Monday, April 21, 2014


RHYS BOWEN:  Last week many of us celebrated Easter or Passover (which nicely came together for once).

As usual I spent most of my Easter weekend writing poems. No, we do not have a poetry fest for Easter, nor do we serenade each other. But many years ago I started a family tradition that I have since come to regret. I hide the Easter baskets and leave a trail of clues for each child to find them--rhymed clues no less. It turns Easter baskets into a treasure hunt. I started this when my children were just able to read. They loved it, and demanded it when they were really too old to have Easter baskets at all.

Now it's been passed down to my grandchildren and since one lot of them are always with me on Easter Sunday, they look forward to finding Nana's Easter baskets. Actually it's fun to watch them cross paths with frowns on their faces, muttering "you'd use me only if you're wet and stand me up to drip, I bet."  Then shriek "The umbrella stand".

But it means that I have to come up with those cryptic clues, and not the same ones as last year. I have memories of getting up really early on Easter Sunday morning, sitting alone in the still of the house composing four sets of clues (at least five clues per child to make it a long enough trail), then creeping around and hiding all the clues in the right order before anyone awoke. And of course the first clue was left outside their door, in a note sighed The Easter Bunny.

I remember one year in particular that I finished this task and still nobody was awake, so I climbed the hill behind the house and stood in a carpet of California poppies and lupins as the sun rose over the hills. It made Easter suddenly relevant.
So I'm curious--do you have any family traditions that are unique to your family, any that you've carried on from your parents or started to be handed down to your children? I've been thinking about my family and we have several traditions of our own. At Christmas the tree mysteriously brings us an extra present at tea-time. At Thanksgiving we have a talent show and every family member has to perform. When the grandkids get together they have to play hide and seek in the dark with flashlights--something we started at Lake Tahoe when the oldest were three. We always have a picnic and family softball game for the twins birthday in July. And so on... little things that bond us more closely as family.

Reds? Any traditions you'd like to share?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I find I have to think my way around the calendar to pin down our traditions.  Thirty-plus people for dinner on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Poorly hidden Easter baskets (which became a tradition after the year the dog got into a cunningly-hidden basket and ate most of the chocolate. Picking up whichever kid is at summer camp and shopping and eating at the same places in Camden. Seeing the Portland Pops play on the Fourth of July. Our yearly trip to the amusement park on Youngest's birthday in August. Old Orchard Beach on Labor Day weekend. In the last four years, its become a pleasant fall tradition to go down to Northampton for Smith College's family weekend; we'll be continuing that for three more years at Trinity in Hartford. Listening to The Ray Coniff Singers Christmas album (that's a tradition I brought from MY childhood.) No one comes down before 8am Christmas morning (that one's become much easier to enforce since the kids hit the teen years!)
Little things: everyone has his or her Monopoly tokens, and Lord help anyone who messes that up. Saying "Welcome to Maine" and "Goodbye, Maine" when we cross the Piscataqua Bridge between our state and New Hampshire. Church on Sunday, followed by me critiquing the wedding announcements in the New York Times on the drive home. Going to the movies together.
Looking back, I realize that as a chronically lazy person, I have deliberately avoided creating elaborate traditions. I think I could always see the end game - poor Rhys getting up at the crack of dawn to write clues! I'd rather sleep in.

HALLIE EPHRON: Goodness, Julia, what lovely traditions!
Rituals in our house? Not many. Does this count: My daughters used to play Punch Buggy in the car - the first one who spotted a VW yelled it out and got to punch the other one.
And we were very serious about birthday cakes. No store-bought cakes. Had to be Duncan Hines cake mix. Homemade buttercream frosting. Birthday girl chooses the flavor got to decorate it, which required a trip to Wallgreens to buy decorating candy (usually large and miniature nonpareils). This was a big deal because we rarely had candy in the house.
We also had bedtime rituals. You had to say to my daughter, "See you in the morning, I love you, good night" and get it said back to you. Exactly like that. I was enthralled when my daughter Molly funny and heartbreaking essay about it was read on "No, You Tell It" - here's the link:,%20YOU%20Tell%20It!/tracks/103730918/Story:SeeyouinthemorningIloveyougoodnight/all-rights-reserved

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Aww. Lovely.  As kids, when the family left on a trip, the minute we turned out of the driveway, there was a race to see who could be the first one to yell: "How do you like it so far?" And when we drove under a bridge, you had to yell DUCK DOWN!
     If you were sitting in a particular chair in the living room, if you said SAVE SEAT when you got up, no one else could sit there. The rule was absolute and unbreakable--and with five kids, pretty necessary. Even our parents used it. And if you didn't, and someone sat there, and you were annoyed, the response "You didn't say SAVE SEAT"  would end the argument.
Also dibsing the wayback. If you said "I dibs the wayback" in the car, you got to sit in the cool seat facing the other way.
   Droste chocolate oranges in Christmas stockings, definitely. Oysters Rockefeller for New Years Eve. Birthday person got to choose the entire dinner, including cake, and try to convince Mom it should be birthday WEEK. (Never worked.)
   When we lost a tooth, we had a choice: "A quarter now, or a pony later." We always took the pony later.
   And now? Every time Jonathan leaves, I say--"How are you going to drive?" And he says: "Carefully."

RHYS: Hank, on car trips my kids always used to shout, "I call backety-back back"--which meant the very back of a big station wagon. No seat belts in those days.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, you are so clever! I think that should go in a Georgie book!
We're not nearly so good at our house. Maybe we need to work harder at traditions, but I'm not getting up at the crack of dawn to write rhyming clues!
We dyed eggs and hid Easter baskets (mom had to have one, too) but my daughter's grown up and there are no grandkids, so that one's in hiatus for the time being.
At Christmas, we go to my husband's family on Christmas Eve. It's a huge gathering (there are five siblings, with siblings' families,) with lots of food, and much hilarity over the Secret Santa gifts.  We still do stockings on Christmas morning at our house, even though we're all too old to believe in Santa (well, except maybe me...) This means we all put things in each others stockings, but I manage to get oranges and nuts in everyone's, a childhood tradition. I do miss the hard candies I got as a child, especially the ribbon ones. Never ate them, however. Now, it's just Rick and me and our daughter and son-in-law, but on Christmas morning we have The Tree. Kayti usually gets to be Santa, handing out gifts as we sit in front of the fire. Only one person gets to open a package at time, so everyone can see what it is. Then we go to my aunt's for Christmas dinner, except for a couple of recent years when we've been snowed in, and those were lovely Christmases.
Oh, three more Christmas things. I absolutely MUST have a real tree. Rick puts up the outside lights (he has a system.) And on Christmas Eve, I read A Child Christmas in Wales before I go to sleep. Always.

LUCY BURDETTE:  Rhys, you take the cake with those clues--though I would hardly say Julia is lazy. Writing books and raising kids and all those dinner parties? No way lazy...
Ours have to do with holidays too. I know a lot of adults have grown out of Christmas stockings, but not in our house. Here's my childhood stocking, knit by my aunt. I still trot it out for the season and it brings back a lot of happy memories. And it gets filled because everyone is trained:). A lot of other holidays are pared down to the food--no egg-dying or Easter baskets for example. But we did just finish a wonderful brunch with quiche, asparagus, salad, leek biscuits and the most amazing orange-almond sponge cake.
And birthdays--all about the cake. (Sorry Hallie, but never, never out of a box:).

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Most of our rituals have to do with holidays — collards on New Year's Eve, going to see the cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, going to Providence, RI for July 4th, watching all the Rankin-Bass holiday specials.... 

One of our spring rituals, which we did last night, was watch The Wizard of Oz. Remember when it was on only once a year, in the spring? In my mind the black-and-white turning to technicolor is like winter turning into spring. And Glinda's pink puffy dress's reminiscent of apple blossoms… We saw it yesterday and tried to impress on the kiddo how special it was, but he's of the age of DVDs and on-demand and really just doesn't get it…. 

Yes, we've seen The Wizard of Oz, and now it's officially spring!

Okay folks, let's hear about your unique/funny/silly/wonderful traditions! Long may they flourish.


  1. Like most families, over the years we have created our share of traditions . . . .
    When the children were little, we made all the Easter chocolate and left it for the bunny to put in the baskets along with the jelly beans and the Cadbury eggs. Since he didn’t have to bring all the chocolate for their baskets the bunny always brought each of the children a special toy . . . .
    Christmas Eve midnight candlelight services . . . Christmas stockings first, then homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast while we open presents . . . .
    Special dinners for the birthday child . . . .
    Bedtime stories, prayers, a snuggle with mom and dad . . .
    “I love you” waves . . . .
    Summer library reading programs . . . .
    Walking through the cemetery every Memorial Day weekend to put flags beside the markers of all the service men and women . . . then attending Memorial Day services . . . .
    We’re probably not much different than any other family, creating traditions because it really is all about family . . . .

