How do traditions begin?Posted Feb. 14, 2014

By Mae Wagner

How do traditions begin? Does someone do something once and then again and maybe even again until it evolves into a tradition? Perhaps a tradition that is passed on down through generations?

I once read of a holiday custom in one family where they cut the end off a ham before cooking it. It seems the piece was discarded but I don’t remember for sure about that. Each person who made the ham thereafter did this because that is how it had “always” been done in the family. Come to find out, it had started because the ham did not fit in the pan used in an earlier time; thus, the offending section was sliced off so it would fit.

According to my rules, there are no rules about starting new traditions. I have shared with you in this column some that I started—for example, making ham, potatoes and cabbage for our Christmas Eve dinner. Or, having an egg-dyeing party the day before Easter because, even though my children grew up, I wanted to maintain the tradition of dyeing Easter eggs. Even though there came a time when I could not continue the tradition, many people have fond memories of past pot lucks and egg-dyeing days at my house.

But not everyone has heartwarming family traditions to follow such as those my children always knew; for example, dyeing and hunting eggs on Easter or Santa leaving presents while they slept on Christmas Eve. Many of the at-risk teen moms I taught had had difficult childhoods. I told them they had the power to start traditions for the families they were creating. If they had dreamed of a special Christmas that never happened when they were growing up, they could make one for their own children. If the family had a tradition of drinking too much and passing out on holidays, they didn’t, shouldn’t, do the same.

Frances Vobejda Clark, formerly of Lodgepole who now lives in Gothenburg, Nebraska, is part of a round-robin letter that has lasted for many years between her and three friends from her youth in Lodgepole—Ferrol Smith, Jean Grey, and Elaine Butterfield. What a wonderful tradition! What history those letters would reveal if they had been kept over the years! The decades would just unspool as these four young women were beginning their lives, on into marriage and motherhood and then, in the blink of an eye, grandparenthood.

I have my own version of the round robin; it is between just my niece, Staci and me. Staci, who lives way out in the country near Spokane, Washington with her husband and two children, is the middle child of my sister, Betty.

Our tradition is all about “The Box”.

The box is a small, rectangular gift box from a local store that has long since gone out of business. The lid is red with a Christmas-y pattern. The lid is no longer very visible because, in December of 2006, I attached a note to the top of it. You see, each Christmas, this little box travels from one of us—my niece or me—to the other. It is pretty beat up after all this back-and-forth over so many years.


And, before you know it, a tradition is born.

Each year, the person who has the box writes a message and may include a gift as well. Of course, it is too small and full of notes to hold a gift so the gift is either very small or just accompanies it. This year, I was the recipient. My gift was pictures of her and her two extraordinarily sweet children—Cody and Ruby. In one picture, the three of them are wearing goofy mustaches; a while back, I sent them a just-for-fun box with a few things in it, including the mustaches. I thought it would be a fun thing for them since they live in somewhat of an isolated area.

Since I am the keeper—and the next sender—of the box, I have to attach a post-it note on December’s calendar so I will be sure to remember to send it back. Neither one of us wants to forget when it is our year for “The Box”! Oh! The pressure of it all!

The notes and letters contained in the box are treasures. They are witness to the events that transpired over the years, a chronicle of sorts of our lives and major events. The earliest date I can find on the notes is 1987.

Staci’s note of 2005 says: Auntie M…when I look back over my notes to that 13-year old dreamer, there is still much of her in me…so many of those dreams have come true!

That 13-year old dreamer is now 43. In the twenty years between then and now, Staci has accomplished many things. After she graduated from college, she taught a ropes course where participants must trust in others as they stand high above the ground waiting to descend via the ropes. She has been an elementary school teacher and a teacher of troubled teens who have wealthy or famous parents, taking them camping into wilderness areas of Idaho. One of her most interesting jobs was as personal assistant to movie director Frances Ford Coppola.

Her letter of 1995 had many interesting anecdotes regarding her job.

Everything is going very well for me…I had no idea what getting 260 gifts together and mailed out would entail…we did get it all done, though. Each employee was given a picnic basket with 2 bottles of wine, 2 of the Coppola label pasta, a candle, 2 napkins and 2 sets of utensils…I have to brag a little bit and tell you that the basket was my design and Mrs. Coppola really liked them…

On Tuesday, the day after Christmas, I will be flying to LA to accompany Mrs. Coppola’s 87 year-old mother back home. She lives on Sunset Beach in the same house for 63 years…All of the Coppolas are leaving the day after Christmas…they are going to South America…

…Remember to tell Kenny that I went to George Lucas’ house last week. I had to take his present from the Coppola’s. He has a ranch north of San Francisco called Skywalker Ranch…They are totally self-contained, they have their own Fire Dept. and the elevator in the main house’s interior is made from wine bottles…

But, of all the things Staci has done, her best and finest role is that of wife and mother. She found her true calling, her niche.

To be continued.

As always, thank you for sharing this time with me.