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.