes were divided by the day for the five siblings and I was responsible to help with the dishes on Thursday. It wasn’t something we argued about or tried to get out of, it was an occurrence as certain as the summer solstice.
My mother is a wonderful cook and I have eaten thousands of meals at her table. Being from Mennonite stock and German heritage, we had several traditional meals. It was, however, the quirky, repetitive meals that I remember the most. Since Saturday was baking day, we had fresh zwiebach (a german roll) for the evening meal on Saturday and cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Sunday. After church on Sunday, my father always made us fried potatoes and he cooked us egg sandwiches and popcorn for our Sunday evening meal.
When I started my own family, my wife and I were somewhat nomadic for years. We lived a long way from where either of us grew up and, as a result, we often traveled home for the major holidays. As fun as those travels were, there was an unintended consequence. We never really established our own “holiday traditions.” That became a bit more of an issue when we had children and then even more so when our children started their own lives and families. Suddenly, there is a very complex set of schedules to match. It is virtually impossible to come up with any sort of holiday schedule that respects everybody’s family traditions.
This past Thanksgiving, I mentioned to my oldest daughter that I was feeling a bit put out because it seemed that my wife and I were always contorting our own schedules to meet the demands of other schedules. It was the tug-of-war over where
Thanksgiving would be celebrated. (Part of the fun of having adult-aged kids is that you can pay them back for the pity-parties they threw when they were little). She gave a response that I will remember for a long time. Basically, she told me it was the spirit of the season that was important and not to get hung up on the details.
Properly humbled, my mind went into other directions. I tried to think of those things that our children have remembered fondly about their youth. Most of the things that are remembered are what I would call the mundane activities of life. The nightly bedtime stories, a special Easter tradition that is unique to our family, the way we always tried to have a Banman representative at community functions are all things which our girls have referred to as traditions. Even the rides in my old Chevy pickup fall into that category. What I like about the “traditions” they remember is that they seem to trigger recollections of something good and valuable.
I believe I have learned two things about traditions. When they take on a life of their own and become more important than the reason for their existence, they probably need to be ceased or altered.
Secondly, traditions can be a way of maintaining fond memories about a person, place or thing. In the latter case, they serve a valuable function.
The next time, you watch “Fiddler on the Roof” and you listen to Tevye sing about traditions, think a bit about your own family traditions and which ones bring you a sense of peace and satisfaction.
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