In praise of traditions: Celebrating security through simplicity
“I always fear that creation will expire before tea time.”
— The Rev. Sydney Smith, 19th century England
If I lived in England, I would have afternoon tea as a daily ritual to slow down and have conversation with friends while savoring buttered toast with sprinklings of cinnamon and a bit of sugar on top.
I celebrate traditions. Like the seasons of the year, they bring security and the power of warm memory to the unpredictable patterns of life. A good friend has Grandfather Breakfast every Saturday at his home. The four grandchildren come for pancakes with syrup, eggs, sausage or bacon, biscuits, grits and juice. If a Saturday activity is planned at the church or in his civic group, he comes as soon as breakfast is over. Grandfather Breakfast is a time the grandchildren will remember forever.
Mental health studies show that family routines such as nightly reading to children who have a regular bedtime, household chores, birthdays and sacred celebrations lead to better marriages, children’s good health and enhanced achievement in school.
For adolescents, traditions help create a stronger sense of personal identity, and for younger children, the regular bedtime routine helps children go to sleep faster.
At a church in Swannanoa where a weekly home-cooked meal is served to whoever is hungry, the volunteers can always depend on an extended family that comes to help serve each year at Thanksgiving. It happens during their annual family reunion with family members traveling in from many states, and they always make this time of service to others a part of their yearly tradition.
In many families, traditions revolve around sport events. A junior high girl said that each year her family gathered to watch the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 on television. It was reassuring to her that some times in life are still predictable.
The time now grows near when our grandsons and I will climb to the attic to look for the decorations of the coming holiday seasons. We have fun opening the well-worn boxes filled with treasured pottery pumpkins and turkeys and begin to think about how to arrange the toy train and village below the Christmas tree.
I’m thankful that I grew up in a family where the nativity scene was an important part of preparing the house for Christmas. When my brothers and I were young we took part each year in the church’s Christmas pageant. Christmas Eve was a time to hold a lighted candle at church surrounded by family and friends while singing Silent Night, a tradition we continue with our daughter and family. I’m sad for children who miss the religious meaning of this Holy Season.
We have a need for ritual especially when emotions are engaged, and traditions are observed by families of all faith traditions. Friends who are Jewish have told us of the importance of observing the festivals of the Hebrew people and how the family and synagogue observances keep their Jewish identity and history alive in their families. That’s why I believe that we should not expect everyone to observe Christmas and Easter in the way Christians do.
Often it is the simplest of traditions. I love to sit in the quiet of the early morning with a cup of coffee or English tea and the newspaper as dawn breaks through the windows. We all have cherished times that resonate with our souls and we do them because they bring peace of mind and that is a good thing.