On tradition Monday, Mar 29 2010 

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.

Laetare Sunday Monday, Mar 15 2010 

I just heard a discussion about whether or not Father’s vestments yesterday were pink, magenta or rose.  That discussion is held every year as Father Whoever, maybe a bit self-consciously,  proclaims the joy of Laetare Sunday and then proceeds to explain that he really isn’t wearing pink.  Unless a concerted effort is made by the priest to explain what laetare means,  the name of the Sunday is lost on 90% of the pew-sitters.  I just read an informative and funny post about the significance of this Sunday in Lent and invite you to read it too.

Kirking the Tartans Wednesday, Sep 16 2009 

The Long’s Peak Scottish Highland Festival is a weekend of celebration of Scottish/Irish culture.  There are athletic events, dance competitions, music, free-flowing Guinness and scotch, pipe bands, a parade, clan booths and everywhere there are men and women in kilts.  The variety of woven fabric seen on the kilts is dazzling.  Each fabric is unique to a particular clan, and people-in-the-know are pretty good at identifying the clan of others by the kilt.

The tartan, as the woven fabric is called, has played a significant role the dress codes of the Highlanders as well as in their battle dress.  In earlier times, it was central to the identity of the family, or clan, and was worn proudly by the men.  The tartan consists of yards and yards of fabric which is pleated into the kilt.  In the 1700s, the clans would wear their kilts to battle, following their band of pipes and would be a formidable foe not only to other Scots, but to the English as well.

Following attempts by the Duke of Cumberland to put down all Jacobite resistance among the highlanders, The Act of Proscription of 1746 was passed.  This was an attempt to assimilate the Scots into the English fold and to destroy their Scottish identity.

By this Act, “Any persons within Scotland, whether man or boy (excepting officers and soldiers in his majesty’s service), who should wear the plaid, philibeg, trews, shoulder belts, or any part of the Highland garb, or should use for great coats, tartans, or parti-coloured plaid, or stuffs, should, without the alternative of a fine, be imprisoned for the first conviction for six months, without bail, and on the second conviction be transported for seven years”.

The use of the bagpipes was also forbidden in the proscription.

This onerous law was repealed in 1782 and read:

 “Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander. This is declaring to every Man, young and old, simple and gentle, that they may after this put on and wear the Truis, the Little Kilt, the Coat, and the Striped Hose, as also the Belted Plaid, without fear of the Law of the Realm or the spite of the enemies.”

The Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans was conceived by Dr. Peter Marshall, who was the first Chaplain of the US Senate as a commemoration of these events of the 1700s.  It is still held at Washington, D.C.’s historic National Cathedral; with its sermon being delivered by the Presiding, or Senior Minister of the Washington, D.C. Catholic Archdiocese; or by a special guest speaker, primarily one of Scottish and/or Scottish-American background.

The Kirkin (churching or blessing) of the tartans is a moving ceremony.  It celebrates the end of proscription and the freedom to “show the colors” of the clan tartans.  This particular kirking was held outside.  Led by bagpipers, the knights of The Imperial Constantinian Military Order of Saint George, clad in white capes, processed onto the field followed by the clans, with their tartan flags held down at their sides.  After a rousing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, the national anthems of the various countries represented were played.  Then, a brief history of the proscription was read, and as the name of each clan was called, the clan flag was quietly raised.  When all the flags were raised, they were blessed by the chaplain with the following prayer:

On behalf of all Scots away from Scotland, and in the name of all the Scottish Clansfolk that are here represented, we present these Tartans before Almighty God in appreciation of our Heritage; and we ask His Blessings upon these, His humble servants.

O Lord, Thou hast promised that in all places where Thou recordest Thine Holy Name, Thou wilt meet with Thy servants, and bless them; fulfill now Thy Promise, and make us joyful in our prayer, so that our Worship, being offered in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, and by the guidance of Thy Holy Spirit, may be acceptable unto You, and profitable unto ourselves.

Bless, we pray, these Tartans — that they may be unto us and unto all people a token of the faith of our Fathers; and a sign of our service unto You.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The priest who offered the benediction ended by saying “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.”

After the blessing, all the flags were raised and there was a loud cheer.  More music, and then the final prayer was read.  The clans and knights were led off the field by the pipers as they had entered.

The Kirking was solemn, dignified, and full of meaning.  It was a good reminder to us all, that freedom should never be taken for granted.  At all times in history, people have been oppressed, and just as the Jews celebrate their freedom annually during the Seder, and as Americans celebrate their freedom every 4th of July, the American Scots celebrate the freedom of their ancestors with the Kirking of the Tartan.

Kirking the Tartan 2

Larry and Fran