In October of 2014, Tommy and I found ourselves sitting in a little Italian restaurant in Lake Charles. We had been dating for six months and were celebrating this fairly significant milestone with delicious pizza and cheesy bread. As always, our conversation was varied and amusing, ranging from an analysis of one of the worst movies we’d ever seen to laughing about different moments from our weekend together. A family walked into the restaurant decked out in Halloween costumes and we began to swap stories about trick or treating as kids.
As if driven by the Holy Spirit, we were led to a full-blown walk down memory lane into holiday traditions from our childhoods. I told Tommy about my mom leaving us little trinkets outside our bedroom doors every day of Advent and he shared about the McGrady tradition of watching Christmas Vacation on Thanksgiving night. Right as we began to discuss our favorite dishes from the holiday meal, the conversation shifted from past to present and began to look to the future. The holidays to come loomed, and the million-dollar question was posed: so now what? What do future holidays hold for us?
At once, we both realized that from here on out our holidays would never be the same. No longer was it just me and my family or Tommy and his family. Now it was going to be our families and us. No longer singular, but now plural…no longer a “me” and “you,” but now an “us” that would have to figure out what to do together during these days of family gatherings, abundant feasting, and joyful celebration. Silence fell upon the table as we just stared at each other, confronted with the most sobering reality we had faced in our relationship thus far: everything was about to change. The relative ease of our dating (even a thousand miles away) was about to become very difficult, and we were at once filled with excitement and trepidation, both joy and fear.
Tommy’s eyes welled up with tears as he quickly mumbled,
“I’m sorry…I’m sorry…I just…this is just, this is going to be hard…It’s all going to be so different.”
My lip began to quiver as I simply nodded in agreement, not quite sure how to respond to my teary eyed boyfriend. A few moments of tearful silence rested between us before he reached across the table, grabbed my hand, and whispered,
“It’s going to be great, though…We have each other, and we’ll make new traditions. For us. Together. It’s just new traditions…that’s all…and new is, well, a little scary.”
It’s oxymoronic, the idea of a new tradition. The word tradition comes from the Latin traditio, which means “handing down.” The very definition implies that something treasured and sacred – tried and true and old – is passed down from one generation to the next, given as a precious gift to be protected and preserved. But those traditions had to begin at some point. They didn’t start out as old.
Every tradition has an origin – a start – and whether we are there at the beginning or find ourselves experiencing it in the middle or see its finish at the end – the longevity, life, and practice of a tradition is beautiful in and of itself.
The Passover began the night of the tenth plague, when the Jews huddled together, waiting for the angel of death to pass over their homes, the blood of the lamb spread across the doorpost. The Eucharist was established centuries later on the very same night, a new Tradition springing forth from the gift of the old one. Now, week after week, we faithfully attend and celebrate the Mass, receiving this Source and Summit and reliving the Tradition that began two thousand years ago and has been handed down through the centuries.
These significant moments in life that find us repeating the same actions year by year are meant to be honored, remembered, and celebrated. Traditions are essential to who we are, woven into the very fabric of our identity. Without tradition, we are lost and uprooted. With tradition, we are grounded in something bigger than just ourselves and whatever random moment before us. Tradition is what we do, but it's also who we are, critical to our being.
I was in third grade when my mom started putting trinkets by our door during Advent. I had to call her to find out when that tradition began, because I just always remembered it as something she did. Waking up each morning and rushing to my bedroom door was a tangible reminder of the excitement with which we should walk through Advent, preparing for the greatest gift of all, Jesus. I can’t imagine Advent and Christmas without those trinkets.
Tommy was in middle school when his family started gathering together in the living room after the Thanksgiving meal to watch Christmas Vacation. Now, years later, they all sit around and quote the movie line for line, reminded of the great gift of joy and the blessing of being together. It’s not Thanksgiving without that movie.
These treasured memories from our families’ traditions are essential to our individual identities. They’ve made us who we are. They define this time of year. We have done these things for most of our lives, and we will continue to do new versions of these traditions together.
The concept and lived reality of Tradition is so pivotal and important, it’s no wonder we sat in that restaurant with tears in our eyes, confronted with the harsh reality that those essential aspects of who we are would be morphing and changing in our future together. But with that harsh reality came a calming joy at the excitement of realizing we were at the very beginning of new traditions that would define our life with each other.
Isn’t that marriage in a nutshell: the establishment of new realities – of new activities that define who we are together.
Since getting married six months ago, our daily life has been new each and every day. Our vows have manifested as a lived reality day by day, with new traditions, both big and small, established and setting in. We say good night the same way each evening, ending with a “Hail Mary” and a brief moment of silent reflection. We wash the dishes and vacuum the floor and take out the trash the same way every week, almost always laughing about how it still sometimes feels like we’re “playing house.” We cooked dishes for Thanksgiving dinner this year in our tiny kitchen, looking up recipes and making a mess while we tried not to burn the food, the Hamilton soundtrack blaring throughout the house. When we bought our Christmas tree, we decided to decorate it while watching our favorite Christmas episodes from The Office. When we finished trimming it, we cuddled up on the couch and had ice cream sundaes.
We are honoring and cherishing, respecting and loving each other through these new traditions we are establishing, and in the coming months and years and decades of our married life, we will look back on these early days and reminisce about the beginning of these traditions that will hopefully come to define our life together. We are living our vows – awash in the grace of our sacrament – in these traditions. While they are new now, they are nonetheless established and significant and will continue to grow, rooting us in something we will one day hand down.