  2. To go along with Hank's "Duck" tradition, we always hold our breath through tunnels. That passed down from when Mom was a kid. Don't know why, but we do.

    Christmas morning, we were not allowed all the way down the hall. And there was a sheet of tissue paper (or multiples tapped together) acting as a door to the usually doorless kitchen so we couldn't see the one present Santa left unwrapped under the tree. We couldn't wake up Mom and Dad, and once they were up, we had to wait for Grandma and Grandpa to come over to open presents.

    And here's one - we often sleep around the Christmas tree as a family one night. For a few years, it was the 23rd, but now we do it whatever night works best, which is good since when I am home for Christmas often varies.

  3. I love all your traditions! My family moved around a lot, not just from state to state but occasionally out of country so most traditions didn't "stick."
    The one thing that was a tradition in our house was a real Christmas tree. My dad is like a kid at Christmas and that was his requirement. Even when we lived in Hawaii where they were very expensive, we had a little one.

    I haven't even carried on that tradition. So far, some years we have a tree, some years we don't. My two little boys are so rambunctious that some years I just can't have the energy to supervise them! Maybe when they're a little older it will be a regular tradition.

    My husband's family has LOTs of holiday traditions and some of them we do when we're together (apple uglies at the Outer Banks on vacation comes to mind), but we live far away and tend not to keep up with the other ones.

    Truthfully, I'm very lazy and since I grew up in a family with not many traditions, I don't miss it. I do love Christmas movies and books but some years I do them and some years I don't.

    Even when i try to create traditions, I can't always get the family to cooperate! We're a lost cause. :-)

  4. We don't have a ton - and again, they all seem to do with food!

    It is not Christmas without homemade sugar cut-out cookies. They are the biggest pain to make but we can't NOT make them.

    My grandmother used to make this fruit salad in homemade whipped cream. Yummy. I tried to make the Croation nut roll we always had at Christmas, but, well...

    Oh, and now the kids are older, we do midnight services at Christmas/Easter.

    And while I may be Santa and the tooth fair, my brother-in-law is the Easter Bunny.

  5. Hallie, my middle daughter also has a pat "good night", very similar, and always rattled off in the same way every time. I was touched to hear her say it again every night we were together recently, even though she'll be 30 this summer.

    We've had a lot of traditions, but the only one I can think of that is unique to our family is our "report card dinner". We rarely went out to restaurants when the kids were growing up, except for report card time.

    If our girls made all A's on their report cards they got to choose a restaurant for dinner and they could have anything they wanted on the menu. We started with the local Big Boy place (our kids never cared for McDonalds and the like), and progressed from there. They learned how to behave in restaurants, and it was a special deal. My husband never grumbled about the cost of those dinners, although he did about eating out other times.

    We had the ultimate report card dinner in November, when our youngest daughter defended for her PhD in Microbiology in Miami. We all went to Florida to celebrate, and we had a fabulous brunch at the Ritz Carlton together, complete with champagne.

  6. Hallie, Molly's essay was wonderful!

    As for traditions, ours were all about food. We traveled all over the country by car, and the big box of food in the car was an integral part of any trip, often opened before we were more than a couple of blocks away from home.

    We gathered for various holidays, and we ate (my paternal grandmother and my mom were spectacular cooks, and my aunt-by-marriage who lived only two blocks away was too. Even my mother's mother, who was-- I figured out much later-- clinically depressed, made wonderful chicken soup.) We walked into relatives homes and made a beeline for the cookie jar.

    Our one real tradition, besides gathering for the usual (food-centered) holidays, was getting together out at the family summer place (four houses on a lake, where we spent all of our summers) for my dad's birthday in August. His aunt-- my grandmother's sister, who lived downstairs of her in the city and out at "the Lake" with her all summer-- had a birthday two days before his, so we celebrated both birthdays until she died, and then his birthday after that.

    We no longer do that, nor do we gather as a boisterous family for meal-centered holidays (my brother married a woman who doesn't like his sisters). So unless you count cooking traditional foods for ourselves, I guess we don't have any family traditions anymore.

    Except, perhaps, eating a giant orange on Christmas morning. My mom always put that kind of orange into the toe of our Christmas stockings, and I sort of feel I have to have one every year.

  7. And the WINNER of Annette Dashofy's book: Dave Szymanowski!

    Hurray! Email me with your address...and thank you!

