The holiday season is upon us and regardless of which holiday you may celebrate, it's bound to be filled with tradition and ritual. From the manger to the menorah to the kinara and the yule log, communal rituals are ubiquitous during the holidays. They play an important part in all cultures and are effective in helping us celebrate important events. Rituals also influence our traditions. While the two (ritual and tradition) are pretty close in meaning, ritual refers to acts that have a symbolic meaning, whereas traditions are handed down through the generations of a group and have some significance to its members.
As the lights are hung, presents wrapped, cookies baked, and candles are lit all around, I started thinking about the traditions that are most important to me and how they evolved. Of all the traditions we shared as a family including:
the one that has had the most traction in my family is the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, popular with Italian Americans. The origins of this meal are not entirely clear but threads of southern Italy, abstinence from meat, and biblical references are woven into the story. My kids and their cousins cherish this meal and have incorporated it into their own lives. Although it's gone a bit more upscale than my childhood memories of the modest feast prepared by my immigrant grandparents*, it is the most important part of our family celebration. We've even gone so far as preparing it the day after Thanksgiving if we weren't all going to be together in December. It's an annual tradition not to be missed.
- a real Santa coming to grandma's house when the kids were little,
- getting together with the cousins,
- baking cookies and gingerbread houses,
- singing carols,
- lighting a menorah,
- making latkes,
- and of course, giving way too many gifts,
But what makes it so special? Is it the copious amount and variety of food? Is it the ritual of soaking the baccala (salted cod) for three days before braising it in tomato sauce? Is it homage to the strength and grit of those immigrants who traveled far and wide to make a better life for their children? Was their sacrifice and love the real gift that we taste in the feast? I'm not really sure but I am so thankful that my children embrace that part of their heritage because it represents so much. Sharing food with others is one of the greatest representation of love.
Each and every family has a unique culture and blend of many rituals and traditions. I hope your holidays are filled with love, peace, and joy and that you take the time to reflect on the true gifts of the season and cherish theses very special moments.
What is your favorite holiday tradition? What memories or emotions does it evoke?
How might you generate those feelings throughout the year?
Have you created a new tradition?