Tradition is a wonderful thing.  Families make traditions out of favorite recipes, special meals, little songs and rituals and shared jokes.  They create powerful memories out of annual visits to a treasured vacation spot, shared from one generation to the next.

Traditions keep siblings linked, one to the other, as they reenact the happiest memories of childhood. They keep children close to their parents as they share familiar stories, of “Remember the time when…….”  Traditions are our foundations.  As families, they help to define what makes us whole.

As I grow older, I am aware that it is the pull of those traditions that keeps us grounded in the past that created us.  Although my grandparents have been gone for years now, I hold fast to the traditional holiday foods that they brought with them from Italy almost a century ago.  Octopus for Christmas eve, ricotta pie for Easter; these are the traditions of my earliest days.  For me, it is the taste of those foods, eaten once a year, that reminds of who I truly am. Of who it was that gave me life, and how that life is rooted in a place where my feet have never walked. Those traditions tie me to those who came long before me, but whose blood I share.

It is in the tradition of cooking those foods that I honor my grandmothers and their mothers, and all of the women who shaped those holiday traditions with the strength of their hands and the depth of their love for their families.

Traditions can bring us so much solace when life moves on too quickly, and the years begin to fly.

But I am learning lately that holding fast to tradition, to those tender reenactments, can also pull us back in a way that is far from healthy.  Sometimes in my desire to keep our family traditions alive, I let myself be stopped in my tracks.  Sometimes by going to the same beloved, sacred places, I let myself be haunted.

If you have had a happy and lucky life, like mine, your past is filled with memories too sweet to easily release.  You want to hold them, touch each one, store them safely in your heart.   You want to bring those moments back; you don’t want to let them slide into the past. You want each one to be right now. Knowing that you can never make that happen fills you with grief. You have to work very, very hard to keep your spirits up and your eyes fixed on the future.

So going back to even the happiest and warmest traditions can be like attaching an anchor to your soul.  It keeps you grounded and secure, but it stops you from going on to your next destination.

I think that I need to find a way to keep the happiest memories of my children’s past alive and fresh in my memory.  But I also need to give myself permission to stop going to those places that for me are filled with beautiful ghosts.  I need to stop walking on paths that ring with the sound of my babies’ voices. I need to stop looking at the places where they splashed in the rain, where they drew images in pastel chalk, where they hugged me and looked for me, and didn’t feel safe without my arms around them.

Its time for me to make some new traditions, and to go to places that can be filled with new dreams.

Time to let the past be just that.  Time to look to the future.


13 thoughts on “Traditions

  1. I don’t know that you need to give the past up completely, but maybe separate and hold on to some of those moments while making room for more moments to come. Like clearing. Bookshelf.


  2. I too love traditions and worked to create some very unique ones for my family! But as the kids moved into college I extended some of those (like the Valentines “week” when we gave each child a daily note on a heart of what we loved about them)…and sent them in packages to their colleges. With my kids moving on past their college days I am trying to figure out some new traditions for them…some connections to create anew. The other wonderful opportunity is to create new traditions with my husband. We are empty nesters and perhaps there are some glorious new traditions to create just with him! Much love to you from your high school buddy Judi in the desert


    • Judi!! How great to hear from you!
      This empty nest thing is really rocking me….And every time I make good progress, we have our annual family retreat to Dolly Copp, and my heart gets rebroken. It isn’t just our little family; its the whole big huge clan, and my kids love it. I hate to give it up, but it depresses me for days/weeks afterwards. sigh. Time to concentrate on new adventures with Paul. Like maybe a trip to the desert, to see our dear friend Judi…..!?


    • So true, the memories are real treasures for me. I just need to let myself stop the annual revisit to “our” family place. At least for a little while, until there are some grandchildren……..


  3. Intellectually, I can understand your issue with memories of the past taking over the present. But you might want to cut yourself some slack since the situation could be a lot worse. Because of a breathing disorder, I have few, if any, true memories. I have pictures and diaries and family to tell me what has happened, but there’s no emotional attachment to other people’s memories of my life. I have a few memory “snapshots” at best, and some days even those go away. There are notes stuck all over my house to remind me to take my meds (which I have to “check off” when I do or I’ll take them again).

    I don’t feel “bad” about this because I don’t know what I’ve lost. I simply celebrate the good days and try not to panic when I go to the grocery store two blocks from my home, and can’t find my way back. This isn’t Alzheimer’s, but from what I’ve read, it feels a lot like it. So the person I feel bad for is my wife, who has to try not to argue with me when I’m absolutely certain something never happened (or when I call her by my ex-wife’s name).

    Simply put: don’t be in too much of a hurry to distance yourself from your memories just to save yourself a little pain. Instead, perhaps you should work on why you feel such a loss, instead of a celebration at a life well lived.


    • Wow, I can’t imagine your struggle! It must be incredibly frustrating, for you and for your wife.

      I don’t think that this post was particularly clear, because I seem to have given the impression that I want to avoid all painful or sad memories. I don’t! And I have actually come a very long way in moving past my worst “empty nest” grief. But there is just this one camping trip to a place where we took our kids every single year (I have been there 40 years in a row) and it just is time for me to let go of that one particular tradition. Just time to move on. The problem is that I am feeling conflicted and guilty about letting it go, for a lot of reasons. When I’m conflicted, I write!!


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