I used to have this pink binder full of recipes. There were pages of them! Some were cut out of magazines, and others were written out by hand. Remember those days? There were even a few from my mom.
I also had a ton of cookbooks. They hadn’t been much use in recent years, as Pinterest and Google had provided far more options and ways to cook chicken. So they stood proud but neglected in the cupboard above the microwave, above the stove, gathering dust and who knows what else.
One day I went on a cleaning and decluttering rampage. That’s the only way to describe my actions. You see, I have trouble throwing things out. I feel sorry for inanimate objects. (Isn’t there a name for that?) So, when I’m in the mood to declutter, it is a big thing, and I go about it in a furious way. Anyway, I opened the cupboard doors and faced down the cookbooks. I tossed a few, like the salads they featured, donated a few, and of course, after my defences were worn down a bit, I kept a few. Sadly, the pink binder did not escape my purge. I recall going through it and ripping out pages, wondering what I was thinking when I saved all those lentil recipes, venison stew recipes, and octopus Provençale recipes. I mean, who cooks octopus in the prairies? I did keep some of my mom’s recipes. At least, I thought so.
Fast forward to the present day. My oldest daughter announced she would make our traditional Christmas Day dessert. Danish Squares. My mom always made it, and I carried on her tradition. Now I’m content to pass the torch. (Face it; after cooking the Christmas Eve meal, the Christmas Day brunch, and worrying about all the other Christmas-related things, I’m exhausted. (Or maybe it was the hours of wine and karaoke with my two daughters last night.)
The next thing I hear is, “Mom, where is the pink binder?” I walked into the kitchen only to see my daughter standing on her tiptoes, looking into the dark abyss of the cupboard, above the microwave, above the stove, looking for the pink binder.
“I think I threw it out,” I answered.
“You what? How could you do that? She countered.
Uh, well, I, uh, oops.
“How did you know what ingredients to buy if you don’t have the recipe?”
Uh, well, I, uh, oops. “I just know. I’ve been making that dessert for 35 years. I know what’s in it.”
“Well, I don’t. I need a recipe.”
“Google it. Or use Pinterest. Here,” I said, quickly connecting to Pinterest and searching for Danish Squares. “Here we go. All we do is… (quickly scanning through copious ads and tales of why the author makes Danish Squares in a certain fashion)…oh. We don’t use whipped cream; we use Cool Whip. Oh well, I can tell you what to substitute.” Trying to quell her frustration, my ever-so-mature daughter announced that she needed the correct recipe. So, what did she do? She did her own search and, voila, found the one with the cool whip. Christmas saved!
What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that we often don’t realize how important tradition is. Most of the traditions in my family centre around food. We don’t celebrate religious holidays but buy into the commercialism that accompanies them. We are a small family of five, so we don’t have to incorporate other visits or preferences into our plans. We just do what we want, and what we have done for years.
Traditions anchor us. They can provide an easy way out—you don’t have to figure out how to do something different because tradition is tradition. On the other hand, they do create some staleness. The pandemic has taught us to be a bit more flexible with tradition. As we all opened gifts in the living room this morning, we recalled (and yes, a bit fondly) Christmas two years ago, when we had to rely on Zoom to open gifts with my son, who lived in another area of the city and was unable to be with us because of the COVID lockdown. I also remember the first Easter dinner he could not share with us and how I cried when I shoved a box filled with ham and other trimmings through a crack in the door so he could drive back to his house and eat. COVID turned our traditions upside down and inside out.
Why are traditions important? Well, they provide a sense of comfort and bring like-minded people together. Traditions help create memories and a sense of purpose, and they are a vital part of our culture, or who we are as a people. Traditions are something that everyone can share, things taught through the generations, bonding young and old. But that doesn’t mean traditions can’t change. Or, rather, evolve. Thanks to technology, we are a very mobile society. This means that our traditions are becoming more flexible, and we adapt them to fit our surroundings, both physical and emotional. We adapt our traditions to be more inclusive and diverse. But that baseline is always there. From my experience working with newcomer immigrants and refugees, I have seen firsthand how people adapt their traditions when they move. They do their best to duplicate what they can, or at least share stories with their families to keep those traditions alive.
Of course, traditions are more obvious during special holidays, but when it comes right down to it, they really play an important role in our daily lives. Traditions connect family members. They create a family’s identity and are one way to teach family values. Most of us don’t realize this until we are older and begin to pass those traditions on to our children. That act may even be carried out subconsciously. Looking back, some of the things my parents insisted I participate in, the things I scoffed at as a teenager and even as a young adult, hold a significant place in my heart. And I am sharing those things with my family.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in tradition, but I also like to jazz things up from time to time. But I must admit, when I leave out part of that tradition, I feel a little twinge of guilt. My youngest daughter reminded me of that when, late at night, I said I didn’t feel like making “Grandma’s Jellied Salad” (yes, the one with jello, mayonnaise, etc. that most of the family does not even like). “But if you don’t make it, you will feel bad. You should just do it,” she urged. I did. And I’m glad I did, even though I was so tired I left out half the ingredients. It’s one of those traditional foods that changes every year depending on my mood, but at least the sentiment is there.
I suppose that, to some extent, tradition does have a tight grip on my life. But I do need to be ready to shift gears when circumstances don’t allow me to perfectly execute that tradition. For example, my son works shift work and is working this year on Christmas Day. So, we had our Christmas Eve on Dec. 23 and our Christmas Day on Dec. 24. Boxing Day then fell on Dec. 25th. Now, Boxing Day just happens to be my absolute favourite day of the year. It’s a day to relax and do nothing. No cooking, no shopping, no gifts—simply relaxing and eating. And guess what? This year, on December 25 and 26, I will celebrate Boxing Day. How lucky is that!
Whatever your traditions are, whenever and wherever you celebrate, I wish you a very merry holiday season and all the best in 2023! Stay healthy, stay safe, and be at peace.
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