One of my favorite musicals is Fiddler on the Roof. In the opening sequence, the villagers of Anatevka tell of their traditions and the roles each member plays within them. As the story unfolds, Tevye struggles to accept the fact that his daughters are growing up and growing away from him as they break with his beloved traditions and strike out on their own.
I love traditions as much as anyone. I grew up with many, long-standing and cherished.
Our entire family gathered at my grandparents’ house for holidays, Sunday dinners, summer pool parties and picnics. We watched the fireworks on Independence Day from the front porch of a great aunt’s house while we enjoyed ice cream sundaes. We posed for pictures in the yard in our Easter outfits. As far as I knew, these rituals and so many others were just the way things were always done, and the way things would always stay.
As our family grew larger (and older!), our traditions began to change.
I can recall a time when my grandparents suggested changes to our yearly Christmas routine. We had this great tradition where every member of the family gave a gift to every other member of the family, no matter how small. The point was for all to experience the joy of giving and receiving. It was wonderful.
As the years passed and our family grew, it became clear that we needed a way to keep the length of time a bit more manageable. Some relatives were excited about the new ideas; others were more resistant. But we did find ways to accommodate the changing needs of our family. Over the years we have experienced more shifts in these traditions as people move through the various stages of life.
As more of us have married and have our own families, there are even more people and places to balance. This year an alternative plan for Thanksgiving was proposed –a post-Thanksgiving brunch on Saturday instead of Thanksgiving Day dinner. This time I found myself resistant, heartbroken, and even a bit angry; I felt as though my past – and with it all the memories and people I love so dearly – was slipping away from me, one holiday adjustment at a time.
I cried. I howled, in fact, as I drove my daughter to karate class one evening.
I was surprised at my reaction. Perhaps it isn’t so much that I am unwilling to accept change as I am unprepared to accept what those changes signify. We are growing older. Some of our loved ones are no longer with us. And as we all experience this natural evolution in our lives, it does become more challenging to continue to do things the ways we always have.
But life goes on (ob-la-di, ob-la-da), as it surely must. And as it does, our traditions also must shift. It’s inevitable and it’s necessary. People grow up, new members join the family through marriage and birth; others leave us as circumstances take them away geographically or as their time comes to pass on. If we do not embrace these changes, then how can we embrace new loved ones in our midst? Or the many adventures in life that lie ahead?
The simple answer is that we can’t. It is not possible to have it both ways.
Just because we grow up and our traditions change doesn’t mean we lose what we have always known. Tevye discovered that even though his daughters were now women with dreams and homes and families of their own, he was not losing them. While they may have been physically far from him, they were still close in heart. They would always treasure the traditions of their childhood and remember their heritage.
The same is true for all of us; time and distance may seem to separate us, but that is only circumstance. When we tell the stories of our past and remember those who have shared those memories with us, we keep those people and those customs alive and present to us today. We honor the traditions of our past by making them a part of whatever new traditions we put in place. Life goes on…
And that is as it should be.
Image: circa 1880, a big English Family party via SBS.com
Lisa A. Listwa is OTV’s Author-in-Residence