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  9. Yes, Ellen, real oranges in the stocking,too!

    My favorite tooth fairy story is not from our family--but there was a snippet in the NY Times where a man wrote that his daughter had caught him putting the dollar under her pillow.
    He said--"She looked at me, trying to figure out what was going on.
    Finally she said--are you the tooth fairy just for me? Or for EVERYONE?"

  10. Hallie, LOVE Molly's essay! Still wiping my eyes from laughing. And if I could pick anyone else's tradition, I think it would be SeeYouInTheMorningILoveYouGoodnight.

    And Mark, I love that your family picks a night to sleep around the Christmas tree! When I was a child, our Christmas tree was in our living room, and many a night I went to sleep on the sofa, trying to keep my eyes open so that I could see the lights as long as possible...

    Lucy, can we have your Easter feast recipes, please please please?

    Yesterday we had pizza for Easter dinner. (It was at least homemade pizza.) We'd meant to go out with the kids (daughter and son-in-law) but they got last minute tickets to the Rangers game. But we used to do Easter Brunch, and I think that's a tradition that needs reviving...

  11. Rhys, you are awe inspiring with the Easter notes! I can just imagine what great fun your kids and grandkids have experienced with these. I knew someone who did bunny paw tracks leading to the Easter baskets, but the poems you write certainly take the prize for Easter fun.

    Hallie, your goodnight phrase is shows so much love and sweetness. Your daughter's essay had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. I won't spoil it for anyone else, so I'll just say that everyone should give it a listen.

    Like many others, our traditions seem to revolve around the holidays. Since Christmas stockings always contained an apple, an orange, and a banana when I was growing up, my kids always got those, along with candy, too. Opened Christmas gifts from each other on Christmas Eve, then Santa on Christmas morning. In my childhood, it was cookies and a little Coca-cola for Santa, as my mother love her little bottles of that beverage. For my kids, we would make fudge, and put that out for momma, I mean for Santa.

    My mother started the tradition of giving me books at Christmas, and I have always given my children books at Christmas and all other gift giving occasions. We say the same mealtime prayer I said growing up, and now my daughter's family says it, too. Going to the library in my childhood has led to me doing library programs with my kids, and my daughter now taking my granddaughters to reading programs at the library, too. My son is not yet married, but I can imagine that the library will be a big part of his fathering one day. Oh, Mark, we do holding our breath through tunnels, too.

    There seem to be quite a few traditions that are food related to holidays. Scalloped oysters and corn pudding for Thanksgiving and Christmas, country ham and deviled eggs for Easter, my mother's baked beans for warm weather holidays.

    And, the final one I can think of right now is from the Disney animated Robin Hood movie where the Robin Hood fox says to Maid Marian, "My darling, I love you more than life itself." My kids and I would say this to each other. There are lots of great quotes from that version of Robin Hood, including one from Little John, "Hey! Who's drivin' this flyin' umbrella?" That one can be applied to much of my life. LOL!

  12. Ellen, Debs, Kathy - THANK YOU! Molly is a terrific writer... I've known she's a writer since she was little, and never wrote about that incident because I knew it was hers to write and she would one day.

    Movie quotes! Right, Kathy -- our family favorite was from Chicken Run - scream DON'T PANIC.

  13. I started doing that when my kids were little too, and yes those stupid poems would get to me too, we lived in a two story apartment with a basement, and with only 2 kids you'd think it was easy. But alas, the ideas would dry up just before I was ready to place the last hint.
    Today they are 30 with a child of her own and 27 at home. My daughter and her daughter live in Arizona and I would love to be able to do that with her too.
    Love that tradition, keep it going. :)

  14. We didn't have too many traditions in our family. We kids created the tradition of not going upstairs until 8 am on Christmas morning. That seems insane now--we just wanted to prolong the agony or something.

    My parent weren't fond of turkey, so we always had filet mignon on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Can't say that I mind this deviation from the norm!

    Susan, it's funny -- I associated watching Wizard of Oz with Christmas time -- but was it always on in spring?

  15. We play punch bug too. Also punch jeep (must be a ragtop--my husband's dumb idea. We have had to suspend the game a few times when traveling or we would have beaten each other to death. Who knew there were so many VWs in Mexico? My family recognized the services of the tooth fairy. Apparently she avoided Louisiana though. My husband insists The Rat takes the tooth and leaves money, at least in his family. I compromised and had the tooth rat take care of our son. I always have black eye peas for New Year's for good luck. My family always wants what we refer to as green stuff for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is one of those infamous salads with lime jello, pineapple, pecans, whipped cream, etc that has become a tradition of sorts.

