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Monday, January 24, 2011

Blending Old and New Traditions

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Times change and people pass away, and many times celebrations and family traditions are lost to the progression of time. I grew up in a family with several birthdays and anniversaries that were around the Christmas and New Year holidays. I noticed as a child that special efforts were made by my mother to differentiate those special days from the hub-bub that surrounds that time of year.

When you start a family you don't think of such things much, or at least I didn't. And then my daughter was born on my deceased mother's birthday - 3 weeks late. So now I had the task of making my daughters birthday her special day, and not go on and on about a grandmother she would never know. We also didn't want to go the route that many of our friends were taking with elaborate birthday parties and over the top gifts, we wanted to keep the day simple and special.

At our house the person whose birthday it is gets to pick the meal, (I usually pick someone else cooking it!) And sometimes we go out for a lunch combined with a shopping trip to a store of the celebrant's choice. Over the years for our daughter's birthday we have went antique shopping, to a reenactors fair, used book store and this year we went to a leather store for some tack supplies.

Establishing new traditions was important but keeping some old traditions going too was significant. My brother was born during WWII on Christmas Eve, times were tough and goods hard to come by. To differentiate my brother's birthday from the usual dinner and gift giving, my aunt and uncle gave him a very large candle for his first birthday. December 24th was also my aunt and uncle's wedding anniversary. A special night. The big birthday candle was always the centerpiece and was lit before dinner. We never thought about the candle, except to dig it out and light it for dinner and put it out later and pack it away again for the next year. The candle would flicker, and melt and get shorter and shorter. We always joked and speculated about how long would that candle last anyway? Sometimes the candle would burn until the wee hours of the morning, it seemed like it would last forever. Sometimes forever is not very long. My brother was diagnosed with cancer, and we started fretting about burning that candle on Christmas Eve - we didn't light it until we sat down to eat, and we quickly put it out as soon as presents were opened. No one had a plan, we just did it. We quit joking about the candle lasting. Somehow we thought if we didn't use it up, my brother would not be used up either. Secretly we all wished we hadn't let that candle flicker for hours on end in years past. But, it didn't turn out that way - my brother passed away 21 years ago, and the candle is still here.

We burned my brother's candle on his birthday until my mom died, and then I stopped using it. But, I really liked the tradition of the gigantic birthday candle, and the memories that surrounded it. In keeping with old and new, we bought our daughter a huge candle for her first birthday. May it burn for many years keeping a simple birthday tradition alive.

Please share traditions you have kept or shed in your family celebrations.


tina f. said...

We also do the dinner of choice.

Paula said...

We did the dinner of choice. For many years I asked for cannelloni, because I loved it, but I quit asking for it once I got old enough to realize what a huge chore it was for my mother.

I have seven brothers and sisters, and Christmas is always at Mom's, who's getting pretty long in the tooth (her words, not mine!). We all agree that Christmas will still be at Mom's after she passes.

When I was a kid, one winter we made candles. It was some time in the 70's, when candles were all the rage. Well then we had to burn them, so burning candles at dinner in the winter time became a tradition. We stopped doing it after Daddy died. I don't know why. I think I'll start doing it again.

Finding Pam said...

Nita, I hope you will burn that candle again someday. I think it's a beautiful way to honor the living and the deceased.

Thank you for sharing this thoughtful memory.

Mrs. Mac said...

my favorite part of having a b/d is not having to do the dishes :)

Anna Clark (and occasionally Casey Hook) said...

We did breakfast, lunch and dinner of choice- I remember I always wanted my mom's sweet biscuits with strawberries and whipped cream. We also did whatever the birthday person wanted to do- go swimming, go to a bookstore or plant shop or whatever. I love the candle idea.

The Younger Rachael said...

Growing up, the birthday person got to choose the dinner, and there was usually a cake and candles to blow out. After my tenth birthday, my mom stopped offering to give us a 'birthday party' and it was just family. I didn't mind.

I love the idea of one big candle. Our first baby is due in May, so I might think about if I want to do something like this for him (and us), but so far everyone has a summer birthday... so nothing to compete with, at least.

Good thoughts and things we should think about.


Heather's Blog-o-rama said...

I was really touched by the birthday tradition using the candle :) :) That is very lovely!!! Very sweet. Have a good week. Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

Hana said...

We did not really do anything special for b/d but we have a nice tradition for Christmas. We always played a recording of Luke 2:1-20 - the Christmas Story. We would stand around the table, white table cloth, crystal wine glasses, fine china, and candle light. We would just stand and listen. After the reading, there was a recording of church bells. It made the whole thing about much more than presents and food.
I do the same with my kids now and it is very special to them too.

karen said...

We always did the dinner and desert of choice. My daughter who has 4 children also does this. We did do parties up to 6th grade, nothing elaborate as we did not have much money. We had hiking up the mountain parties with cupcakes at the top, lots of backyard parties with yard games, a roller skating party and of course the last party for each of them was a sleep-over. Dad stayed up all night with the girls as it was a tent party and I did the all night with the boys. Fun times! Karen from CT

USMCmom said...

It is funny how simple things can mean so much. We have a birthday tradition that no one make take a bite of cake or ice cream until the birthday celebrant takes a bite. It was started when our kids were little and still strictly observed even though the "kids" are in their 20s.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...


Thanks all, I loved reading about your family celebrations!

Hana - Marmota said...

We do the dinner of choice, too.
And we often did the usual blowing of candles, although without any "secret wishes". Just to see how many the celebrant can blow out at one time! It used to be a lot of fun when we were children.

At Christmas, we read the Luke nativity story, and sing some "church" songs before the presents. Although this year we did not read the text, because we moved the celebration from 24th forward (felt like it was too stressful to have it on a fixed date, right after work week) and it was already read in the church on 25th. :-)

Your story of the candles is touching...

dc said...

Thank you for sharing your lovely family story. We have a lot of family traditions.

When my husband and I were dating I made him a Christmas stocking. Every year since then I've added sewed on a new decoration on the stocking. The tree I sewed on the stocking is pretty well decorated with antique buttons, earrings and charms.

We have our alarm set to NPR and they used to play this every Christmas morning:

When they stopped playing it my husband downloaded it onto his laptop. Now he brings the laptop into the bedroom and plays it for me every Christmas morning. He's such a sweetie!

Annodear said...

What a beautifully written and heartfelt blog. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.