"What an enormous magnifier is tradition! How a thing grows in the human memory and in the human imagination, when love, worship, and all that lies in the human heart, is there to encourage it." -Thomas Carlyle
Fourteen years ago I read a parenting magazine article that suggested a cookie party at the holidays. Everyone makes their best cookies and brings 2 dozen and the hostess mixes them all up on trays and everyone takes a dozen different kinds of cookies home. That same year I was trying to get my kids to practice their chosen musical instruments. So the first cookie party was a cookie and music party so they all had the chance to play one piece. It began as homemade low tech, low pressure audience for my daughter who played the flute and loved to sing and my oldest son who played piano by ear and hated to practice.
Every year since then on some Sunday in December we have all invited our friends – different friend groups for every age child and some of their parents to make the party with us. Luckily my kids got good at music and attracted musical friends- and some of our friends are professional musicians. My eldest daughter has a voice like a lark and can sing/lead us in most any song- and she is a holiday music affectionado. Tonight she also picked up her flute again after over a year and played my favorite song, Ave Maria. Some years the cookies have been unreal, seriously incredible cookies. Other years the music was magical with everyone singing and laughing together.
It is different every year and it isn't something you can plan except to pick the date and tell as many good friends early enough so that they can fit it in their holiday schedule. The house is filling up more and more these days as all the kids have big groups of friends that transform the party into cooler and later versions.
Celebrating all the incredible cookies that are made and consumed in the world in the name of holiday love is a good reason to ritualize the experience. Tonight my son who we came frighteningly close to losing a couple of months ago played a few classic Beatles songs on his violin, an instrument he has known since he asked to do it when he was four. Amazing what ten years of any practice can create.
In the end that is all our rituals and traditions amount to- they give us the context to practice the ways we want to think, celebrate, and share times with people we love. Sometimes they don't quite work out, but that is the work of traditions. It is tragic when people walk away entirely when one piece of the tradition is uncomfortable--it takes practice to find ways to be together.
The other nice thing about respecting traditions is the The other nice thing about respecting traditions is the perspective of time that they offer. To the extent that we know ourselves through the contexts of our lives, they provide a vertical view that both informs and poses questions. What a lovely life to have the present be such a generous reflection of the past.