As our society becomes ever more utilitarian and traditions fail to be passed from one generation to the next, I tend to cling more and more to those things which give texture to daily life and which mark the days in special ways. Perhaps that is why one of my all-time favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye clings to tradition while his children one by one set it aside and embrace new ways. He is bewildered at it all, but in the end, he is powerless to do anything about it. I feel his angst at seeing what he holds dear put aside by the next generation. We do not know if the children put aside the religious practices of their parents or if, in their new “mixed marriages” with gentiles, communists and free thinkers, they somehow manage to practice their religious traditions. I kind of doubt it.
I feel blessed that our children like family traditions and are passing them on to their children, even though they entail planning and effort, as well as cleanup when finished. The scene in Fiddler where the family gathers around the table is for me the most poignant of the whole film. I think that is because so many of our family traditions center around sharing food, laughter and conversation around the table. Looking over thousands of family slides, pictures and movies, we have noted that they are overwhelmingly focused around the table. And many of them have not only family, but friends who have been welcomed into the family circle and who have enriched the celebrations.
When our daughter got married, she wanted a large table that would accommodate her husband’s and her own family at one time. Obviously she embraced the notion that food was to be shared with lots of people. That gives me a lot of comfort, because somehow, she “got the memo” and has made it her own.
Yesterday we celebrated the Seder. We are not Jewish, but our religious roots are certainly in Judaism, and for the last 20 or so years, we have been doing a Seder and introducing our Catholic friends to the tradition. If one listens carefully, he recognizes in the Mass many of the prayers he hears in the Seder which is not at all surprising, because Jesus was a Jew who celebrated Passover and was at such a meal on the night before He died.
I have heard more than once that it just isn’t worth all the effort it takes to do these things, but I would question what could be more important. At the end of our lives, are we going to remember the special things we did as families, or are we going to remember the countless television programs we watched or the hours we spent alone wasting time? I don’t deny the work involved–but again, it brings so much satisfaction. Everybody can work together to make these gatherings special. We bring out the china, the silver and the glasses, all which have to be hand-washed. Even the youngest children can help set the table and when everybody participates, the work is a joy. Many valuable unspoken lessons are learned in the process. When so much effort is put into the preparation, food and the table-setting, it says “this is important.”
I know our children value the tradition because two y ears ago I announced that I was retiring from doing the Seder dinners. Their response? They bought me a beautiful Seder plate, no strings attached. But what was I to do with it but host a Seder? I am glad we did and in the process, we got to know another wonderful family.
In addition, we enjoyed the extraordinary culinary talents of our guests. Who could resist a dessert like this? It was obviously lovingly made with care and attention to detail. We won’t soon forget it.
Our daughter has moved to another city and I was thrilled to hear that she took our Seder tradition with her. She introduced a whole new group of people to it, made the programs, set the table and more important, I know the tradition is safe for yet another generation!
It is a joy to see our children develop their own traditions while at the same time seeing that they value traditions from home. Those traditions give all of us a sense of who we are in ways that material things can’t. They keep us connected with one another and they all go toward creating those memories which we all cherish. The mother of my sister-in-law always says it is important to create memories because in our later years, that may be all we have. Do we want them to be richly textured and happy? If so, we have to create them while we are able and while our children’s hearts are receptive.