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Family Traditions

Posted Jan 22 2009 3:42pm

“OK Dad it’s your turn.”

“OK, let’s see. What made me happy today was drinking hot chocolate with Jonah and his Mama after sledding.”

“OK Mom, now your turn.”

“What made me happy was…well Dad stole my idea, but I’m going to say getting to sleep in a little today on a Sunday morning.”

“OK my turn: My favorite part was…Dad can I have the same favorite part as you?”

We’ve begun a new tradition in our house.

Of Tequila and Artichokes

For whatever reason we don’t really seem to have many family traditions; Neither of us have a lot of “extra” things that we simply have to do regularly out of a sense of duty, solely because that is what one does under the circumstances. We have definite habits, patterns, and schedules, but the vast majority of the time we’re not conscious of daily, annual, or seasonal out of the ordinary traditions that we look forward to. Having just passed through the holiday season, it is pretty clear that many families have a lot of food-related traditions, which come in every shape and quantity imaginable, but it’s also equally clear that many of us have lost those traditions.

I would say my wife’s family has a few traditions that we honor; when they get together my wife’s siblings and their Mother truly enjoy sharing a steamed artichoke together, which reminds them of times gone by when sharing an artichoke was an extravagance. And in times of either joy or sorrow, a shot of tequila is their family drink - a tradition that as an inlaw (or, “Outlaw” as we’re collectively named) I apparently heartily embrace.

You’ll eat it - and you’ll like it…at least you better

So what happened to the importance of family traditions? Are many of us just too busy to make time for them anymore? I think the “time” excuse is the most common among folks I’ve asked. But if you think about it, we’ve developed much of the framework of modern life to surround convenience, all so we can, “save time for the things we really want to do”. So why don’t we do those things?

The simplest answer is we don’t, because we don’t have to. Families seem more fragmented and independent than ever, and family traditions seem to be a casualty of being more easily removed from one another. Somewhere along the way many of us have lost the desire to carry traditions forward, even when we have the means or time to do so. It used to be that religious involvement was the medium for the passing of traditions, but these days even those traditions are often pretty easy to dismiss as a young person, too busy to bother with what Grandma thinks is the “right” thing to do.

I guess one straightforward question to ask is, why is it important? Why should I care about whether or not my sister-in-law made her Jello-Pretzel salad again at this year’s reunion? Wait - this fruit cake is How old???

Ultimately, I think carrying on a family tradition is valuable for one simple reason: a family tradition reminds us of the importance of, well, family. It emphasizes the necessity of togetherness, spending time in person, face to face, in the company of our “people”. For us, we of course have extended family, and adopted family members, and all points in between when we get together. When family assembles, there’s almost guaranteed to be a lot of hugging and laughter, and equally likely a disagreement or two. It wouldn’t be the same without a little friction at times I suppose.

But on a more daily level, I think family traditions are important too. Many of those simple daily traditions, particularly the ones surrounding food, have gone by the wayside as the television has taken over. Eating a meal together at the table is less and less common, and daily family traditions are hardly the subject of conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or Digg.

Our new tradition

In our house, we’ve made the conscious decision to create a new family tradition that emphasizes the simple importance of slowing down and reflecting on the day and talking to each other about what we experienced. Here’s how it goes:

My son gets the salt shaker and he usually begins. It’s very simple; holding the salt shaker as a symbol of who has the attention, he announces what part of the day made him happy. In his case, he always says, “My favorite part was…” which is something he’s picked up at pre-school, but ultimately our tradition is to take time each day to express to the family the part of the day that made us happy. After he recites his choice, he chooses who goes next, and the salt shaker is passed.

It’s a simple tradition, but one that our 4-year-old son absolutely loves. He gets to very clearly be the center of attention for a few moments at dinner, and he glows when he does. But more than that, he sees that we all share the same patterns, and that he is part of us as a whole. He also learns to focus on the positive parts of his day, I believe because he’s seeing his parents do so. It also makes him feel like he is part of something bigger, which is not often talked about in our culture but I think is fundamental as humans. I hope that he carries it forward to his kids, in whatever form makes sense at the time.

And while I may be focusing on what our 4-year-old gets out of it, as adults my wife and I get something out of it as well: It reminds us to reduce our life’s velocity, eat slower, savor the experience of eating a meal together, and remember that we did indeed have positive things that occurred throughout the day. Our family’s tradition of getting the salt shaker helps us to stay grounded, to see the good in each other, and to remember that life is not about the speed with which one passes through it.

From a diet perspective, slowing down and savoring what you eat is one of the core principles of Almost Fit. In this case our new tradition is not some revolutionary diet hack; it’s a simple tool to add to the variety of approaches that remind me to eat slower, remember the good in the day, and give my loved ones my undivided attention over a meal.

As it’s been said many times before, In many ways, and maybe no greater so than with traditions of food and family, the journey is indeed the destination.

Thanks for reading.

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