As we begin our blog, we think the topic of tradition will give you a glimpse of who we are. As Catholics, traditions are a critical element of our faith life—they help with our common identity, they are touchstones for our experiences, they are a means of teaching aspects of our faith, and they are a way of passing our faith to the next generation. They range from the format of the liturgy, the church’s calendar of feast days, holy days, and liturgical seasons, the images and symbols of our faith, and the customs and practices that we do (some times without realizing their origins).
So it is in our families. Every family develops its own traditions of how it lives everyday life, celebrates major events, special meals, where and how they vacation, etc. When we meet with engaged couples, we discuss how the two of them will blend the traditions that they bring from their previous families and how they will make their own traditions that bind their new family.
In our family, one of our traditions is the phrase ”keep the faith.” It seems simple, but for us the origins and meaning are powerful, and there are multiple facets to it. One of Kathy’s grandfathers (Pepe) served in the Army during World War II. While serving in Europe, he was captured and held as a prisoner of war for an extended period. His faith was a key part to his survival during that ordeal, so in later years a common phrase for him—particularly when someone was leaving—was ”keep the faith.” Even at his funeral, we celebrated his life as we read from 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith.”
For our family, that phrase has become part of our tradition. It is a reminder of part of our family’s heritage; it is a reminder of what holds us together as a family; and it is a phrase that reminds us to treasure and hold onto our faith—the rock of our daily lives.
Within our marriage, that phrase is shorthand for what makes it successful. Our continued faith in the Lord and our faithfulness to each other is a basic element of our relationship. It is a phrase that we often use in a text, at the end of an email, or in a card. For our family, it is a small tradition that binds us together.
Like other families, traditions bring us together. We like to celebrate significant dates, so in addition to celebrating our wedding anniversary, every year we go out for dinner to celebrate the day we started dating as well as the day we were engaged. As a family, we have various ways of celebrating holidays and birthdays. Birthdays were typically celebrated with signs around the house, balloons, a decorated chair at the table, and the Happy Birthday cup and plate. The birthday celebrant got to pick the meal and cake (or pie).
As we reflected on the other customs of our family and asked our “kids” (now five adults) what stood out to them, there were many (and some of them somewhat funny):
- Stations of the Cross on Friday nights during Lent.
- Family dinners and evening prayers.
- Pizza and a movie at home on Friday nights.
- Kathy always waving goodbye from the front window when anyone leaves (and the kids noticing if she somehow didn’t).
- Annual trips for Thanksgiving to both sets of grandparents for two dinners.
- Frequent dinner guests—especially on holidays, and often including seminarians.
- Family football games on Thanksgiving and football in the snow.
- Rob and Kathy hiding notes to each other when one of us travels.
- Summer vacations at the beach.
- Matching t-shirts for all five kids (to find them in a crowd) for large Fourth of July events.
- Going to Mass on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Thanksgiving.
- Singing together in the car on long road trips.
- Lots of Advent and Christmas traditions (but that is probably a blog unto itself).
With three of our children getting married in the last few years and starting families of their own, we’ve been able to watch them start their own traditions and keep some of the ones they grew up with. While there may be a certain sadness within us when our own traditions diminish (without the kids around) and our children adopt their traditions distinct from ours, we recall our own excitement years ago as we created the first few steps of our path. And we understand the difficulty each married couple is faced with when they work through holiday plans of their own. Those discussions, those decisions are the communication and compromise that a marriage is built on. The greatest joy is when we are able to be together and share the gift of family.
For newer couples, what traditions are you creating to celebrate your family and faith, to emphasize what is important, and pass it down to your children?
For us ‘more experienced’ couples, as our children are getting married are we stepping back to let them create their own traditions?
Keep the Faith.