Alexandria, VA – I’ve been musing about year-end traditions. When I asked friends and family to share their memories, Barbara B wrote that she and her husband went only once to check out Black Friday sales. “The next year and every year afterward, they drove to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland, and spent the day watching the birds and eating in local restaurants before moseying back home.”
I found many have to do with food. Janet H wrote “I remember Thanksgiving as a time to get out the ‘good’ china and silverware. One of our traditions was to make the family recipe for stuffing. As far as I know, it started with my grandfather and it’s a recipe that everybody still loves. I’m the third generation to make it. Not sure it will be taken up by the next.”
Janet sent the list of ingredients and a photo of the kind of hand grinder that was used. That reminded me of my mother using a similar grinder to make chopped liver. The grinder was clamped to a chair and I loved it when I was allowed to turn the grinder handle.
My daughter Lynn remembers that we shaped stars and angels with aluminum cookie cutters and decorated the cookies with red and green sugar sprinkles. She remembers driving around the neighborhood to see the elaborate Christmas displays.
Barbara H wrote that her daughter’s family started a new tradition for Rosh Hashanah, using challah bread for French toast.
Some traditions are related to letting go of bad things and hoping for good things in the new year. Also from Barbara H: “The ceremony of tashlich, however, is an old tradition that I’ve always loved! On Rosh Hashanah (usually the second day in the afternoon) we’d go to a body of water and empty our pockets and cast away our sins. It’s customary to scatter bread pieces into the water. When growing up, I lived near a beach. We’d walk there to do tashlich….This year…I joined friends and walked to a stream near their home. We recited blessings and read poetry on the beautiful, early autumn day.”
And then there is the tradition of the Yule Log. According to Google, “A holiday celebration that began in Norway, on the night of the winter solstice it was common to hoist a giant log onto the hearth to celebrate the return of the sun each year. As Christianity spread through Europe, the tradition became part of Christmas Eve festivities. The father or master of the house would sprinkle the log with libations of mead, oil, or salt. Once the log was burned in the hearth, the ashes were scattered about the house to protect the family within from hostile spirits.”
I heard a somewhat different explanation, that the burning of the log was a way of releasing/letting go of pain and angry feelings.
Music plays a large part in some family traditions. Dolly R shared her favorite early childhood memory: “I attended an 8-grade Lutheran school. Every Christmas Eve we presented a wonderful choral concert to the church audience. There were two services that evening. I always had a new dress which my mother made. At the end of the services each child received a large paper bag with an orange, some unshelled nuts, and a small box of Brach candy….”
Ruth B’s family would gather around the piano and while her sister played they would sing Christmas carols before opening presents.
My favorite year-end tradition is writing a summary of the year’s most important events on a gift tag-size piece of paper that I attach to a tree ornament that I add each year. When I unwrap the ornaments I read all the tags going back to 1977! Some relate to me and my family; others have to do with the larger world – devastating floods, economic recessions, national elections. It will be hard to fit this year’s events on a small piece of paper.
My Google search for end-of-year traditions revealed one I might add. Invite everyone to write down a resolution, goal, wish, or note to their future selves. Save them in a jar and ask the writers to read them the next year. I think just writing down one’s hopes or intentions can be meaningful.
Mosaic Artist/Photographer Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria.