Thanksgiving Day. This late-November annual holiday means different things to different people. For me, it definitely meant something different from grade school, to high school, to college, and the years thereafter. With a child of my own, it once again meant something completely unique and ties a new series of memories together each year. While there is an inherent tradition tying all of these times in my life together, the size of the family, food, and memories have evolved.
Fact: Thanksgiving Day is just a day like any other day on the calendar. When you break it down, just as many friends of mine will celebrate with their immediate family as will spend time with friends as will not hold themselves to a traditional gathering at all. As my son gets older, the day means more to him as well, and he remembers the small moments that make a lasting positive impact. While the fact it is a holiday can make it memorable, the day of gather itself represents something that is culturally important and a key component to developing your sense of self–traditions.
Traditions are a big deal. Now, I am guessing my definition of tradition is different than many reading this article. For some, traditions are tied to a specific location, or an event, or the group, that needs to be consistent in its design and outcome to feel like the tradition is intact. My personal belief in how traditions impact a person’s life connect closely to the definition of the word: “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way”. This doesn’t mean an event or holiday needs to include the same people, food, experiences, and outcomes to be a tradition. It means the tradition brings those involved closer together through shared emotions, organically creating a means to string together yet another special series of similar moments. Traditions bring familiarity, love, togetherness, experience, and most importantly—a platform to pass each of these from person to person, and generation to generation.
Gustav Mahler said, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” Think about that for a minute. Think about the moments in your life that contributed to the person you are today, the memories that force a smile each time they enter your thoughts; those impactful experiences where you preserved and passed down ‘fire’ to the most important people in your life. Chances are many of those were traditions. From attending hockey games with your son to gathering around the table with family at Thanksgiving to that annual camping trip you look forward to each summer, we all preserve fire with our families and friends in our own way.
During each Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate, we preserve fire with each other, and especially the youngest generation. Some years might include more extended family, or my dad attempting a new way to cook the turkey (which is both amazing and delicious at the same time), a different venue, or even holding it on a day other than Thanksgiving Day…but the core values and sense of togetherness we create stays the same. And this is what truly matters to us as adults, and to the children who cherish and remember these moments. In addition, whether they realize it at the time or not, these moments create a solid foundation as they grow older, and contributes to their internal compass. As they experience their own obstacles, challenges, and ‘forks in the road’, what we each take from our ‘tradition memories’ provide valuable input to making decisions and taking action that represent the best version of ourselves.
We each hold these traditions close to our hearts, and I encourage everyone to find ways to make special moments, events, outings, and gatherings into traditions. Even if decades down the road the people we shared those traditions with are no longer in our lives, we preserved fire with them, and we can continue to pass it on to those we love, who can build and expand that flame in their own lives. I know I look forward to adding logs to our Thanksgiving fire again this year.