Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tradition: The Story of Us

As I prepare for Rosh Hashana, I can't help but think about the myriad traditions in our lives and the important role that they play in shaping our identities.  I have so many fond childhood memories of holidays and yearly outings with my parents and siblings.  My own children still talk about vacations and holidays from their childhood. And now we are building new traditions for their children.  Many family traditions center on holidays:  visiting extended family and friends; preparing special foods; exchanging gifts; sending greeting cards; maybe visiting a house of worship.  Our memories of those special times and the unique ways our family marked them occupy a special place in our hearts. They spark rich conversations between the generations in a family, providing a connection between the past and the present.  

The traditions we practice as children give us a sense of self.  A child sees himself as part of a family who celebrates in its own way.  This is who we are.  This is what we do.  This feeling of belonging gives children security, as does the predictability of holiday celebrations.  Similar to daily routines, when our children know what to expect, they feel more in control, calmer, and safer. 

Traditions are not only about holidays.  Many families create traditions around birthdays or other occasions. Traditions can be any activity that we do together again and again at specific times; once a year, once a season, once a month.  When I was a little girl, my family used to go to an amusement park called PlayLand every summer.  My parents would wave to me and my brother and sister as we went on the rides.  We would laugh with the thrill of being spun around, and our parents would smile with joy at making their children happy.  When I became a mother, my parents continued the tradition and brought me and my family to PlayLand every summer.  It was so much fun to wave to my children as they went on the rides, and very special to watch my mother wave to them!!   Even when I became a grandmother, my parents continued the PlayLand tradition.  A special memory is the summer my dad had just gotten out of the hospital and insisted on taking us to PlayLand.  We got him a wheelchair to ease the burden of all the walking, but he used it to push the cooler!!  My dad passed away several years ago, but my mother still brings us all to PlayLand every summer, waving at her great grandchildren as they go on the familiar rides.

There is also a beautiful gift for adults who share traditions with young children, which is the ability to see those traditions in a new light.  As we experience life through the eyes of our children, many tired, old actions seem fresh and new.  A child's participation in a family holiday or tradition reinvigorates the adults around her to invest more attention to time-honored practices.  It's joyful to observe children as they introduce their own personalities, actions, and reactions to things so utterly familiar to us.

The traditions that we create for our children form the story of their lives.  Think back on the family traditions of your childhood, and the ways in which they are now part of who you are. How do you want your children to remember the holidays?  What are some things that you can you do to make those special times more meaningful?  Know that the family traditions you create now will live on in your children's memories and bind them to you forever.


  1. I love this!! Just the other day my husband and I were grocery shopping for Rosh Hashana. We came upon these really different, unique looking fruits. The prices were not cheap but we reasoned that by having them on our table we'd not only be enhancing the Holiday but also creating beautiful experiences and memories for our children. Which will become our traditions.
    Shana Tovah!