Rituals, Holidays, and Tradition

Category: Weekly Columns

Holidays are both wonderful and, for many, difficult. Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, when they have lost a mother or father, isn’t a Hallmark-Cards good feeling. The Christmas Season, when people are apart from loved ones can also be challenging. In contrast, holidays can be joyous and create family traditions that transcend generations. This past July 4th struck me in this way as I felt both good and melancholy since my boys were apart from us.

My older son, heading towards age 18, is appropriately at that stage in his life where hanging out at a family BBQ isn’t his ideal of a good time. He hung with his friends much of the weekend, while my wife and I went to two BBQs. My younger son is away at camp so I have no idea what he was doing and he’s too busy to write more than the one letter in over two weeks. This doesn’t quite match the six long letters I wrote, filled with clippings, photos, and other stuff I knew he’d appreciate.  But, I’m not feeling neglected.

Our biggest family tradition is our Friday night dinner ritual.  We honor the Sabbath by lighting candles, saying a blessing that welcomes the beginning of Shabbat, and blessings over the wine, kids, and challah (I make my own special recipe for this sweet traditional egg bread).  But, our own unique tradition is sharing the “Bests and Worst” that happened to us the previous week.  Yes, only one “Worst” is allowed, while the “Bests” are unlimited.

I began this tradition when my boys began to talk. When they were that young, their contributions were few and often they required some prompting like, “Didn’t you go to Disneyland this week?” or “What about your birthday party?”  By doing this on a very regular and consistent basis, it truly became a Sallan Family tradition that we all treasure.  I’ve written about “The Family Dinner” and I continue to believe eating together, as a family, is an indispensible tool for bonding, learning, and loving.

Since the boys are now teenagers and my wife and I are quite busy with our respective careers, family sit-down time and “sharing” like this happens more infrequently than I’d prefer.  But, happily, we’ve all grown accustomed to sharing our “Bests and Worst” and we do so now unhesitatingly.  I’ve asked my older son to make his Friday night plans after dinner and he honors that request with little resistance.  When there’s a special occasion for the boys, they will be excused, but we all know it must be “Special.”

For many families, Thanksgiving and Christmas are their meaningful traditional holidays.  Both holidays tend to inspire larger get-togethers in which each family has their own history of rituals.  These special occasions define “Family” in my opinion. Ritual. Tradition. Holidays. They are signposts in our lives and theses “Signposts,” and they give our children tangible things to remember, to hold onto, and to pass on to their own families.

Our “Bests and Worst” tradition was inspired by attending a friend’s dinner where a version of this ritual was done.  We modified it for ourselves and it’s become so very important to us each Friday evening. I actually find myself reflecting on what I will say earlier in the day.

Religious people have rituals that extend to their religion’s particular holidays and values.  As we’re a mixed-faith, mixed-ethnicity couple, we have had the fortune of enjoying each other’s family and faith-based traditions.

Ironically, I’ve become maybe even more attached to my wife’s church after getting to know one of the pastors there, Pastor Drew Sams, who has become a regular on my Radio Show for the “Teen Rap” segment. I was actually stunned when I suggested to my wife that we attend recent services in which Pastor Drew would be presiding.  That was a change I’d never expected due to my attachment to my own faith, Judaism.

But, Pastor Drew speaks so well, from the heart, and his values and mine are pretty identical with only the role of Jesus being a slight differentiating belief.  As the Youth Pastor at Calvary Church and a young man himself, he brings a level of wisdom, youth, and insight to his sermons and to my show.  I’m grateful and blessed to know him. It never would have happened if my wife hadn’t encouraged me to attend her church, her ritual.

In a nutshell, I will unequivocally conclude that rituals, traditions, and holidays can be the glue that binds families that give extra meaning to those special times of the year, and are beautiful events upon which to build your family history.

I would love for you, my readers, to share some of your special family rituals and/or holiday traditions.  We can all learn from each other and maybe add something to our own family that we hadn’t done before?


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