It’s Christmas Eve. Most young kids spend their night with family as they anticipate the arrival of Santa. However, my Christmas Eve memories involve much more than setting out the milk and cookies. They have always included a special Czechoslovakian feast filled with mushroom soup, dried prunes, and the feeling of fresh honey on my forehead. Sounds weird, right? I used to think so too. Every year, my dad’s side of the family would gather at my grandparents’ house, and I would complain just as any other kid would. It took me many years to realize that the night was about so much more than the food.
The dinner always starts with the reading of the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth; I have heard it so many times that I could probably recite it from memory. After the reading, my grandpa prepares the garlic clove and honey. He circles the table, dipping the clove in the honey and marking a small cross on each guest’s forehead. When he is finished, he passes down pieces of Holy Bread with honey, which we each eat.
Immediately following the completion of these rituals is the serving of the soups. Both the sauerkraut soup and the mushroom soup are far from my preferred dish. However, I always eat a spoonful of each. When I was younger, I forced myself to eat the soups after my dad promised one dollar to each of his daughters who tried them. As I grew older, the bribes disappeared, and I stubbornly ate the soups out of obligation. Now, I eat the soups out of respect for both the recipes and the hard work behind them.
After the soups, the plates of fish, green beans, prunes and apricots, and bread cover the table. From there, conversations typically evolve into interesting topics, always different from the previous year. But when I really consider it, not much is different – the food, the rituals, and the people all remain the same. In fact, I find it astonishing that every Christmas Eve of my life, my dad’s life, and even my grandpa’s life has been shared in the exact same way.
That’s exactly why I believe in the power of tradition. It is really so much more than just a pattern of behavior, as most dictionaries define it. In my experience, tradition has the power to focus on the people and culture that are involved. It brings our family, young and old, to one dining room table. Tradition even makes my grandpa’s authentic soups tolerable to his picky granddaughters. Most of all, it allows me to experience the special meal as my grandpa did when he was my age, passing on the pride in my heritage which I will one day pass on to my descendants.
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