There’s a reason why I know all the words to “Tradition,” the opening number to Fiddler on the Roof. From the way my mom spelled out our birthday ages with chocolate chips in the frosting of our cakes, to the races that all the cousins would run (and still do) in my grandmother’s basement during the Grove Christmas, I have a special fondness for things that happen the same way, year after year.
Traditions are reminders of where you’ve come from and, in a certain way, provide a sense of where you’re going. Whatever happens this year, for example, I am pretty sure that I will still be invited to my aunt and uncle’s cottage for Thanksgiving as I have been since I was born; and I’ve already brainstorming the logistics of my fifth annual Cookie Party.
But sometime when I was 20, I realized that, when driving around my hometown, I always navigated certain streets over others, not because they were more convenient but because they were more familiar. When I first began to cook for myself in Talange, France, I developed the tendency to make eggs for dinner multiple times a week, not necessarily because I adored omelets but because I didn’t have the capacity to think up anything else.
At best, traditions solidify groups and knit people together, but running ruts into my own traditions was stagnating.
When Melinda Hoey came into my life, one of the first things I loved about her was the way she would deal with change. No chocolate chips for the cookies? Try mint chips instead. No taste for turkey this Christmas? Lasagna was cool. “Something different,” she’d shrug.
And this was revelatory: that traditions could be beautiful, but so could the skill of exploration, newness, and openness to the unknown.