This post was written on July 13, 2008 and has been updated for the 61st Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy!
Webster’s Online Dictionary defines Tradition as: “1 a: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) b: a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable2: the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction3: cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions4: characteristic manner, method, or style <in the best liberal tradition>” It is Synonomous with: convention, custom. Related words include: ethic, form, mode, mores, norm, values; birthright, inheritance, legacy; folklore, lore, superstition; culture, heritage, lifestyle.
Many families have passed down traditions such as:
- A family story that has been told to each generation.
- A custom associated with an event (wedding, holiday, birth, etc.)
- An heirloom that has a certain function at a certain time.
There are many others. As you’ve accumulated information about your ancestors and distant relatives, what traditions – or customs – have you found AND recorded? In small towns or villages in Germany there is a wedding custom of “kidnapping the bride”. German Wedding Traditions list this tradition as: “kidnap the bride and the groom has to find her. Normally, he has to search in a lot of pubs and invite all people in there (or pay the whole bill). Sometimes this ritual ends badly.” Irish Wedding Traditions mentions that “An old Irish tradition calls for the wedding couple to walk to the church together before exchanging their wedding vows. As they walk down the main street to the chapel, onlookers would not only throw rice to bless the marriage, but larger items as well, such as pots and pans.” Holiday Traditions – England mentions that “The day after Christmas is known in Britain as Boxing Day, which takes its name from a former custom of giving a Christmas Box – a gift of money or food inside a box – to the deliverymen and tradespeople who called regularly during the year. This tradition survives in the custom of tipping the milkman, postman, dustmen and other callers of good service at Christmas time.” And in America, we know that the tradition on July 4th is to view fireworks as a celebration of our Independence.
Yet, sometimes it’s the unusual traditions that tell us more about our ancestors. We may learn important things about their character, their financial situation, their environment or even why a tradition changed.
My family has the usual traditions:
- Christmas Eve meant going to services at church and coming home to await Santa Claus’ visit. How it evolved – when my own children were small, we’d go look at Christmas lights after church and then come home to a “finger food/appetizer” type of meal. Afterwards I read “The Night Before Christmas” and the Biblical Nativity story. Then to bed for the kids!
- Memorial Day was the first day my grandfather bought a watermelon and we’d have a picnic. How it evolved – with both of us working, most of the time Memorial Day is just a Monday we are off work and take a moment of reflection to honor and remember those who gave their lives or a part of their time to serve our country.
- July 4th – we’d go to parades and then watch fireworks. How it evolved – if we are at my in-laws’ in Missouri (where it is legal to shoot fireworks) – they are being popped all day long! If we are at home, it means our big church ice cream social and watching the fireworks from the parking lot (which has a great view!).
- Thanksgiving – a large family dinner, watching a football game, and the men sleeping. How it evolved – not much! Except sometimes even Mom gets to nap!
- New Years Day – we would have roast beef or roast pork and watch the parades as soon as they began in the morning and then the Rose Bowl Game (especially when Ohio State was playing!) How it evolved – since I live in Texas and am now required (since I’m in the south) to cook black eyed peas, I fix a big pot of them with cornbread and ham. Sometimes I’ll have pork and sauerkraut too (just to cover my northern roots!). Only the grandson really watches the parades and when was the last time Ohio State was in the Rose Bowl? There’s no more Cotton Bowl parade (which is pretty local!). Generally the Christmas Tree is being taken down as well.
- Putting up the Christmas Tree – I really don’t remember much traditions associated with this except I loved to hang these ornaments of my mom’s that looked like huge, red teardrop earrings and I was allowed to hang the ornaments I’d made. I enjoyed watching my mom decorate our house more than anything. How it evolved – I don’t have a lot of stuff to decorate the house (because that would mean having a place to store it afterwards!) – but when the kids were little, I’d take a picture as each child put their first ornament on the tree and then take a picture of all four of them gazing with wonder at the lit, decorated tree. It’s evolved even more – now my husband puts the tree up, he and the youngest daughter put the lights on & everyone haves at it putting the ornaments on while I just watch. I get to put on the garland – sometimes strands of beads, other times I “throw” the tinsel, and the last couple years it has been ribbons. But I undecorate it so I can put all the ornaments back into their rightful places.
- Birthdays – it was “your” day. Mom would make me a devil’s food cake with homemade chocolate icing and I got to lick the bowl afterwards. Sometimes there were friends and other times it was just family (having a birthday right by Thanksgiving can sometimes cause problems). I usually picked my favorite meal and we had the birthday song, blowing out the candles, and opening gifts. How it evolved – sometimes I make the cake and sometimes I buy it. It’s still the child’s “day” and is special. They request what they want for dinner and the type of cake.
- Weddings – something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. Not evolved – still the same!
- Easter – getting dressed up in a little more than Sunday best with new clothes, new patent leather shoes with a new hat and gloves and an Easter Basket on the end of the bed when I woke up. How it evolved – the Easter Bunny leaves the baskets on the kitchen table. New clothes and still attending Easter services (no hat or gloves though!). A big dinner at mid-day (which is one of the few Sundays I even cook – see below!)
- Sunday Dinner – my mother never fixed a regular evening meal on Sundays. As a kid, she always fixed a big lunch but dinner – you were on your own. That was sort of nice – ice cream, a big bowl of popcorn, peanut butter on a spoon right of the jar (see “food” traditions below), a bowl of cereal, etc. How it evolved – Mom still doesn’t fix an evening meal on Sundays and neither do I!
- Food Traditions – my dad is the one we “blame” for most of these. Pepper on cottage cheese; chocolate cake (no other flavor) in a bowl of milk; peanut butter on a spoon; fried baloney; tobasco sauce on everything (my sister does that but I don’t!); sardines; slim jims, beef sticks or hot sausages (the kind you find at bars!); steak once a week (yeah, I don’t get that as often anymore!); pepper on everything; bleu cheese or roquefort salad dressing.
- Taking pictures of other people taking pictures! (See Unusual Photos – that I posted back on June 23, 2008)
- Singing a very long and convoluted version of “I Found a Peanut” when we go on vacation as well as “100 Bottles of Beer”.
- Going through all the photo albums at my mom’s when we are visiting – each time we are there, all the albums come out. I was even able to show my sister some photo albums she hadn’t seen before!
- When all four of the kids are home we watch two or three of their musical videos taken when they were all in church musicals years ago.
So what have you learned from your ancestors? Please share your family’s traditions – either in the comments section or on your own blog. Please provide me the link so I can send others to read your post!