“What’s pancake day?” my youngest daughter asked me the other day. I guess somewhere along the line we have started talking about pancakes as opposed to referring to “Shrove Tuesday”.
“Do you get to eat pancakes all day?” asked her older sister.
Their conversation got me to thinking about traditions – how they came about for each of us and why we continue with them. The more I thought about it the more I realised that with many traditions we don’t continue them because of deep underlying beliefs, but because they have become habitual, comforting even.
Take hot cross buns as an example. Traditionally they should be eaten on Good Friday, but I spotted them in the supermarket on January 1st! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love them – I try to resist until closer to Easter though, to make them special – but it’s sad almost that commercialism has taken over and they are no longer a novelty by the time Easter comes around.
As a child we used to get one Easter egg each. When I married my husband, his family being quite religious would have a big exchange of eggs whereby we would leave with literally carrier bags full of chocolate – enough to last till the following Easter really. But to his family, it was never about a “gift” in the form of chocolate like it was in mine. To his family it was about the deeper meaning of exchanging eggs which is to celebrate new life.
Christmas is a big event in our household. We have the traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings, we have crackers to be pulled and silly hats to wear on our heads, and we exchange gifts. But in recent years I have lost a few traditions: none of us like Christmas cake so over the last few years we’ve made gingerbread houses, chocolate logs, or even nothing at all. This year I made the girls choose between Christmas pudding and mince pies, because otherwise we’ll be eating it forever more and when it’s sunny and hot it’s not quite the same! We opted for mince pies and I enjoy our tradition now of making them with my daughters and of working out a menu for the evening buffet: seafood and cheeses.
So what Christmas traditions could I never do without? Firstly, I have to have a real tree. We have started the tradition now of taking the girls to a Christmas tree farm out in the country and we choose our own. It gets tagged and then chopped down nearer the time and delivered to us. Children grow up so fast that I know I’m going to look back on these memories and cherish them. I’m wondering if, in their teenage years, they’ll still want to help choose…I really hope so.
Another tradition that I intend to keep is the tradition that my nan started, my mum continued, and now we have. It is to have Santa’s presents in the morning, with stockings, but family presents remain under the tree until after lunch and all the clearing up has been done. When I first arrived in Australia and I had an English friend to stay at Christmas I asked if we could do this tradition on Christmas day. Her reply was sure, but only if we could do her family tradition which was to have a great big row! My husband hated the present giving tradition at first, but now he doesn’t seem to mind, and it means that the tree looks nicer for longer with presents at the bottom, and the girls get two lots of presents, which prolongs the excitement. My husband can’t wait for the day when we can execute part B of this tradition which is that the kids do all the clearing up! There’s a big incentive to do it quickly after all.
Since the girls started school we have started a bit of a family tradition on a Friday evening. They get to have sausages which they’re allowed to eat in front of the TV rather than at the table, we have a movie that we all sit and watch and they’re allowed a bowl of popcorn or chips (chips if you’re from the UK!) It’s a nice end to the week after school and lots of activities and it means we all sit down together too.
Over the years and as we meet partners, have children, evolve as our individual selves, some traditions are pushed aside. Some are shaped differently, some continue for generations. I would love to be able to see into the future and see what traditions we adhere to today are still around. Will my great, great, great, great grandchildren still be washing up before they get that second lot of presents? I’d like to think so.
I hope I’ve got you all thinking and I’d love to hear your favourite family traditions – the weirder and wackier the better! And what I’m interested in is whether you loved these or whether you detested them and vowed never to let them continue in your own family. Are there any traditions that you do your utmost to get other people involved in because they’re so fabulous?
P.S – Sshhhhh…don’t tell my Mum but we also take our tree down on 31st December…it makes way for the summer holidays and more importantly my daughter’s birthday.
Helen R x