Thursday, October 2, 2008

How to share your family history with your family,--Traditions

And now, for another installment in the most drawn out series ever to be geneablogged.

One of the ways family history usually gets passed down in a family is through the transmission of family traditions. As we are heading into the holiday season, stop for a minute and think about your family's traditions and how you will celebrate with the people you love. You can probably make them even more Family History oriented very easily.

Traditions often center around the holidays you celebrate. They can include traditional foods and traditional activities. Like many other families, we always open one present on Christmas Eve. But probably unlike your family, we always have ministrone soup, clam chowder, Swiss bretzeli, and English trifle for Christmas Eve, each food a reminder of some of our heritage. One year I tried to change that and it didn't feel right. What traditions does your family have surrounding the holidays you celebrate?

Religious holidays are usually particularly traditional and family oriented. Hannukah, Easter, Ramadan, Eid al Fitr, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Lent, Passover and etc., whatever your family celebrated might be a good place to start with your current family. Heritage holidays are also a good place to focus as well, St. Patricks Day, Cinco de Mayo, etc. How about participating in a good community celebration with your family? Is there a church you could visit, or a parade or festival? Take those people with you who you are wanting to share your family history with. Help them get a feel for the culture of your heritage. Alot of the little towns around us celebrate Swiss days, or Octoberfest, or the Greek Festival or whatever. Hopefully there is some of that in your area too.

The holidays that you grew up with are probably very deep in your psyche. I remember a Thanksgiving day one year when I was in the Middle East. It was very strange that no one was interested. It was just a regular Thursday there, and I couldn't help but wish I was back in my Grandmother's kitchen. Those are the feelings that ground me in my family's history. And those are the feelings I hope my children would have about the holidays I have celebrated with them.

Next, see if you can make some of your traditions more family history oriented. For several Christmases, we have decorated a family history Christmas Tree. We have simple ornaments with ancestors' pictures, and we decorate with things they might have used, like popcorn and cranberries. We finish it off with a paper chain on which we write things we are grateful for--comforts that we have now that they didn't, things that they sacrificed to be able to provide for us. Even more authentic would be to participate in some of the activities your ancestors might have done--although I wouldn't suggest German candles on the Christmas tree--I have a friend who about torched the whole house with that one. So try some new family history oriented traditions, but keep in mind that some of them aren't as popular any more for good reason. :-)

Also, in this next year, as you celebrate with your loved ones in the traditions that you have inherited from your family, be sure you talk about the people and events that established the trend. Make sure they don't eat trifle every Christmas eve and not know why. Take a minute and talk about the first time you did this, or the person it reminds you of. Make sure that your traditions are celebrations of your family heritage and it will hopefully bring your living relatives closer to your ancestors.

And then, the rest of the year, there are probably other smaller traditions that you can pass on too. Superstitions and just common things your family does are important to re-create. My great-grandmother would lick her thumb and stamp her hand to make a wish every time she saw a white horse. While my kids and I don't do it every time, we do it once in a while, and I tell them about Great-grandma. Maybe it is blowing dandelion seeds, or eating pizza backwards, or a saying "bon appetite" before eating. Tell your family about it, and tell them where it came from.


Bob Kramp said...

OK, what is Swiss "bretzels"? Some kind of bread? I am interested in unique Swiss food this season. My Swiss grandma used to make a pastry called Fastnachtskukele every Xmas, bushel baskets of it. But a search for the word on Google failed. Currently my blog entry is the only "hit"- be sure to spell it correctly. I wish to confirm my Grandma's cooking. Ever hear of it?

Bob Kramp said...

By the way, I've seen your Really nice looking charts. I believe I was lead to them on Eastman's newsletter, or might have seen them at NGS convention. I'm saving up my money to purchase one. Good Luck, Bob

Janet Hovorka said...

To make Bretzli you have to have a Bretzli press (kind of like a waffle maker but it makes the cookies paper thin. We actually have one my Mom brought home from Switzerland. You can see a recipe here: But I would suggest (unless you have a Bretzli press in your back pocket) that you buy them here: Good luck finding your recipe. I've never heard of it.