I love traditions. This has been true ever since I was a child, and I’ve enjoyed creating a yearly rhythm for our family and community that is full of traditions, large or small. To me, there’s something very special and comforting about weaving the years together with these touchstones. Our traditions mirror the rhythms we see in the seasonal changes through the year, and our personal little celebrations or festivities help us weave the years together.
Traditions are a way of reminding us of the years that have gone before and the years that are still to come. They feel like ways to mark time with specialness, as so many of them incorporate feasting or fanciful decorating or merry-making, usually paired with gathering with friends or family (or even just an intentional gathering of our own little family of four).
For middle school, I attended an all-girls Catholic school in the Seattle area with a rich history of very old traditions, some unique to our school and some shared by other schools in the Sacred Heart network. I loved it. Events were marked with song, unexpected frivolity lightening up our studious days, and ties to the past. I think everyone’s favorite tradition was the unexpected surprise of Congé days (Congé is French for ‘leave taking’ or farewell). These are special (unannounced) days when the usual work of school is set aside in place of celebration. At the school I attended, we always had two per year — one organized by the senior class and one by the student body officers. The announcement of a Congé was part of the fun — usually coming in an intentional and creative way.
I remember one year when our day started with what we all thought was a fire drill. As the student body assembled in the parking lot as normal, fire trucks pulled up, and we thought, “Oh, no! Maybe this isn’t a drill.” The fire trucks pulled up in front of the students, and one of the fire fighters got out, stood on the truck, and shouted through a bullhorn: “Congé!” And the crowd went WILD! That particular congé, if I remember correctly, was an all-day field trip to the Seattle Center. That was a particularly grand congé, but they were always a thrill and aimed for a day of amusement. I have to say that 25 years later, I can still feel the electric thrill of that magical congé moment. We always knew congés were coming, but never when.
Our family’s accumulated traditions are always slightly changing and never quite as big and bold as an entire school having an unexpected party. But they serve the same purpose of bringing a little bit of expected or unexpected magic into our days. They offer opportunities for us to more fully appreciate our relationships with each other and build some of the lovely anticipation that comes from things like birthdays or holidays (the unexpected surprise is fun but so is the juicy joy of anticipation!). They’ve grown organically over the years, the best ones sticking around season-to-season as things that are fun and doable by us (because, of course, I don’t have the same human resources as an entire school!). Most of our traditions are very simple: singing a special “someone’s birthday is coming soon” song in the days leading up to a family birthday (for example, Casey’s birthday this Sunday); marking the first day of each new season in some way (the actual activities vary, but we all know we’ll do something special, even if it’s just making a seasonal bouquet or reading a seasonal book or having a fire outside in the fire ring); inviting friends over for a big batch of ratatouille (summer stew) toward the end of the summer …
I love old traditions, and thankfully I also love thinking of new ones. Because, a lot of our traditions involve gathering with people in ways that are going to be less doable or even impossible this year. I imagine that many of you are finding this to be true as well. We weren’t able to have an Easter egg hunt with the cousins this spring, and I know that each holiday and occasion may come with some level of disappointment about missed traditions along with missed people. Birthday parties need to look very different. And, of course, I think everyone had to reinvent how they celebrated the 4th of July this last weekend. It’s not to say that BBQ’s and parades and fireworks and camping were completely off-the-table, but the larger versions of all of these certainly were.
Our family had a homespun celebration by participating in a very small “parade” of neighbors here on the island that we were invited to at the last minute. The “parade” consisted of a few tractors, ATVs, firetrucks from Heiser’s, some pick-up trucks with flags, and us on our bikes with paper flags tied to our backs (made at the last minute). The residents who weren’t in the parade set up chairs in the yards, and we zipped around the loop on the island. It didn’t have the grandeur of a professional fireworks display, but it also didn’t have the health risks of crowds, and it was sweet to mark the day with neighbors we’d never even met before (and we didn’t even really meet now, given that we gathered quickly and set off with lots of distance between us). But, we marked the day and reminded ourselves that there was something different about that day — something to remember in our own way.
Likewise, people are reinventing birthday parties and so much more these days. When Casey’s grandmother turned 97 this April, the family paraded by her house in cars honking, singing from their windows and waving signs, as she stood on her front porch laughing and taking it all in. Make-shift parades and drive-by birthday parties and graduations are probably not traditions we are likely to want to keep alive year-after-year, but in their own way they mark the milestones and holidays of this pandemic year in a distinctive way that will stand out in our mind forever. The reinvented celebrations are almost like an anti-tradition, unique in their form to make this time separate.
We have more of them to come. More “distance” walks with friends; “porch” chats with neighbors; Zoom parties and game nights; “bring-your-own-food” small gatherings; masked, turned-face hugs … If you had mentioned any of these to me a year ago, I would have been so confused. But in ten years, we’ll all have this shared experience of a strange, strange time when we stepped away from the traditions that bound us and were instead linked by the new, bizarre safe ways we all need to observe occasions in this unexpected pandemic reality.
Will our family go on another 4th of July bike ride next year? I have no idea, but if it’s possible to return to something more normal, I imagine we will jump at the opportunity to do so, leaving behind most or all of these reinventions. They are not the kind of reinvention likely to last beyond their absolute necessity. But humans are creative, and it is heart-warming to see the ways we are pulling on the old to create some new and temporary that allows us to continue to celebrate and connect and mark our days and milestones.
To me, every celebration comes with a shadow side, reminding me of what we’re missing, but I’m realizing that this is also simply part of aging. So much of what I loved and knew about life is passing away, and that is inevitable — pandemic or not. So, now the markers of time have a different feel that they did when I was young. The electric thrill is replaced by a sweet, longing nostalgia as I remember the wonderful people and times that have passed. That is part of life too, but we are all bound up in an accelerated kind of collective grief now, as we all wonder whether the lives we loved will come back. It seems unlikely that life will ever be quite the same. There will be before and after. This year (and maybe next too), we are in the pause between old and new, still marking time, still getting older, still celebrating passages — but in a way particular to this “time outside of time.”
That being said, I do hope that you and your loved ones find your way to true joy this summer. Summer is sunshine and outdoor play and we can still appreciate so much of what is wonderful about this season. We got good doses of all of it this weekend, leaving me feeling filled with gratitude. If nothing else, this pandemic is teaching all of us to not take our lives for granted. The smallest (outdoors, at a distance) interactions fill me with sweetness and remind me to live every single day with gratitude for life and love.
Enjoy this week’s vegetables!
Your farmers, Katie & Casey Kulla
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Meet this week’s vegetables: More summer fruits coming on every week! New this week: cucumbers and the very first of this year’s new potatoes! We’re building up slowly to what we consider full summer mode (in our mind that comes once we also have tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants — all of which are coming in future weeks). Some very good stuff here … Thank you for placing your order by Tuesday evening!