When sitting down to write this blog it struck me how much the rhythm of my year is taken up with traditions, whether they are personal family ones, or wider cultural and religious ones. Many traditions you might recognise or be familiar with, whether it’s the first visitor of the year carrying salt into the house, sending Valentine’s Day roses, hunting for Easter eggs, taking tins from the back of the cupboard for harvest festival, trick or treating and putting up the Christmas tree. Even for those who have no active faith, so much of our lives revolve around traditions that come out of the church calendar… and without the nativity play what would schools do in December? In Wales we celebrate St David’s day by wearing Daffodils and primary school kids dress up in traditional Welsh outfits, which for girls seem to be like some country lady out a fairy tale.
It is in childhood that so many traditions get cemented, and subsequently passed on. I’ve sung the same songs to my kids that my mum sung with me. We always have Sunday Roast with the inclusion of Yorkshire puddings if we are having Roast Beef and I still cook roast potatoes using the same method my Grandma did.
When my husband and I decided to break with tradition and not “do Santa” at Christmas it was the adults who we most upset by it. I will forever have the image of a horrified hairdresser who had innocently inquired to my then three-year-old daughter “so what has Father Christmas bought you for Christmas”. My daughter declared quite confidently “Father Christmas is not real.” The look I received from those in earshot was worthy of the look the murderer receives when their crime is discovered in an Agatha Christie film.
Other traditions have been dropped for expediency. We negotiate the cost of teeth instead of trying to play the tooth fairy. Silver sixpences are no longer in the Christmas pud, and no one drinks brandy so we don’t set fire to the pudding. Fireworks night depends very much on whether I can get organised enough to arrange for us to go to a display.
Other traditions have invaded our space, whether it is Elf of the Shelf, which my daughter loves and I hate. The introduction of Christingles and the mystery of clove pitted oranges being bought home from school for advent.
But as a family we have our own traditions we abide by – the annual grumbling about school uniforms appearing in shops before the summer holidays in June, followed by the mad panic of finding school uniform in the right size the last weekend of the summer holidays. Then there’s my refusal to engage in anything Christmassy until the 1st December, which is the day, Christmas arrives in our house and we duly don Christmas Jumpers and Christmas themed Beeny Boppers to decorate the house with the Christmas tunes cranked up high. Santa has been replaced by a slightly manic present hunt on Christmas morning, which my kids still haven’t grown out of. We have a tradition of meeting with all the family in Bournemouth at Easter with a walk on Bournemouth beach (come rain or shine… or snow) and repeat the stress of over 20 people ordering and eating fish and chips together year in year out. Or a rather bizarre tradition started by my husband of taking a glass fish tank to the beach so we can see our ‘catch’ when we go crabbing. Finally, there is my personal favourite, duvet film days, where the whole family, and our dog crams into our bed with snacks to watch some movie or other.
For me I think the traditions we choose to keep or invent are about comfort and certainty. No matter how chaotic our lives are, no matter our situation or circumstances, traditions ground us. They are the familiar in the changing seasons, and remind us of who we are, providing a way point for us as individuals to mark both the passing of time and the stability of our family and culture.