Traditions and the holidays seem to go hand in hand.

My grandmother would make English toffee this time of year to give to friends and relatives. She died when I was young, but I remembered her toffee. As an adult, I searched for a toffee recipe that replicated hers. When I found it, and cooked some for my dad, he said it tasted just like his mom’s – dark and crunchy – the “burnt” batch she always saved for her own family! Now I continue that tradition of cooking the toffee until it’s “burnt.”

My sister would make Norwegian bread for our Christmas breakfast. We are not Norwegian. I’m sure the bread has no roots in Norway, but it’s deeply embedded in Christmas tradition for me, and for my daughters. We still have it for Christmas day breakfast.

Of course, traditions aren’t just about food, although the senses of taste and smell are strong memory inducers. And fond memories are a vital component of carrying on family traditions.

Holiday traditions got me thinking about the meaning of traditions and why they are so important to us.

Merriam Webster defines tradition as: “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior; the handing down of information, beliefs and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instructions.”

I like that. Especially the part about no written instruction. It gives the idea that traditions are imbued in our very being; they’re an observed way of life.

I don’t know why the tradition of toffee making stuck with me. My sister and brother don’t make toffee. I don’t think my cousins do either. But, I know they’ve adopted other generational family traditions.

Why do some traditions continue while others die out? Why do we even have traditions?

I believe traditions are a character defining inheritance that’s felt inwardly; a thread of continuum that links us with our parents, grandparents and so on; a way of acknowledging those who have gone before.

Gathering around the table in community, sharing food, spending time together in conversation are all life giving acts for me (another family tradition) which is probably why toffee and Norwegian bread are my traditional go tos. Many of my memories of my grandmother center around her kitchen.

I like what Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof had to say about traditions in his song of the same name. “Because of these traditions, everyone knows who he is…without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”

What are your traditions?