Wil Wood, contributing writer 



I’m watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the 47th time this year. Convince me not to. It’s tradition, and it’s one I never plan to change. Some of our traditions revolve around a cookie that isn’t that delicious or an event that we would never volunteer to do. It’s not that we enjoy bland cookies or events that aren’t exactly up our alley in and of themselves. The combination of a time of the year, the smell of ingredients, or a certain group of people can stir up memories and create a bookmark in our subconscious. Continuing to participate in traditions helps us hold on to these emotional reference points and makes our culture and individual lives all the richer.

That’s why Thanksgiving is now my favorite holiday. How could all of my people and lots of good food in the same place not be my favorite thing?!

Traditions can bring back good memories of parents that are gone and stories of grandparents that raised them. They can remind a family of who they are and what they stand for. “We are the so and so’s, and we make tamales during the holidays!”

Just as traditions can stir up memories of things you don’t want to forget, they can do the same for things you don’t want to remember. Maybe a loved one who is gone, or the divorce that still stings, or any number of bad memories we try to keep locked up, so we don’t have to feel our way through them.

The Wood Family

For me, this last year has been a year of firsts. My mom died in February so a part of my soul feels untethered more than ever because I can’t share my children’s firsts with her anymore.

What I’ve learned is that I have to figure out a different way to celebrate those firsts. I’ve also realized how important it is to remember and honor the good in our past.

So, whether it hurts or exhilarates to smell the wassail or hear George Bailey talk about Zuzu’s petals, I say eat the cookie, go to the ugly sweater party, tell the stories, and make the tamales.

There is a comfort and a beauty in loving something that has been loved before, in kneading the dough, singing the songs, or hanging the decorations; performing the familiar rituals of those we love and have loved. Our songs echo their voices and our actions echo their efforts, and as we add our own flair, we emulate and interpret these traditions.

As Clarence points out to George, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

This year, there is an awful hole in my life that gets just a little smaller as I make the foods, watch the movies, play the games, and gather with the ones that love her too. Traditions show us what to do when we aren’t sure what to do. They remind us who we are when we could otherwise forget.