Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Treasure of Traditions

A number of years ago I cowrote a book on family traditions. It was one of my favorite books that I've written because it celebrated the impact of traditions on families, and because it gave me the opportunity to honor our family tradition maker: my mom, Paula Sapp.

Though that book has
been out of print for a number of years, I still get emails and calls about it. One such call just recently got me to thinking: Maybe it's time for another traditions book. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got. Because I love traditions. My family has a lot of them, many of which my mom carried on from her childhood. And not just at Christmas time. New Year's, St. Patty's, Valentines, birthdays...they all held such wonder for us as kids because Mom made the special. She decorated the whole house for these special times, and the meal on each holiday was grand. St. Pat's, for example, everything was green. The table cloth, the plates, even the food itself. And at our places were little gifts, wrapped in green. Valentine's, it was all in red. I'd wake up on these holidays full of anticipation and excitement, because Mom had such a gift for making them fun and wonderfully memorable.

That's one of the reasons I love traditions so much. They keep people alive in our hearts and
minds. Each year since Mom died, as I've carried on the traditions she set in our family, I can feel her there beside me. I can close my eyes and see her smile as she set the table or fixed a special meal. I can hear her pleased laughter as we came to the table and exclaimed over it all. Following these traditions brings memories of her flooding over me.

Another reason I love traditions is that they bring families close together. In addition to my family traditions, Don and I have developed traditions all our own. They remind us where we've been and how far we've come together. And they let us step out of the everyday for a moment to savor being together.

The cool thing about traditions is that you can be miles apart, but knowing you're sharing a
tradition on a certain day makes you feel close, connected. And when you're all together, traditions can deepen your enjoyment of each other. Whether simple and small, or elaborate and extensive, traditions are treasures we pass on from generation to generation. And then there are the stories we all have that stem from our efforts to follow or make traditions! I swear, traditions are the perfect breeding ground for adventure.

Here are a few of my favorite family traditions/adventures:


Every birthday we got to choose where we wanted to go for dinner, or what we wanted Mom to fix. My all-time favorite place to be was the Oregon coast, so every year I'd ask to have a picnic at Harris Beach, over on the coast. We'd make the several hour drive playing games like States and I Spy, then head for our favorite table when we reached Harris Beach. The table we liked best overlooked the beach, and was surrounded by shrubs teeming with squirrels. We'd set up the meal, then have a blast coaxing the squirrels from the shrubs with tidbits of food. The seagulls would hover overhead, and we'd toss food into the air and watch them catch it on the fly! After the meal it was down to the beach to wade in the water as we searched for rocks and shells. It was a wonderful way to celebrate together.

For many years, my dad baked a cake from scratch for his and mom's anniversary. It was a "surprise," but we all knew it was coming. I can still see him standing at the counter, ingredients around him, mixing away. And I can still see Mom's delight each time she received her "surprise." When I was 16 I took on the mantle backing a cake from scratch for them. Unfortunately, I hadn't made frosting from scratch before, so when the recipe asked for "confectioner's sugar", well, I didn't have a clue. I couldn't ask mom because the cake was a surprise, right? So I tried every sugar I could: white, brown, honey, molasses...it was a disaster! By the time I thought to call one of the church ladies, who told me what I wanted was powdered sugar, I had two huge containers of flopped frosting hidden under the kitchen sink. Why I didn't throw the frostings away, I'll never know. I'm not sure what Mom and Dad enjoyed most--the final cake with its perfect frosting, or hearing about my escapades--and seeing the evidence for themselves!

So how about you? Do you have a tradition or memory you'd like to share? I look forward to reading your stories too!



Tracy Ruckman said...

When my boys were young, we had all the various grandparents doing all the traditional stuff, and we participated in all of that for the holidays. So when it came to our own celebrations, we went totally "untraditional." Each holiday, we had a meal that was not traditional for that time. One Christmas we had an Italian feast for our dinner; another we had a big brunch. We've done Mexican, soups, salads, and sandwiches, and our favorite was surf & turf.

Until this year, I never realized that I ALWAYS gave my boys books for Christmas (along with all the other stuff.) Younger son BEGGED me this year - MOM, NO BOOKS! I almost made it - I gave him a book filled with pictures. I made photo albums for both of them - with each of them as the star of their own album. They loved it.

Great post, Karen. I can feel the love of your family every time you write about them.

Rachel Hauck said...


Great post. I loved reading the 12 Authors of Christmas posts for this very reason.

We had wonderful family times growing up, but not many hard and fast traditions. Mom made cookies at Christmas and we all decorated the tree together.

For birthdays, when we were young, the birthday kid got to go to McDonalds.

We watched the movie White Christmas and It's A Wonderful Life at Christmas.

Not having kids makes it hard to formulate and keep traditions.

Do you suppose part of it is the make up of individuals. Our level of sentimentality?

I love having the Christmas tree up for as long as possible. It goes up right after Thanksgiving.

I like lots o presents. Go figure.

You know, I'll make it a goal this year to work on finding and keeping traditions.

Hugs, Rachel

Karen B. said...

Rachel, I think it is our makeup, to a certain extent. And what we're taught growing up. I was raised with so many wonderful traditions, it's easy to maintain them and to make new ones. It's pretty much the way I think: how to make celebrations special. My husband isn't wired the way I am, though, so for him, traditions are harder. But because they're important to me, he's worked hard to find ways to celebrate and build traditions together. So for some, it's easy. For others, it takes concerted effort. But either way, it's worth it, because building traditions draws families closer and tighter. And we need that, now more than ever.


Anonymous said...

I love you + our zany Yada pic--notice you chose that one over the sane 'n serious ones--ha! I'm going to see if this gets to you, and then send you my traditions in another email for you to do what you will with them. Why does that last sentence scare me, hmmmm... :) lovepatti

Rachel Hauck said...

You're right, Karen. Good thoughts.

Traditons can keep us grounded. I think not having kids makes it hard for me. Or, not living close to family.

Like my bros and sis used to go to the movies Christmas evening.

Tony and I did it a few times, but haven't in the past few years as our lives and values have changed.

But we can make traditions with friends, too, if family is not near by.

But, yeah, I'm thinking of traditions this year.

Rachel :)

Karen B. said...

Rachel, that's exactly right! Making traditions with friends is a great thing to do. Some of my fondest memories of childhood traditions were of my family and our church family/friends. Our lives were woven together in faith and shared experiences, and the traditions we built have extended into my adulthood, enriching my current friendships. One of my best buddies, Julee, and I share a birth month, and we've built a tradition of always taking time together to celebrate. Sometimes it was dinner out, but lately we've been taking birthday trips to the Oregon coast.This year Julee's youngest daughter joined us, and it was wonderful. The memories Julee and I share now include the next generation, and that's such a blessing. So yes, traditions with friends are wonderful.

And Patti, never fear! I'll treat your traditions with the utmost respect! GGG