Family traditions, whether predictable or peculiar, have the power to make memories. Kids set their watches (or their calendars) by them and wear them like badges of pride. Try neglecting a family tradition. Protests will ensue: “Where’s the birthday cake hat? I have to wear it when you sing to me!”
As the rite of returning to school spirals into a frenzied fall, our family relies on our traditions to provide pauses in our hectic life. For each occasion, we gather the props, prepare the foods, or reenact the rituals. Our traditions are our own, but like they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
October: Halloween Cookies
I make roll cookies the way my mom did, cut out in the shape of pumpkins. One night in mid-October, we gather around the kitchen table with confectioner sugar frosting, chocolate chips, candy corns, and sprinkles. The kids are happily tasked with decorating our Halloween cookies. There is limited artistry here. The primary objective is piling the cookie with as many toppings as taste will allow (or forgive). The times I’ve tried to forego this tradition, the objections were loud and convincing. Embrace your traditions! Share them with others, and add new ones as your family grows. Even the ones that are met with grumbles of dissent will be remembered. And the best of them will be the memories families hold most dear.
November: Turkey Chase
This family ritual is an idea borrowed from a friend and readily embraced by our entire crew. On Thanksgiving, our family brings the “turkey shirt” to Thanksgiving at the grandparents’ house. The designated uncle or dad (a rotating assignment) dons the feather-covered shirt and makes a dash across the backyard. In hot pursuit are the ten grandkids, currently ranging in age from six to sixteen. The kids de-feather the turkey by force, showing their fistfuls of feathers for the camera. He or she with the most feathers gets the first piece of pie.
December: Advent Calendars
One of our favorite holiday traditions is the Advent calendar. We have the Playmobil-made versions, given to us each year by my aunt and uncle. Our collection includes a pirate beach, a city park, and a barn (among others). The kids each choose one for their room and a shared one for the dining room. Getting out of bed for school on dark December mornings becomes a thrill. The daily boxes reveal tiny people, creatures, even treasure chests. This yearly routine enhances the anticipation of Christmas.
January: Thank-You Notes
Ahhh, a tradition only a mother could love. Though no one in my family seems to enjoy it, everyone participates. Before the end of winter vacation, we complete our holiday thank you notes. Yes, I am greeted with grumbles. Still, it is one of my favorites. I’m sure the notes will dissolve into emails or texts as my kids age, but for now, we gather around the kitchen table. And last year, my youngest began writing his own, complete with his creative spelling.
February: Valentine Fondue
We have a Valentine date night in our dining room each year, and cheese fondue is the main course. Tradition dictates that
if you lose a piece of bread or fruit in the fondue, you must kiss someone at the table. Lucky me! I have four cute dates
to choose from. We also use this time to open our Valentine mailbox (filled during the preceding weeks) and share our notes
March/April: Monument Avenue 10K
Thank you Richmond for this awesome citywide tradition! Like many locals, our whole family participates. Dad is kind enough to forego the race for the mile-long fun run, which he and the kids do together. Then they cheer for Mom from one of the many party sites on Monument Avenue.
April: Neighborhood Egg Hunt
Our neighborhood hosts an annual egg hunt in the median of our cul-de-sac. Some lovingly call it the egg drop, because there are few hiding places in the open field. Each family contributes eggs for their children, and volunteer bunny helpers scatter them everywhere (in plain sight). The highlight of this ritual is the yearly appearance of the Easter Bunny himself, who rides in on a pick-up truck.
May: A Mother’s Day Gift
One distinctly American tradition usurps all others in our house in May, so much so that friends joke about my Mother’s Day “diamond.” Of course, my diamond comes with cleats, caps, and concession stand duty. When spring rainouts lead to Sunday make-up games, Mother’s Day becomes a ball game (or three). And the ball field offers countless gifts – bubble gum, pop flies, and sunshine-squint smiles among them. And if the boys didn’t have games, we’d probably go check out the Flying Squirrels. Why not? Squirrel Tail Kids are free on Sundays, after all.
June: Lake Week
One week of our summer is devoted to a low-cost, high-tradition, family week at the grandparents’ lake house. Thank goodness for Virginia’s water getaways around every corner – river walks, boardwalks, and everything in between! Our lake is only an hour away, only a three-bedroom home housing eleven family members on a small lake. But it is ripe with traditions, from our yearly lake-week song, to our across-the-lake swim, to campfires and s’mores. What it lacks in glamour, it compensates with in sentiment.
July: Fourth of July Party
We just hosted our fourteenth annual Fourth of July backyard party. It has evolved from a gathering of a handful of single friends (1997), to an enormous crowd of balloon-throwing, sparklerwielding friends and family members ranging in age from zero to seventy (both grandfathers). Red, white, blue, and patriotism prevail, with every baby and bike bedecked.
August: Tailgate Season Kicks-Off
As graduates of two Virginia colleges, we embrace the tailgating tradition and college football as a whole. Our kids count on a few trips west, beginning in late August. Donning the colors of our alma maters and loading the truck with food and footballs, we head out to cheer on our favorite teams. Go Dukes! Go Hoos!
September: Glen Allen Day Parade
Kudos to old Glen Allen and this Mountain Road tradition! Every year, we take a step back in time when we wander to the front of our neighborhood with our coffees and lawn chairs. The parade that ambles by with local politicians, marching bands, and floats is a timeless tribute to suburbia. In recent years, my kids have climbed on scout and school floats, rendering this ritual even more precious.