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It's Easter. And even though we're all fully grown and no longer living at home, my mom still likes to put together Easter baskets for my sisters and I. And it is a requirement that we must sit on the couch in our Easter finery, baskets (or whatever counts for the basket that year) in our laps, peering inside with looks of wonder on our faces. We all know that we're faking those amazed looks - we outgrew the Easter rabbit theory decades ago. But it's tradition. So this afternoon, my dad and I sat on the couch while my mom took the requisite snapshot of us saying 'Wow'.
The whole topic of tradition came up because my parents' church is doing some sort of thing with family traditions, and they had this form they wanted people to fill out, listing what traditions each family had. And I'll have to admit that at first it was hard to think of specific traditions that my family has. After all, what defines a tradition? Does it have to be associated with something, like a holiday? Or is it just something that your family does and has always done and you just don't think anything of it anymore?
Some of my favorite traditions center around holidays. My family traveled a lot, since my dad was in the military, and both my parents learned early on what it was like to be away from their families during the holidays. So the tradition started back even before my sisters and I can remember, that after the Christmas Eve service we would all pile into the car and deliver plates of cookies to the gate guards stationed at the entrances to whatever military base my dad was stationed at, at the time. My mom still tells the story of one snowy Christmas Eve in Alaska when my little sister (who couldn't have been older than seven or so) was given the cookies to deliver to the gate guard, who very obviously had never been away from her family on a holiday before. She broke down sobbing, and gave my little sister a bear hug. Those cookies made her night. When we moved off base, we included the fire station and police station in our yearly cookie delivery route. They don't do this so much anymore - the fire station in my parents' town is run by volunteers so there's no one there on Christmas eve, and the police have a tendency to eye any free food with suspicion these days. But I've recently started to do it in my town anyway, just because it's nice to see the look on their faces.
New Year's Eve was another special tradition in my family. My parents don't drink, so alcohol never enters their house. So instead of tossing back champagne on December 31, we would all head to the local ice cream shop, stock up on pints of our favorite flavors, and all the toppings, and then use that to toast in the New Year. Probably more fattening than champagne, but at least we all remembered what we did the next day. Fourth of July is another one. It' was tradition that we watch the same two movies every year. The first one - "1776" - is appropriate to the season. It's a musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and one of my all-time favorite movies. I'm not exactly sure why it is that "The Great Race" is the other one that we have to watch each year, but for whatever reason, we did.
There's other traditions that my family has had that are sometimes harder to remember because they aren't associated with any particular time. They just happen. Like the fact that my dad used to play "Farewell to Thee" on his concertina at the front door as we headed off to school in the mornings at least once a week or so. Or the advice my mom would give us when we kids would head out on a date, or go on a trip. "Remember to put paper on the seat", she'd call out. "And don't put no beans up your nose." I'm not sure any of us remember why it is that these started - they were always meant as a joke and had some relevance to something funny at some point....but it just became a standard farewell. Goodbye, and don't put no beans up your nose.
When you think of traditions, it's easy to get caught up in grand moments. But it's the little things that become more enduring, and endearing. It's somehow comforting to think that someday my nieces and nephews will be given the same advice about seats and beans. That they will learn all the words to "Where, where, are you tonight?" and how to sing it in the worst possible way, and why it makes us all crack up when one of us hollers "Push the button, Max!" That they will be the ones to initiate the Napkin Check routine at some random dinner, or join the clamor for grape Kool-Aid for Thanksgiving dinner, in that horrid old beat-up green pitcher that my mom threatens to throw away year after year and never will. That someday they will be bundled into a car after a Christmas Eve service or a Winter Solstice celebration to deliver homemade cookies to some poor kid in a police station or fire station or other public post somewhere, just to remind them that they weren't forgotten. And that in their photo albums, each year, will be pictures of them staring into Easter baskets, pretending to look amazed.