Last Saturday eve I grated the potatoes and onions, added the egg, flour, salt and pepper, and plopped this year’s latkes in the waiting hot sunflower oil. The deep sizzle growl of frying food, the gloriously seasonal smell, brought a fundamental comfort and sense that all was right with the world. I started celebrating Hanukkah with my kids when they were tiny. I wanted them to have the language of latkes and lighting candles. I wanted that closeness to be part of their molecules. Now my kids are in their teens and this tradition is a warm part of our family’s expression of enduring love.
Traditions are the scaffolding of identity, the bones of how we experience — and often judge — the world around us. Some, such as my latkes on the first night of Hanukkah, are deliberate. Others come into being by slovenly default, habits no longer imbued with meaning other than the necessity of doing them.
Always at this time of year (is this a tradition?), I reflect on the holiday-actions I do out of choice and those I feel compelled to perform merely because they’re what I’ve always done — or what I think is expected of me . . .
Overeating . . .
Habits get taken for granted.
Intentional traditions have the potential to live in hearts for as long as memory allows. Some of the ones I share with my children are:
* Making the latkes
* Lighting the candles and singing the prayers together
* Buying the most oddly indulgent prepared foods for a blowout on New Year’s Eve
* Putting luminarias out on New Year’s Eve to welcome the New Year
(luminarias or farolitos are put out in NM on Christmas Eve to welcome the baby Jesus)
* Writing down our wishes for the New Year and burning them, in a pot outside, on New Year’s Eve
I also have a few nascent possibilities that may become personal traditions. Last year, I felt it important to be deliberate on my first Christmas alone in 18 years. I knew I’d miss my kids tremendously. I also knew I’d be spending most Christmases alone from there on out. So I watched foreign movies all day — mostly Bollywood — and topped the night off with Whale Rider. Yes, that might become a tradition; I’ll know this year, if it feels like the right thing to do.
I’m also considering other options . . .
How about you?
What are your happy intentional traditions?
Which defaults might you want to shed?
Are you thinking of any new actions that might transform into welcome traditions in the coming years?