In our traditions and our customs we are saying "This is who we are. This is what we believe. These are the ones we love." In our Harbor Home we are all about creating moments that mark the joy of family.
Autumn is well and truly here in my Harbor Home on Lake Norman, NC. The leaves on the lake are bright and, when the water is calm, the reflection of the leaves is nearly indistinguishable from the leaves themselves. It is no wonder that many of my friends say that this season is their favorite. The weather is positively perfect, and a homey atmosphere has descended. We are all, it seems, making soup and bread and building fires in our firepits. We are gathering in. Home keeping. Home making. Home warming. It is instinctive; less a decision than an impulse.
It is in these homey moments that many of my favorite family traditions were born. It has always been my firm belief that the best traditions bring far more than just food and fun to the people participating. It is in these moments that families are strengthened and renewed. In our traditions and our customs we are saying "This is who we are. This is what we believe. These are the ones we love." We mark the passage of the years by our customs. These are the moments in which we remember and then move forward.
It is on these days that we notice that our children have grown tall and beautiful. How smart they are becoming. We see our parents' bodies and minds becoming more frail and fractured. We remember those we have lost, and we remind ourselves to cherish each other. We belong to one another. Our days are numbered, and life seems precious and short. Oh yes. Customs, conventions and traditions are about far more than turkey and ham and freshly pressed napkins.
These special moments in family life are extremely important to me personally, and they are worth all the effort it takes to create them. Those who know me well know that I have very few happy childhood memories. One of the ways that I have compensated for this sadness is that I have always worked very hard and intentionally creating for myself and my children what I have begun to call "A Harbor Home".
Encouraging young families to create their own Harbor Home has become the great passion of my late middle years because I know so well how valuable it is. Every effort and self sacrifice necessary is well worth the outcome. Designing meaningful traditions and customs is an essential part of the process of making a Harbor Home.
When I was a young mother with two little children, I discovered that there simply are not enough official holidays to create the number of joyful benchmark moments I wanted to give them. So we invented a few of our own holidays. Most of them didn't last long, but there is one of these that remains their favorite and mine. They both have carried this tradition to the next generation in some form and Rick and I keep it going even as an empty nesters. It really is simple and fun.
Our favorite invented holiday is called First Fire Night. The main activity is pretty self explanatory; it is the night on which we light the first fire of the winter in the fireplace. If you don't have a fireplace inside, you can always do this outdoors. Since we have always lived in the south this night is typically well into October and sometimes early November. On first fire night, after the fire was ceremoniously lit and crackling, we would roast hot dogs over the fire for dinner and we then eat them by the fireplace. This was special because on all other nights we ate at the table. After hot dogs, we roasted marshmallows and made s'mores. And then games were played.
I marked the passing of the years by the games that we played on First Fire Night. "Candyland" became "Guess Who" after a couple of years. That turned into "Uno"after a while, and then "Clue" which requires more logic. When the children became teenagers the game was "Yahtzee" and we played it so often together that the box actually stayed on the kitchen table. Never in my life have I wanted to be able to freeze time more than I did on those beautiful evenings with firelight on my children's laughing faces. We belonged to each other and cherished one another. In spite of all challenges, we were together. First Fire Night was one of many ways we were able to imprint all the joy of family on our hearts and minds.
So what are the ingredients of a meaningful tradition? How do you create them if you didn't experience them as a child? What separates a meaningful tradition from something we just do every so often that has no real significance? There are several elements to traditions and customs that bring joy and help a family become beautifully bound together.
Food (of course). A set menu is wonderful, because then you don't have to really plan it and it becomes part of the familiarity, but make sure that everybody present has something they really enjoy on the table. Build up the anticipation around the meal. Recruit help and participation from everyone. The act of creating the meal is as important as the meal. On Thanksgiving morning in our Harbor Home, the youngest ones make butter in glass jars. It's a big part of the day!
Inclusivity. In our family, the most special traditional activities are always open to newcomers. Remember that hospitality was very important to Jesus. Welcome the new flame, a friend from out of town, a recently widowed or divorced acquaintance. Open the conversations to everyone's memories. Ask the visitors about the traditions that mattered when they were young. Ask open ended questions that invite discussion. A welcoming table means that everyone is inside the circle of love. Affirm everyone's presence, especially the children.
Commitment. A special occasion is only special if someone is committed to making it happen. Of course this requires planning, preparing, and assembling. It means setting aside other plans you may have in order to provide all the benefits of tradition. I realize that this kind of commitment seems burdensome to some more than to others. But consider the benefits. Belonging to and with a family is the most important gift of love and acceptance that we can offer our children
Enjoy this season of home. Create in your Harbor Home as many customs and occasions as you can possibly think of. Make your holidays about the people gathered around rather than the gifts or the perfect decorations. The food doesn't have to be elaborate. The event just needs to welcome, affirm and draw near those who matter. A Harbor Home never happens by accident. It happens because you care.