November Thanks #20 | 3 Gifts of Traditions

A thirty-day exercise in pausing, reflecting, appreciating, and giving thanks for simple things.

If I were to ask ten people what traditions they have in their families, I bet nine of the ten would mention something about a holiday. Hidden Easter baskets or egg hunts. Memorial Day or Fourth of July parades. State Fair or a city’s summer celebration. Goose, not turkey, on the platter. Stockings hung up by the fireplace or stairs. Mistletoe.

My husband celebrates a unique event on Christmas Eve, something he calls “setting the table for the dead.” It was something his Italian grandfather did in the Calabria region of Italy. At the end of the evening when everyone was settling down for sleep, the table would get set with the best dishes or china, with food that wouldn’t spoil (nuts, cookies, bread), and unopened bottles of wine. His grandfather would light a candle and place it on the table and invite all of their ancestors to come and celebrate. The candle would remain lit all night long, then blown out when the family gathered for Christmas breakfast. My husband is the only one of his siblings to ever celebrate this tradition, and he still celebrates it to this day. I like the thought of inviting all those who came before us to come and celebrate what goodness they brought to all of us. My husband’s daughters think it’s silly. My daughters think it borders on insanity. I doubt any of them will carry on the tradition.

When my daughters were little, our house was the only one in the neighborhood to celebrate St. Nick’s night. It wasn’t something my parents had done when I was a child, nor my then-husband’s parents. But it was a tradition I wanted to create so my children would have a unique memory of the holidays. In that sense, it was a gift of tradition I gave in the hopes that it would continue. So far only one of my daughters is a parent and she has not continued this tradition. I’m still holding out that one of the others will.

Another tradition that occurs at this time of year is the annual holiday card and letter. Many people love to get these photocopied letters with all the news from beginning to end of the year. Yet others find these letters impersonal and tacky. I’m one of those who enjoys getting cards and letters, no matter what they look like or what format they take. To me each card and letter is a gift—a sharing of life events and stories. Sadly, sometimes you don’t know how much these cards and letters mean to you until one doesn’t come and later you find out that person has passed away.

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