We all know the story of the young woman cutting off the end of the ham, don’t we? The tradition was passed on from generation to generation, without understanding the meaning for it. Turns out, great-great-grandma’s pan was too small, so the meat had to be trimmed.
Holy Week Candles
It’s great to pass on family traditions, even if you don’t know the origins. If you do know—even better. The more deeply succeeding generations understand the meaning behind traditions, the more the practices will 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 and rituals.
How to Preserve and Teach Family Traditions
You can preserve these memories by teaching them to your family, particularly your kids and grandkids. How?
We learn by doing. The absolute best way to preserve 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 and remember, their past, and their family’s shared heritage.
The time we spend practicing traditions also teaches our family about the value that they hold for us. When I practice my family tradition of almost over-decorating for Christmas (actually, there is no such thing as over-decorating in my mind), my teenage boys don’t join in enthusiastically. They tell me, “We don’t like doing it as much as we like having it done.” My guess is that one day they’ll have well decorated houses.
Sadly, we don’t always have the luxury of time or geographical proximity. Families often live far away. Health concerns and career demands prevent travel. However, this doesn’t mean traditions can’t still be shared.
2) 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.
3) Make a scrapbook page:
Memorializing traditions with a beautiful scrapbook layout relays its import to you.
4) Make a movie:
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.
5) Make an audio recording:
It’s not just our ancestors that could pass on oral histories. Grab a recorder and start talking about the things you love and share these recordings with the people you love.
As you write about traditions, your personality, your love and respect for the traditions, and your “voice” will shine through. (Add pictures!)
Traditions through Food
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.
Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and biscuits remind me of my Grandma Crymes.
Though neither of my grandmother’s 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?
© Laura Hedgecock 2013
“A Recipe for Posterity” by Staci Toilo.