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Handing down hope

It's almost Thanksgiving! Are you starting to prepare for this annual day of gratefulness? I am! It's one of our family's favorite holidays, replete with traditions that go back to my great grandparents' generation and maybe further: the family recipe for stuffing, baked-from-scratch pies, and homemade cranberry sauce. We love the traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Tradition is important to me, so I make those classic dishes in some form year after year. But as I'm busy baking, I sometimes wonder if my kids will carry on the same traditions when I am gone. How do I successfully complete that generational handoff? Or, as we talked about last week, how do I practice generativity when it comes to traditions? Generativity by definition means that we can't demand compliance--we can only influence--so we need to make sure our traditions are meaningful in their own right so that the next generation will be naturally drawn to them.

Of course, we should probably start by making sure we define what a tradition is first! The word itself comes from a Latin noun that means "handing over"; it implies that tradition isn't something discovered for oneself but is rather something handed down from generation to generation with the expectation of continued observance.

Here's another aspect of tradition that is interesting to contemplate: The function of a tradition is to link the past and the future in order to bring hope to the present. Traditions should first cause us to remember good things--we might remember our childhood, our family identity, a time when God showed Himself faithful to us, or a special person God placed in our lives. Then, we can apply that good memory across time to the future, exercising our faith that the goodness God provided in the past will continue. That viewpoint brings real hope to the here and now. What a beautiful gift!

Here's an example of how that definition of tradition works: Every Thanksgiving, I make my great-grandmother's filbert (her word for hazelnuts) dressing recipe to accompany our roasted turkey. I still remember enjoying it at grandma's table as a very small child! When I make it, I am reminded of all the times my family gathered for a Thanksgiving meal, and this gives me hope that my children and I will enjoy many more meals together celebrating God's goodness. Even if they aren't with us in person this year, my heart can smile in the present. Filbert dressing is more than a tasty dish for my family. It is a tradition that scatters past blessings into the now and the not yet.

The filbert dressing tradition sticks with me for so many more reasons than its wonderful flavor! It provides more recollection than it does repast. We don't just hand down activities or combinations of ingredients. We hand down memories, emotions, the warmth of family and friends. We hand down stories about who we are together.

So this year, I'm challenging myself to take a closer look at the traditions I want to pass on to the next generation and to consider the stories behind them. How did each tradition speak into my children's childhood experiences of celebration? Into mine? And are there some stories with more richness than others? If so, those are the stories I need to tell to my kids and grandkids.

God has already shown me that intentional, gentle influence will bear fruit in the next generation: A few days before Thanksgiving last year I received this text: "Hey Mom, can I have the recipe for Grandma's filbert stuffing?"


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