Last month my family and I attended the Elkhart County 4-H Fair together as we have done every year for the past seventeen years. We go in the morning and visit each of the animal barns, grab some lunch from the many vendors and traveling food huts, then walk through the Agricultural building, the Home Arts building, and the commercial buildings, and finally we ride the rides on the midway.
And yet, despite doing the same thing every year, there is always something different. Perhaps this is what makes this such a fantastic family tradition for us. We can remember and reflect on our memories as a family even as we make more.
There was the year it rained so hard we had to huddle with strangers under the canopies of the games where the carnies called out to us to play and win fantastic prizes. There is the Skater ride that was Shannon and her best-friend Becky’s favorite back when they were 8, 9, and 10 years old. And while we sat down to eat, I watched a toddler’s uneven gait and shared with Carson stories from his first visit to the fair when he spent most of it exploring how to walk just like that youngster.
This year we saw piglets who had just been born the day before, climbing over each other in order to nurse from their poor exhausted mother (and some of the women and I exchanged knowing glances with each other as our children of many ages cooed over the tiny piglets). And I watched as my young adult daughter rode the swing ride with her younger brother because he didn’t want to go on it alone. (Later, they also got into a mean fight which also happens every year, but I will choose not to remember that.)
I’m not exactly sure how this became a family tradition for us, but somewhere over the years it became more meaningful than just a day at the fair. It began as a way for our suburban-raised children to experience connections with farm animals and understand the complex process that brings food to our table. Taking the time to view the projects 4-Hers have created was a way that our children could appreciate the effort it takes to create beautiful art.
However it began, now it is a family tradition. It has been done every year and is relatively the same each time, yet produces new memories to cherish. It is not surprising that it reflects some of our values as a Unitarian Universalist family. If it didn’t, it probably wouldn’t be an experience we would look forward to every year—and it would not have become a family tradition.
What are the traditions that your family shares together that are not related to a specific holiday? Were they traditions that you created intentionally, or not? And what do those traditions say about what is important to your family?
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).
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