What are your traditions when this time of year comes? We all have some, even if we don't realize they are traditions. Sometimes we just think, "Well, that's just what you do this time of year." But have you paused to ask your family what "traditions" they remember from growing up, or that they look forward to each year, when it comes to Thanksgiving? It's easy to pin point Christmas or Hanukkah traditions, but what (besides turkey and football) do you and your family do for Thanksgiving?
In doing some preparation for one of my upcoming Rootstech presentations, I have been doing a lot of reading about the science behind family history and family narratives. There is a great deal of power behind both. One of the sources I am studying is The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. It's a really fascinating read but one section really caught my eye recently as I reread a section and it talked about the author's experience with Emory Psychology professor, Marshall Duke. The author had a chance to gather with Duke's family for a Shabbat dinner, one Friday evening, to discuss the power of family narratives. Duke discussed the work that he and colleague Robyn Fivush have spent a great portion of their careers in studying children's resilience. They have pioneered the field and determined that those children, and later adults, who are the most balanced and resilient in their lives are those who have a strong "intergenerational self." In other words, they know they belong to something bigger than themselves (their families). They know this because of involvement in family narratives and personal family history. Narratives are huge and it turns out that Grandma's are key in the passing on of narratives. Go figure, right?
Back to the Shabbat dinner Feiler spent with Duke's family, though. Dinner time is key in the Duke home to the sharing of narratives but Duke insisted that traditions and narratives can be shared any time, not just at dinner. But seeing as how it was a meal time, Feiler decided to ask Duke's children about their favorite traditions and narratives. The Thanksgiving tradition stuck out the most to Feiler --it's hilarious! It appears, in the Duke family, that Thanksgiving is a four day extravaganza of obscure and downright odd traditions. It all kicks off the Tuesday before Thanksgiving when the family eats turkey sandwiches for dinner. Then on Wednesday, they all eat spaghetti for dinner and paint mustaches on each other. On Thursday they hide cans of pumpkin sauce, bags of green beans, and a frozen Turkey so the family can all "hunt" for their food like the Pilgrims. Finally on Friday, they eat their Thanksgiving meal as a family. And if all of that isn't quirky enough, the family has color coded teams and they compete all weekend long for points. The winning team claims a plastic duck. The Dukes have been doing this for over thirty years and no one really had a specific reason for why any of those traditions started or carried through. They just did it that way one time and it all stuck. And not just the traditions, as odd as they may seem to some (okay, me), but the memories attached to them. The traditions just "become part of your family," Duke said. And it's what the Duke children loved telling Feiler about. It's what made their family theirs.
journal or in pictures) traditions for future recollection. And I'd also like to challenge you to include the youth in your family in the execution of these traditions. (If they feel like they own a part of it, they will be more likely to continue it in the future.) And then sit back and watch them fly. They may have a twist on a given tradition that you never thought of that actually makes it better. Share the opportunities in your family and watch something amazing happen--the linking of generations and the strengthening of familial bonds. You'll be grateful for that much more this year if you do.
Source: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More by Bruce Feiler (pgs 40-43), HarperCollins copyright 2013