Chocolate and Mosquitoes: What Makes Family Traditions So Special

Chocolate and Mosquitoes Great Tradition Makers - Mary HarrisPhil McDonald / Shutterstock
For many summers, I put up with a lot of dirt and bugs. I have waddled through the woods after runaway toddlers while six months pregnant with twins, took an eleven-year-old into town to get 17 stitches in his arm and wiped of lot of sticky marshmallow off little faces. This is camping with kids, folks. Now that my brood is older it’s actually a lot of fun, but there were times when I thought to myself “Why are we doing this? We have a perfectly good house to sleep in!”

Tradition. That’s the one-word answer to why normally sane people would trade all the conveniences of home for a few nights in a cramped house made of fabric and poles in a mosquito’s paradise. About 22 years ago, we went camping with my sister and her family. The next year, she joined us again and a family tradition was born.

“When are we going camping with Aunt Catherine?” Uh oh. Once my children start phrasing their questions like this, I know something has just been carved in stone!

And it’s not just the camping that’s a must, it’s a whole host of little things now. Apparently not just any park will do, it has to be Mara Provincial Park in Orillia, Canada, and there would be a minor revolution if I didn’t pack peanut butter cups for the s’mores, a particular burger sauce and a box of those tiny, sugary breakfast cereals. Uncle Ken’s special fire cooked spaghetti sauce has been added to the menu of musts, as has a bag of Hungarian csabai sausage from a nearby deli.

As I was considering the family traditions my clan enjoys, I realized that almost all of them involve food. Think about all the great holidays and festivals — Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Halloween, Valentine’s Day – they all involve eating something.

Imagine our joy this year when my 86-year-old mother’s famous chocolate cups made a reappearance on the Christmas dessert table after a two year absence. We thought she had tired of all the fuss of making them, but as it turns out, she simply couldn’t find the “right chocolate” until now. Grandma has been making these treats for at least forty years, a tradition started by the great aunt who raised her and found the recipe in a Scottish women’s magazine in the 1930s.

When the children grew too old to believe in Santa Claus, I couldn’t let go of the magic entirely. I didn’t want to write Love, Mom & Dad on their presents – how much magic is in that? So, I began writing the names of various celebrities on the gift cards. The sports nut gets Christmas presents from NHL players, the nerd (self-described) receives them from superheroes and the musician gets neat stuff from rock stars. A few years ago, it seems that the late Freddie Mercury misspelled his own name! Darn it.

I wonder what novel family traditions the future holds, when weddings start and new people join our tribe and bring their own well loved rituals. There will be grandchildren one day too, and I look forward to the blending of tried and true traditions with fresh memory making ideas. I’m already looking forward to the food!