Monday, May 6, 2013

Traditions - Love them or leave them....

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”  ~  W. Somerset Maughan

There is no sight more welcome than flowering branches, beds of daffodils and tulips, and trees bursting forth with bright green leaves after a season of rest.  From the time I was young mother, springtime has been the time for certain traditions for which my children have grown accustomed.  Traditions originating from very fond memories of cooking and baking projects during the Easter season with my mother and sisters.

For many years we have made divinity and peanut butter candy in the spring to share with neighbors, family and friends.  Some years we have found success, other years we have cooked up one batch of failure after another.  Notes are continually made of what worked well and what didn’t.  Humor seems to be the one required ingredient in our recipe for family fun and tradition.  If we remember the humor, it does not matter if our candies are the best ever or the worst flop.  Regardless of outcome or level of hilarity, the activity has been considered a success.  Success, that is measured only by the anticipation of my children to try once again to make our candy confections the next year.  It makes me smile that a few failures over time have not clouded their enthusiasm.  To be honest, the past few years our candies have actually turned out pretty well and sometimes we are not even sure why.  I spent several years as a caterer, but a candy maker - I am not.  That is an art that I have never acquired. 

Of all that life has to offer, there is not much in all its fullness that brings me more joy than gathering together in the kitchen with the warm smells of candy making and baking; working side by side as family and friends to create something that is not only delicious, but beautiful as well.  Ideas flow about how to make variations on old favorites and everyone gets involved with the process resulting in a completely different finished product from the candies that came before. 

My husband and I were traveling during the Easter season this year and my oldest daughter had an Easter dinner for other “Easter orphans.”  She sent us photos of her creations that she made and served.  This particular cake has always been one of our traditional family favorites.  The cake, as she presented it, made such a lasting impression on me because she took an old family favorite and gave it a wonderful and creative splash of her own personality.  My daughter is a florist and she views the world in a colorful and beautiful way. She took this multi-generational tradition and made it her own.  This has given me pause to consider the importance of tradition in my life and the sense of belonging that having traditions brings to me and my family.

Not everyone in the world shares my fondness for traditions.  The internet is full of negative thoughts on the subject.  To consider anything traditional would be taking on all the trappings of suffocation and lack of original thought.  Many assert that a free thinker would never consider any traditions from family, culture or society.  In the connotation of being completely bound by the traditions of others, the above quote by Maughan, "tradition is a guide and not a jailer," would definitely be considered a “jailer.” 

Yet in all fairness, America was born out of the notion that moving forward would be without the trappings and restrictions of previous old world traditions.  Much of the world’s progress has been due to the courage to deviate from previous and established ways.  A recent trip to Nepal illustrated to me, a culture so bound by tradition that there has been very little progress over hundreds of years.

Yet agreeing with all the above, I can’t help but feel slightly betrayed by complete and utter disregard for traditions.  I feel a great need to defend and champion ideas that have been passed down and entrusted to us by those who came before.  It is through traditions that we have a sense of belonging to a family, community and culture.  We feel rooted and grounded by those nurturing feelings of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.  Throwing traditions to the wind is a decisive maneuver to prefer to "reinvent the wheel" in most situations.  There must be some kind of balance; and I guess that is what we all need to decide for ourselves – just how and where that line between what we hold onto and where we let go for personal and societal growth and progress.

“A love of tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril; but the new view must come, the world must roll forward.”  ~  Winston Churchill

My daughter’s beautiful cake was the perfect balance of taking hold of the old, the familiar, the cherished and making it her own.  Tradition can be a guide; it can illuminate the way for us to carry on giving us the ballast of family ties and support to keep us centered.  However, it need not bind us and tether us to the past or to a present that does not allow for progress or positive change.  We continually hear of individuals that so desperately want to belong to something that they cohort with groups, gangs and individuals that bring much destruction into their lives.

My heart is grateful for the traditions of my ancestors and my family.  My sense of self is grounded by the lessons learned from their experiences and their lives.  I cherish the traditions of my faith and the instruction to learn and test for myself the teachings offered.  My life is rich because of the traditions my husband and I have adopted and passed on to our children and even richer watching them save, alter and create traditions for themselves to enhance their own lives and relationships.  Sure, there are some traditions and family patterns we chose to leave behind, but many things we chose to love and invite to linger.

Italian Cream Cake

2 c. sugar

½ c. shortening

1 c. buttermilk

2 c.  coconut

1 t. vanilla

½ c. butter

5 eggs, separated

1 t. soda

1 c. chopped pecans

2 c. flour

In a mixing bowl, cream together the sugar, shortening and butter.  Add egg yolks one at a time mixing thoroughly between each one.  Add soda to buttermilk.  Add buttermilk mixture and flour alternately to the creamed sugar mixture.  Fold in vanilla, pecans and coconut.  Also fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.  Pour into 3 layer cake pans with waxed paper liner, greased and floured.  Bake 325 degrees for 25-30 min.



4 – 5 cups powdered sugar

½ c. butter

1 8 oz. softened cream cheese

1 t. vanilla

Blend together and beat until smooth and good spreading consistency. 

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