Of Indian corn, cranberries, tradition

I'm a sucker for establishing and following family traditions. My family of origin didn't have many traditions, but the family Jim and I created has been steeped in them, especially during the holidays. All holidays, from New Years to St. Patrick's Day to Fourth of July and on into Thanksgiving and Christmas. For each, we have traditions unique to our clan, ones we've followed for years.

Well, at least used to.

The empty nest continually challenges my desire to do as we've done in years upon years past. I'm struggling with creating new traditions to replace the old ones, the ones that required participation of the whole family...or at least its majority. I'm not yet used to not having the majority around for the celebrations that mattered—and continue to matter—most. Yesterday's Thanksgiving celebration, although delightful and enjoyable, was the first time I celebrated a holiday with only one of my three daughters. One had to work, the other celebrated with in-laws. I understand and accept such things, such changes; I'm just not yet used to them.

The empty nest isn't the only thing challenging my commitment to traditions set into motion years ago. Basic changes in our society—specifically, the availability of certain goods and services—take a toll as well.

To wit: I once upon a time created a tradition of sprinkling on the Thanksgiving table the multi-colored kernels of Indian corn. Throughout the meal, family and other guests were invited to place kernels representing the blessings for which they were thankful into a ceramic "gratitude" dish placed on the table. I considered it a way to express our thanks without having to say such things aloud and draw uncomfortable attention to oneself or the things for which they're grateful.

It was a tradition we followed for years, but I'm now unable to find Indian corn anywhere. (I wrote here of one embarrassing Thanksgiving when I had saved the kernels from the previous year, upon realizing the corn was confoundedly difficult to find every year.) Last year we spent the holiday at Megan's house sans gratitude dish, but the year prior, I decided to use popcorn kernels in place of the nowhere-to-be-found Indian corn kernels. I quickly realized it just didn't have the same feel, the same "pop" (pardon the pun) as the Indian corn, that tried-and-true symbol of Thanksgiving. I considered the tradition over.

Until this past Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. I came up with a brilliant idea, a way to continue the tradition, with similarly symbolic tokens to represent our gratitude. Cranberries! Why I didn't think of it before, I don't know. But yesterday my Thanksgiving table was sprinkled with the festive red berries, most everyone a berry or two or ten symbolizing blessings in the dish, and in no time our gratitude cup indeed runneth over. Success!

Time and the toll it's taken on the commercial availability of Indian corn required me to alter one of the my family's most time-honored traditions. It felt a little funny at first, but it worked. Sure, the Indian corn was missed...and fondly recalled. But the cranberries worked just as well, even added a colorful turn the tradition lacked in its initial form. A new tradition was born.

As we head into the Christmas season—the holiday marked by the most treasured of family traditions—I resolve to hold close the lesson of our altered Thanksgiving tradition. It's proof that despite changes and alterations, new traditions can be just as meaningful, just as important as the old.

As Indian corn can be replaced by cranberries, new traditions celebrated by a family minority—possibly even just by Jim and myself—can be just as meaningful, just as important as those once celebrated by our entire family. I'll be mindful of that, keep reminding myself of that.

Out of habit, though, I'll likely keep an eye out for Indian corn in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving for a long time to come. Similarly, one part of my heart will always be focused on the traditions that once defined our family, as well. At least until I find something as festive and colorful as the cranberries to replace them.

Today's question:

Which of your family traditions have changed—or ceased—through the years?