01 November 2006

Mother Talk Blog Book Tour: Everyday Traditions

Parent Hacks is part of the Mother Talk Blog Book Tour for Everyday Traditions: Simple Family Rituals for Connection and Comfort, by Nava Atlas.

When Andi Buchanan (one of the founders of Mother Talk and accomplished parenting author in her own right) emailed me about this book thinking it might be a good fit, I was immediately intrigued. Ritual is something I've been drawn to more and more as my children grow. I feel a pull toward repetition and tradition and saying to my kids, "we do this every week/season/year!" But, despite my roots in two highly ritualized cultures (my father's from India and my mother is Jewish), my upbringing, and our family life, is relatively secular.

The one religious ritual we observe is Shabbat dinner on Friday night, the Jewish sabbath. We set the table nicely, light candles, drink wine (Manischewitz is too wine!), and eat challah. We even say the blessings in Hebrew. I didn't grow up with this -- in fact, I didn't even know what Shabbat was until I met Rael. And yet, despite my secular leanings, I love to say those blessings every Friday, and the kids' eyes sparkle in the candlelight as if it were something new and magical every time.

While we happen to have found a religious ritual that feels comfortable despite our relative un-religious-ness, not everyone feels the same way. Everyday Traditions shows that ritual doesn't have to have its basis in religion at all. Anything can become a meaningful family ritual, whether it's a simple marking of the seasons with special foods and decorations, or the yearly reading of a book, or the celebration of a milestone or occasion. The fact is, most of us already have some measure of tradition in our lives (trick-or-treating, Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas trees have annual places in many Americans' lives, after all); what this book suggests is that ritual has a more important place in our lives than the once-a-year extravaganza.

What's more, "tradition" needn't be "traditional" or even serious. One family mentioned in Nava's book observes "Pancake Thursday," in which the hardest day of school each week gets off to a good start with a breakfast of warm flapjacks.

Lest you think this is a woo-woo, crystals-and-chanting sort of book, it's nothing of the sort. Nava lays out simple, practical ideas for family rituals of all kinds. How to make mealtimes special. Baking bread together. Reading and playing games as a family (and one I grew up with, the big jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table). Simple ways to observe the change of seasons. All stuff within reach of any family that wants to bring a some intention to the time they spend together.

There's nothing here that isn't common sense, and yet I found the book to be a welcome reminder to slow down and enjoy the time with my kids. That oft-repeated lament -- "it all goes so quickly and pretty soon they're packing up for college" -- is starting to dawn on me now that my oldest has started elementary school.

RelatedWhat are your holiday traditions? Talk amongst yourselves.

Your comments

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Sounds like a great read! I love traditions. My family growing up always had Sunday night home made pizza and in some form we all helped make the pizza. It's a tradition my husband and I continue each week and have even opened up to all our friends once a month.

It sounds like a really good book. My kids love little family traditions. And they can be super-simple, like pizza and a movie on Friday nights. They look forward to it all week.

Nifty! I love Nava Atlas' 5-Ingredient cookbook. Her style is so simple without being meager, and she really communicates the joy she gets from preparing nourishing, creative meals with her family. I look forward to seeing what she has to say.

I continue to be so glad for these recommendations! Whether it's books or lipstick, I'm so glad to have somebody with some sense advising me about what might be worth my time. Keep it up!

Jen: thanks, glad these recs are helpful. We've all got wisdom to share, and with so much input streaming at you from all directions it's nice to get a little help cutting thru the mental clutter.

I once had to get some new knobs for my kitchen cabinets. I went to Home Depot and there were, like, hundreds of choices. The kids were squirming in the cart, ready to blow, and I stood there paralyzed. Ack! All I wanted was for someone to pat my shoulder and say, "Here you go, dear. These would look nice with your decor. Now go up to the front and pay, and get a nice hot chocolate on the way home. Okay?"

I think traditions are super important and we try to include them in our everyday life where we can. As you said in your post, we also have Shabbat dinner on Friday evenings with my inlaws. I have often caught my daughter (6) pretending to light the candles and say the brachas over the wine and challah.

Rituals and traditions are just one of the many things that tie generations together. To have those ties unravel is a tragedy in my eyes.

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