On a recent October morning, my horoscope read: “With the world rolling ever forward, which traditions do you want to keep and which do you want to leave behind?”
Good question. Deep question. Traditions are near to my heart, but aren’t they really only as good as the meaning behind them?
The beginning of Advent next week gives rise to many faith traditions in my house: The lighting each successive week of the candles of the Advent wreath, along with the corresponding prophetic readings from the Bible. Donating money and food to holiday baskets for the less fortunate. Attending a Penance service. Most of all, allowing Advent its spiritual space before the crackle of Christmas takes all the focus of the season. But for the past several years, since all of my daughters have fledged from the nest, I have skipped a longstanding tradition, because why would I fill the little numbered wooden doors of the Advent calendar with treats for children who are no longer here?
That tradition has been left behind.
Sometimes it seems a family’s traditions will never change, and so it can be disheartening when they do. When my parents died, my siblings and I had to go through their stuff and decide what possessions to keep, what to sell, what to dispose of, and what to donate. I felt guilty for getting rid of items that I knew they held dear — scores of Hummel figurines, anyone? — but for which their descendants had no use. And some family traditions died with them. We gather differently now. We celebrate holidays differently. We have scattered more into our individual families, which I suppose is as it should be. My children will no doubt follow suit someday.
Traditions are birthed and killed off throughout our lives. For example, now that my mother and grandmother are both gone, I do not wear a slip under dresses. I don’t even own a slip. The women who came before me would not have left the house without the ironclad modesty of a full slip under any dress. My legs are outlined just like the legs of someone my mother would have called a “trollop.” I have discarded a tradition that doesn’t make sense to me.
My children do the same to me, as they eighty-six traditions that I still find proper. Take the thank-you note. Writing a decent thank-you note is a skill I required each of my daughters to master. Yet they do not regularly write them now that they are on their own, to my mortification. Here’s another one: My daughter, who is engaged to be married next summer, plans to let her fiancé see her wedding dress before the ceremony. WHAT? I explained to both of them that this goes against a time-honored tradition that wards off bad luck. And just saying that made me realize that some traditions are indeed better left behind.
The Catholic faith traditions I have loved are still part of me, but I now observe them alone. My family has mostly left the church, and I have gotten used to being one of those solitary old women at Mass. I still practice my faith, still draw strength from the sacraments and say my rosary and aspire to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I have had to let go of my feelings of failure for not raising the next generation of Catholics, as my children have followed their own consciences and struggled with their own doubts and beliefs. And yet, my heart filled with gratitude when one of my daughters recently told me that she has joined her neighborhood parish and has volunteered her time in ministry there. So continues her own adult faith journey, along with her traditions.
Our traditions don’t last forever, because nothing does. Perhaps we can appreciate the security and joy they bring us while they are meaningful, and gently let them go when they have overstayed their relevance. Thanks, horoscope writer, for the prescient reminder.