-- Tevye, from the musical “Fiddler On The Roof
No eggnog. No Thanksgiving. At least not for me.
Because eggnog and the copious consuming thereof, is one of a handful of cherished traditions that I always, always follow, come the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving Day. Yes, I know that at 223 calories per eight ounce serving and with 35 percent of my daily recommended saturated fat intake, eggnog is the ultimate belly buster. I shouldn’t drink it. But it’s Thanksgiving and eggnog is what I do, what I’ve done, what my loved ones expect me to do, on Turkey Day, every year.
Because it’s tradition. And no tradition? No thanksgiving. At least not for me.
Maybe for you too. Other than Christmas there may be no more tradition laden holiday than Thanksgiving. So we use the same recipe for the gravy that our Mom and her Mom and her Mom’s Mom passed down to us from generation to generation. We cook the turkey a very certain way in the battered and chipped roasting pan Dad always used. We pass around the squash and apple casserole that Aunt Lynne makes every single year, even though the truth is we’ll all only take a small spoonful, to be polite.
It’s our tradition.
It’s ritual. It’s the practice of dependable customs, some sacred, some secular, that we return to year after year after year. Tradition, whether at the dining room table or practiced in our faith or found in the world: it matters. Tradition gives us a way to find our way back home to a place where life feels familiar, comforting, and dependable. Tradition gives us a solid place to stand in world. Tradition invites us to wade into a spiritual river of memory and time that began flowing long before we were born. We remember, and in remembering, we sit at the table with our ancestors.
Some tradition are odd or quirky or seemingly not all that profound. In my house we always play Scrabble the night before Thanksgiving. At our table my best friend Barb always makes her homemade rolls. Brother Ed always offers advice (often unsolicited) on how to carve up the bird. I need at least one of the cranberry sauce offerings to be of the canned variety: gelatinous, bright purple and deeeelicious! And we always find a cozy place on the couch, to curl up and watch football, as the day draws to a satiated close.
Some traditions are holy somehow, spiritual, and these get right into our hearts. This year, as always, we’ll go around the table and share with each other, one thing that we are thankful to God for. By the time we get to my Mom, she’ll be teary and then we’ll all be teary and then throats will be cleared and then steaming plates of food will be passed around and in that sacred God blessed moment, our grace will be filled with so much… grace.
Because it’s tradition.
It is important to recognize that while good traditions are timeless, when it is time, some traditions need to be dropped. So thank God it’s no longer a tradition that only the women cook and bake and set the table and clean up. Everyone chips in now, no excuses. New traditions need to be started too. Some of us now take a brisk after dinner walk, instead of passing out comatose in the family room. Traditions come, traditions go but always we need some traditions to carry us through, to reassure us, ground us, even as time passes by so quickly.
So what are your sacred or silly family traditions? Whatever these might be, here’s my advice. Take them seriously. Nurture them. Teach them to your children and to their children too. For the best traditions remind us that we are a part of a story so much bigger than ourselves, one begun long ago, written by God, initiated by family. Tradition binds us together in faithful community. Tradition survives while so much of modern life fades away.
Tradition was, is, and will be, if we practice it, remember it. No tradition? Then life can feel as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.
So this is all I really want for Thanksgiving 2016: my family, good food, old friends, God-inspired gratitude, a big glass or two of eggnog and yes, tradition.
Now please pass the cranberry sauce!