One of the simplest and most profound ways to establish tradition is through atmosphere. When I recall special moments throughout my childhood, the atmosphere– sights, sounds, and smells– stands out at least as much as the actual activities.
Mom is amazing at creating pleasant and special atmospheres. She has taught us girls so much about this, first in leading by example, then by incorporating our help, and then by delegating. I’ve still got a long way to go before I’m quite as proficient as Mom in this area, but I sure am thankful for all I’ve learned from her!
The biggest thing I’ve learned from Mom is that we ought to be willing to put in some effort. It doesn’t have to huge or burdensome– Mom has often showed me how far just five minutes spent setting a pretty table can go and I speak from personal experience when I say that it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate for your husband and little ones to take note!– but we also can’t expect a creative and special atmosphere to just happen on its own. A few lit tea lights, scattered leaves gathered from your lawn, a bowl full of fruit, or a small American flag stuck in a bud vase can instantly elevate your table from Every Day to Special, but even small things do require that you engage your creative abilities and energies.
Growing up, we didn’t have big birthday celebrations each year. I think Danica may have been a baby when Mom decided that those significant parties would be reserved for 5th, 13th, and 16th birthdays. But while our “off” years meant small guest lists (2 friends or 1 family), no games and no party favors, they were still rich with little traditions that Mom gave us through atmosphere so that we didn’t feel the least bit disappointed.
For example, there was always the excitement of seeing the prettily wrapped presents throughout the day. I remember running downstairs as a little girl to the dining room buffet where I knew they would be attractively arranged. I didn’t know as a seven-year-old that that it took more planning and work on Mom’s part to have them each tied with ribbon and ready hours and hours before the evening celebration, but I sure did know that I couldn’t wait for that morning to arrive so I could stand there in breathless anticipation, imagining with great delight what might be inside.
Or what about Christmas Eve after we returned from the Candlelight Service at church? We would all quickly change into pajamas– “Don’t forget socks, girls, because it’s cold!” she would call– and scamper down to the family room where we would sit on the floor close to the tree while listening to the Christmas Story. It isn’t just the reading itself that I remember or the sibling gift exchange that followed, but the way the many lights on the tree cast shadows around the room, the feeling of being snuggled close together, the sound of familiar Christmas recordings playing in the background.
And who can forget the many Independence Day parades when Mom insisted that our apparel be red, white and/or blue in honor of the holiday? When I was eleven or twelve years old I felt the distinct humiliation of being, I was sure, the only pre-teen out there dressed to match the occasion (besides Danica, of course), but the tradition far outlasted my awkward insecurities because now I find myself dressing my children, my husband, and myself according to Mom’s request. The day just wouldn’t feel right otherwise!
It wasn’t just actual holidays, though, that Mom made meaningful through atmosphere. Who knew that the actual process of decorating the house for Christmas could still cause all us girls to break out in song due to years of listening to Sandi Patti’s The Gift Goes On soaring through the house stereo while we hung the garland? Or that we would all fondly recall Saturday evening baths simply because they had been followed by an hour of The Lawrence Welk Show?
It’s recollections like these that encourage me to make those extra efforts– lay out the tablecloth for a simple family dinner, turn on the CD as we tackle our daily chores, light the candles while we watch Sunday evening football, and frost that 2-layer cake (what a struggle for me!) that has been anticipated all year— that shows my family over and over again how important celebrating is and, even more importantly, how important they are to me.