  16. Rhys - I made rhyming clues for the Easter eggs, too. They were written on egg-shaped construction paper cut-outs the color of the egg in question. The first clue was in the basket and the clue for the next was under each egg.

    I think my son always knew I was doing it because he'd spend most of the morning making up clues for me to find the eggs he'd re-hidden.

    When I was a child there were things we did on holidays that I looked forward to, but I always just thought of them as what everyone did to celebrate a particular holiday rather than a family tradition.

    Homemade tamales for a crowd at a friend's house on New Year's eve, a champagne toast for the grown-ups at midnight and sparklers in the back yard for the kids. (Even though I live in Texas now, none of my acquaintances make homemade tamales.)

    Always cookout by the lake on the 4th of July and watching the big city-sponsored fireworks display from a barge in the middle of the lake after dark.

    Christmas was strange when I was very young because we had to go to three celebrations. Christmas Eve at one set of grandparents' home, Christmas morning at the other and Christmas dinner with my only great-grandmother.

    Any weekend we had a cookout was special because I got to help churn the homemade ice cream and "clean" the pot my grandmother made the fudge icing for the chocolate cake in.

  17. How funny to hear you call out greetings to Maine and bid it goodbye when you cross the bridge, Julia. We do the same thing. But instead of "Welcome to Maine" we say "Hel-looo, Maine." Every single time.

    Other rituals:

    Waking up at 5:30 on the morning of Diane's birthday (May 13) so we can spend the hour just after dawn walking quietly around Evergreen Cemetery in Portland with a bunch of other warbler watchers.

    Eating fish on Friday night (the only habit of my Catholic girlhood that remains with me).

    Going out to supper every August 8 at Freeport's Harraseeket Inn, where we had our first date on August 8 lo those many years ago (even though we did not know at the time it was our first date).

    Gifting each other with unique windup toys for every occasion. We have a big shelf of 'em in our den: fire-breathing gorillas, back-flipping monkeys and bike-riding pigs.

  18. I love the wind up toys! I used to have a pair of teeth that walked across my desk.

    Oh and my daughter invented a lovely new tradition. On the night of the full moon the girls put their shoes outside. The moon fairy comes and fills them with little presents. They carried this on until quite recently.

  19. Lots of rituals in my family. El Raton Perez and the tooth fairy came together to my kids. Tamales and Mexican hot chocolate on Christmas Eve and opening one present then. For the changes of the seasons or any time we've been through stressful times, rise at dawn to walk the boundaries, offer cornmeal to the four directions, and sing the sun up. When we're ill or troubled, we go to water. Books and movies with Nazis and nuns for my husband as gifts at Christmas/Hanukkah. My youngest still insists on lighting his little-kid train menorah at Hanukkah--and he's 30 now. We don't have as many now as we used to, probably because no grandchildren, except my foster grandchild that we don't see regularly because they now live at a distance.

  20. Oh Brenda - how could I forget Lenten fish frys! My kids look forward to them every year.

  21. For several years I wanted every holiday to be Hallmark Channel perfect. I wanted to start new traditions while strictly adhering to the old. I have nine grandkids (four are under the age of three)so instead of fine china, we're more likely to eat off of Chinette. Plastic silverware optional and all solo cups are marked with a sharpie (we avoid cross contamination at all costs!) Sometimes the younger kids, and dads, will take a nap before, during, or after lunch/dinner - most likely not all at the same time so the chance of having EVERYONE in the same room eating at the same time is nill. It used to bother me. Now I just accept that our tradition IS chaos. But i wouldn't have it any other way.

  22. Julia and Brenda, your hellos and goodbyes to Maine remind me of what I do when I get home from a trip (not just daily running around). I say, "Hello the house." I saw a cowboy in a movie say this when he was approaching a house on the Western frontier, and I latched onto it. I think it might have been his own house he was coming home to, and he had been away a long time.

  23. Oh, we always say "Welcome to Texas" when we cross back into the state--but we don't say goodbye!

  24. My beloved grandfather said "Eat pickled herring on New Year's Eve and you'll never be broke all year." (Notice nothing about getting rich, just not being broke.) My hubby and I continue the tradition except we forgot on the Eve of 1988. Suffered thru lengthy Writers Guild strike, many months out of work. We sure haven't forgetten to force down that pickled herring since!

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