When I hear the word tradition, I mentally picture a fiddler on the roof in the opening scene of Fiddler on the Roof where the Papa, the Mama, the sons and daughters did specific things because they were a tradition. Traditions are symbolic in meaning with special ties to the past. Some go back farther than anyone can remember and some begin out of necessity like the chicken’s tail.
I was preparing to roast a chicken using my grandmother’s secret recipe. Jeff came in and asked me why I was cutting off the tail, “Because my Mother did” I replied. When we visited my Mom he asked her, “Mom, why do you cut off the tail of the chicken before roasting.” “Because my Mother did.” she replied.
Not satisfied with either answer, we drove to the source – my grandmother’s home. My grandmother, the oldest of 13 children, was born in America. She was a voracious reader, a midwife, an excellent cook, had a heart of gold and a temper that would flared if you crossed her the wrong way. Her kitchen was her domain and that’s where we found her. After consuming some of her mouthwatering ricotta cookies, Jeff asked her the chicken tail question. She looked at him and said, “I don’t do that. I only did it years ago because the pan was too small to hold the whole bird.” Traditions.
For me, there’s nothing sadder than the ending of a tradition. I’m Italian by heritage and raised Catholic. The number of Italian traditions is only exceeded by the number of Catholic traditions. Combine the two and you can write a 365 day calendar! The Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fish is one of my fondest memories and traditions.
Why seven fish? No one really knows. Some insist it’s a religious symbol and others a marketing ploy to get people to eat more fish. Regardless of the origin, it was a tradition in our family dating back to the early 1900. It carried with it no hard and fast rules regarding what fish to serve however in our home, it wasn’t complete unless baccalà and smelts were on the table. Over the years, the Feast of the Seven Fishes moved from my grandmother’s home to my Mother’s and finally to me. That’s when the change started. The younger generations turned their nose up to the traditional fish dishes wanting only mac and cheese, buttered spaghetti and chicken fingers. The tradition didn’t just die – it vanished!
As some traditions die others are born. Every New Year’s morning my nephew, who lives in Southern California, drives his family of 5 to a specific beach. Here they write the former year in the sand and watch as the tide takes it away with all its good and not so good happenings. They then write the new year in the sand, sharing their hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. Traditions.
In the words of Tevye, the Papa in Fiddler on the Roof, “without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” Keep your traditions and pass them on.