Do you have any family traditions? Hopefully, several pop into your mind quickly. If not, stop and take a moment to think about what traditions your family celebrated when you were a child. Were there beloved family customs that stopped when some “keeper of the flame” passed away? What traditions do you miss the most and why? Have you started any new traditions with your family?
Why am I asking these odd questions? It is because I have been cooking and baking most of the day, because that is one of my family’s traditions based in the celebration of Easter. I am groaning because my back is aching, but simultaneously I am energized to realize the tremendous blessings of this day! I rejoice because I am still able to clean, cook, bake, prepare baskets for my grandchildren, and work side-by-side with my dear husband. I am grateful because I have the wherewithal to purchase groceries and invite others to share a meal. All this joy and gratitude erupts from the celebration of a tradition!
Today I reached into the cabinet over my refrigerator. It’s that hard-to-reach place. I always need to get a chair or step stool to access that cabinet. There, all the way in the back, is my grandmother’s lamb cake mold. The only time I use it is at Easter. Still, whenever I bring it down, I feel my grandmother and my mother performing this same ritual year after year. Even though my grandmother died when I was seven, and my mom has been gone over 13 years, in that one moment we are together again. That’s the type of tradition I am hoping you have somewhere in your memory.
Many traditions cluster around the holidays. A great number of customs are centered upon religious symbols, holy days, and rituals. One of the reasons I am cooking and baking, as if there is no tomorrow, is that my Polish-Catholic heritage promotes a fast from midnight on Thursday through Saturday, after we have our Easter food blessed. For generations we have felt the hunger, when Saturday morning finds the house filled with the aromas of ham baking and Polish sausage (fresh and smoked) being prepared for this ritual. Our stomachs become the physical expression of the spiritual hunger we have been pursuing throughout Lent.
On Saturday in the late morning or afternoon, we gather with many other very hungry people. The amazing thing is that, as we gather at our local parish, despite our growling tummies, everyone is smiling and greeting each other with the customary “Happy Easter!” Our bellies, like our souls, sense that the forty days of Lenten sacrifice and self-denial, are coming to an end. Easter arrives with the dawn!
I am not naive. I realize that this two-thousand-year-old tradition, does not end every problem. When I awake tomorrow, my arthritis will still be there, my mortgage will need to be paid, the concerns I have for my children, my grandchildren, my neighbors, and the world, will still be in my heart. What will be different is that the tradition will have reminded me that a promise has been made and is being kept, even though my human vision is clouded.
Traditions are the lenses that clear our vision to see, if only for a moment, to a place beyond the physical world. My human eyes and mind tell me that my mother and grandmother are gone, but when I hold that lamb mold, experience the sweet smell of the baking cake, and spread the frosting, something miraculous happens. For a split second, I see them more clearly than ever, I feel them breathe through every breath I take, and my entire body inexplicably rejoices.
Your traditions may be completely different. Maybe yours is watching a movie for the hundredth time with that someone special, going to the first ballgame of the season with your best friend, anticipating that annual fishing trip with the guys, or making hot cocoa “just like Grandma’s.” What really matters is that it is the one gift or memory that you want to reproduce and hand down to your own children. It is some act which touches you at a depth beyond logic. You can’t explain why, all you know is that it makes you feel connected to something or someone greater than yourself. It unites you to generations past and propels you toward future generations.
My prayer for you in the days ahead is, if you have had no family traditions, may you make an effort to begin one today! If you have lost touch with some cherished customs, may you rediscover them soon! Most of all, if you have and are continuing family traditions, may you realize what a tremendous blessing that is, and truly rejoice!