By Dr. Robin F. Goodman, VOICES Director of Family Programs
Individuals, families, cultures, religions, and even countries follow various traditions. Holiday, birthdays, and other special occasions are often marked with time honored customs. Yet, at times the ceremony or festivity is kept long past when anyone remembers its origin or meaning. The following are some issues for families affected by 9/11 to consider as you revisit your own traditions.
One particular definition of tradition, "the passing down of elements of a culture from generation to generation, especially by oral communication" * is worth noting when approaching a celebration. It is a reminder that no matter what you do, it is equally if not more important to talk about why, where, and how a tradition started. Talking about who was involved - really "talking" and listening to each other - brings someone to life. Learning something new about someone who died, sharing what you know from the past, and teaching children about someone they knew too briefly is a very special type of communication.
Traditions should be comforting. Familiarity often brings a sense of security and stability, especially in turbulent or changing times. There can be something reassuring about doing things as they were always done before.
Balance needs and preferences. When a family member has died it can be painful to do what was done in the past. But what is painful for a bereaved spouse may be longed for by children.
Involve others. Take time to share thoughts and brainstorm with siblings, parents, extended family, and friends. When change is needed, asking others what they liked best from existing activities and what they might want to change can lead to some surprising new ideas.
Search your own past to rediscover what was especially meaningful and memorable. It may be time to bring back or expose a new generation to a forgotten activity, place, food, or ceremony.
Create new traditions as they are needed. Old traditions can feel outdated or to have lost their meaning at times. Situations change – people move, children get older, relatives marry or divorce. If burdened by the thought of making dinner for a crowd, a pot luck or cocoa party may work better. As life evolves, take a careful look at what still works, what needs to be tweaked, or what should be overhauled.
Look beyond your home and family. Seek ways to connect and contribute to the community at large. Focusing on others in need or reaching out to those facing their own tough times can be gratifying Providing and establishing a tradition of caring is always worth continuing.
Consider different parts of your life and make room for varied activities. During the winter holidays, watching football games with friends is not the same as an ice skating party with kids or caroling with fellow worshippers.
Be patient. Traditions are not established overnight. Some trial and error may be needed to figure out exactly what fits.
Traditions provide a sense of continuity and connection. Linking to the past and connecting to your own personal family, cultural or religious history is a way to honor your heritage and give meaning to your life. Shared activities, ceremonies, and memories bind people together and remind them they are part of a larger supportive network of all those who have come and gone. By talking about traditions and making them current you are also passing on a wonderful part of yourself to future generations.
* The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition,
2000, Houghton Mifflin Company.