When I hear the word “tradition,” my first thoughts are not of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, fireworks on the fourth of July or the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Instead, I think of a giant 44-ounce Speedy Freeze.
Every Saturday during the summer, for as long as I can remember, my dad has taken my siblings and me to a gas station to pick up the biggest slushie sold. Then we bring the slushie home and divide it among smaller cups so there’s some for each of us.
Somewhere along the way, we began calling these slushies “traditions.” And the name stuck. Now, even though we’re not little kids anymore, every Saturday we still beg Daddy for a “tradition.” It’s as much a part of our family routine as the weekly Wal-Mart trip.
Slushies aside, “tradition” is an important word at my house. There are certain things we just do, for no other reason than that we’ve always done them. Some are a little quirky, others more normal, but all of them contribute to who we are as a family.
Some of my family’s most unconventional traditions are actually spinoffs of the typical ones. Take football, for instance. We’re big fans of Thanksgiving football games. Only we don’t watch football on Thanksgiving; we play it. One of the most anticipated events of our entire year is the annual Thanksgiving uncles and cousins football game.
In mail carrier fashion, we’ve played through biting cold and rain and snow and dark of night, but seldom have we canceled the sacred annual football game. It’s about as constant as the cranberry sauce, or my mother carving the ham while five or six of my cousins circle around like vultures, gobbling up every other piece she slices.
At the end of the day, when the game is over and we’re sitting inside thawing our frozen bodies and partaking of my mom’s sensational desserts (yet another Thanksgiving tradition), we chat and chuckle over memories from this year’s game and all the past games, and eagerly plan for the next year. Our version of Thanksgiving Day football draws us closer together in ways sitting in front of a television never could.
Here’s another of our great family traditions: on New Year’s Eve, we go to bed early! And it’s definitely not as lame as it sounds.
First, we spend most of our evening enjoying ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo, just north of downtown Chicago. They hand out party hats and party blowers at the gates, and we have a blast wandering around the zoo, tooting our little horns. When the zoo closes, we go home and watch a Christmas movie and the ball drop in Times Square (an hour ahead of us). Rarely do we stay up to ring in the New Year in our own time zone like everybody else.
Like everybody else.
I used to think that’s what tradition was — something that everybody does. But over the years I’ve come to realize that the best traditions aren’t always so traditional. There’s something about them that makes them ours, not everybody else’s. And that’s what makes them so special.