Monday, December 06, 2010


And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word! Tradition! ~ Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.

One of my favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye, the Jewish father of four daughters, suffers the inconvenience of poverty, the high drama of an all female household, and the changing times. But he tries to hold fast to the one thing that keeps his family glued together—tradition.

Tradition is passed from one generation to another through example and sharing stories. It is the golden thread woven in and through us binding us to our ancestors. We share their beliefs, social customs, and habits. That’s not to say that we never deviate or change from the beliefs of our elders, but when life gets shaky, deep within us there is a place where we find our “footing” in tradition.

I’m a southern gal who comes from a long line of women who believe food is the ultimate cure for anything. Feeding people is our tradition. Are you sick? Let me feed you. Sad? I’ll make it better with food. Happy? Let’s eat!

I remember my grandmother, a widow living alone, cooking a huge pot of soup. When it was ready, she would divide it into containers and pass it out to her neighbors.  In the spirit and from the example of my grandmother and my mom, there is always room for one more at my table.

When our children were small, Neal and I started a new tradition during the holidays. To keep them mindful that Christmas was the season for giving more than receiving, we had them choose a child’s name off an angel tree and take them shopping for that child. One year we shopped for an entire family and brought them food as well as gifts. I didn’t realize this tradition would mold my children’s characters, but it has.  They are all givers, and some are actively involved in social justice and feeding the poor.

The funny thing is that I didn’t consciously think, I’m going to teach my kids to care about the poor, the hungry, the outcasts, and the lonely. Rather, the tradition of giving and caring for others came from my grandmother and my mother. And now I see the compassion of my ancestors in my sons and daughters.

Traditions come in many forms in different families. Music, a craft, religious practices, scholarly pursuits, even the way we celebrate is all handed to us by tradition. Unfortunately, all traditions may not be good ones. The good news is that we can break with tradition, and begin anew.

It is the season when our traditions are openly shared. Take the time to participate in the traditions of others, invite them to join in yours. It is good to understand and appreciate those who are different from us.

If there is a cycle of unhealthy traditions in your life, break away and begin new ones.

Tradition—the foundation all generations can stand on. We all need them. Remember what Tevye warned, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as . . . as a fiddler on the roof!

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