We all know the story of the young woman cutting off the end of the ham, don’t we? She continued the tradition but didn’t know its origin. Turns out, great-great-grandma’s pan was too small, so the meat had to be trimmed.
It’s great to pass on family traditions, even if you don’t know the origins. When succeeding generations understand the meaning behind family traditions, they resonate with them later in life. It will also serve to connect them with their elders. Following in the footsteps of mothers and grandmothers (or fathers and grandfathers) imbues deeper meaning into practices.
Family traditions help us remember our own past and our family’s shared heritage. It’s a great way of bringing family history alive.
How to Preserve and Teach Family Traditions
You can preserve these memories by teaching them to your family, particularly your kids and grandkids.
Spend time together practicing family traditions
We learn by doing. The absolute best way to preserve family traditions is to spend time with your family members, practicing and teaching these traditions. They might start out as rituals. But over time, they can become vehicles with which they can connect with people they love.
The time we spend practicing traditions also teaches our family about the value that they hold for us. I practice my family tradition of almost over-decorating for Christmas (actually, there is no such thing as over-decorating in my mind). Although my teenage boys don’t join in enthusiastically, I suspect that one day they’ll have well decorated houses.
Sadly, families often live far away. Health concerns and career demands prevent travel. Luckily, there are other ways to traditions.
Write about Family Traditions
Writing about family traditions does more than preserve them for posterity. It allows you to explain their significance to you, your family, and even your ancestors. As you write, your personality, your love, and respect for the traditions, and your “voice” will shine through. (Add pictures!)
Take a photo (or photos):
Digital or print, photos of traditions being practiced will help preserve them. For instance, if one person is missing from the July 4 family reunion, you can snap some pictures with a smart phone and immediately send them.
Make a scrapbook page:
Scrapbooking a family tradition gives it a place of honor. A great example is Joanie McBride’s scrapbook layout that relays the import of a family pickle recipe.
Make a movie:
Technology is your friend. Sometimes text is inadequate for passing on the tricks and tips. Grab a flip camera and make a quick video for the younger generations. If the younger generation is available, you can even Skype.
Make an audio recording:
Don’t reserve oral histories for grandparents. Grab a recorder and start talking about the things you love. You can (should) also share these recordings with the people you love.
Pass on family traditions through food
Ever hear “The way to a family’s traditions is through their stomachs”? Okay, maybe I misquoted a tad. But you get the idea. Foods carry rich traditions. Even the ingredients of recipes reveal much about the culture from which they originated. In addition, ethnic and religious traditions are deeply entwined with recipes and the way food is prepared. In addition, food preparation is a sensory rich experience. Memories associated with smells, tastes, and sounds come quickly back to the surface when triggered.
Though neither of my grandmothers lived close to us while we were growing up, I have very distinct memories of their kitchens and some of the dishes they liked to cook. To this day, eating (and smelling) similar dishes can take me back to the days when my feet still swung above the floor and I sat at their tables.
How do you pass on your family traditions? My comment field is lonely. Please share.
© Laura Hedgecock 2013
“A Recipe for Posterity” by Staci Toilo.