Thursday, December 18, 2008

Culture, Tradition, Ritual, and Legacy

Vespera has been practicing the art of Mexican cooking, much to our delight. I couldn't help but smile when I saw the small stack of leftover homemade tortillas on the counter this morning.

Ever since Vespera joined our family, I've been much more aware of the role that food plays in family and culture. Honestly, I think American culture in general has lost the art of good food. I have always felt that I have so little to give in terms of culinary tradition. Now I'm getting very good (thank you very much) at things that aren't even my own cultural foods - salsa, enchiladas, mole... I don't even know what my own cultural foods would be anyway.

My great-grandmother immigrated here from Germany, but she refused to speak German to her children because Germans were not very highly regarded in the States at the time (during the first world war). She spoke very little English. So, she spoke very little to her children at all. She may have passed along some traditions, but I've never heard the stories, and I've never seen a recipe. I did not grow up with a sense of what it means to be German, though nearly all of my family on both sides came from Germany.

It's strange, isn't it? ...the way that culture seems to get lost after the first few generations in the United States. And we give way to the Minnesota tater tot casserole.

I don't know where I'm going with this really. I think it speaks to the importance of creating family traditions and rituals where none exist, creating a sense of heritage for our children. I want to teach both of my children things that they will teach their own children someday. I want to leave a legacy that gives them a sense of belonging, of having come from somewhere. I want them to have a family heritage. Vespera has that already from her first family. I hope to give her something just as rich from this family.

I think that, in many ways, this is why God had so many rules for the Israelite people. They needed a sense of communal identity, of belonging and destiny. They needed to have markers of their identity as a people set apart. That cultural sense of tradition and identity holds people together, gives them a format for passing on spiritual teachings to their children. It's easy for those things to get lost without a ritual and a tradition.

It's fun and kind of crazy that Mane is growing up with this amalgam of homegrown traditions from Mango and I AND some chunks of Mexican culture, too. We read some traditional Hispanic stories, cook Mexican food, listen to Spanish music, and practice a little Spanish language. I often wonder what kind of person she'll turn out to be having had such a rich experience.

I don't want to sound as though we have no tradition or ritual in our family. That simply isn't true. It's just that most of those traditions have been created by us right here in this family and not by previous generations. One of my favorite times of year is right now...Advent. I've posted in previous years about how we began the tradition of celebrating Advent, lighting candles, hanging ornaments on a Jesse Tree (wreath), and keeping an Advent calendar.

The Advent candles:

The wreath this year:

The Advent calendar:

Thanks for following along with my ramblings. I've missed blogging here, as Peregrin House gets most of my attention right now. I hope to be back with some other musings later today or tomorrow.

Hope and Peace and Joy, the first 3 candles of Advent, to all of you!


  1. reading your writing is just like listening to you talk...i love it...and it was great reading this...feeling like i'm catching up on y'all and what's going on with life...

    and the Peregrin House is just amazing...your girls are so smart...and i just wanted you to know that i'm so very proud of you...not just the parent that you are but the friend, cousin, person that you are...

    *big, big hugs*

  2. I agree with you. I think it's very important to create traditions within our own family units -- and not just for Christmas, but other holidays and even birthdays. My own special ritual for my birthday is an idea I stole out of an Emily book (LM Montgomery). I write a letter to myself for my next birthday. It's one of my most favorite things about my birthday, opening that letter. I usually write two: one for the next year and one for a big birthday. I don't do it every year, but when I don't, I miss it...

  3. Thank you, Jenn! Maybe I'll get you hooked, and you will come see me here often!

    I LOVE the birthday idea! I've often pondered what to do about birthdays for our kids...still pondering. I read about an artist/father once who would sketch a portrait of his children at each birthday & keep them in a book. I'm not an artist, though. *sigh*


It's always good to hear from you!