Ancestor Remembrance: Part One

Ancestor Remembrance: Part One October 17, 2014

The Patheos Pagan channel has reached out to people on other faith channels offering to work with them on projects about ancestors. I thought this was a great opportunity because while I’m fascinated by stories about the people in my family, I don’t feel a strong connection to ancestors through genetic lines. Being a believer in reincarnation I’ve always felt like my past and my history is more connected to my own past lives than to my family tree. At the same time, of course I love my family and I have been very lucky to have so many wonderful relatives who mean the world to me. Still, connection to ancestors is important in Hinduism and I don’t know my history and my ancestors as well as I would like. Today and the next two Fridays will be dedicated to this project. To start out with my partner, Peg, and I answered some questions about our family traditions. Here are our answers…

Peg’s Introduction:

I grew up thinking most people had similar upbringings and engaged in similar family activities. As I got older I started to understand that not only was my own family not typical, but many other ways of life were taking place even in my own community. It was exciting to me to learn about different ways of celebrating holidays. The strongest elements of my own family’s traditions centered around food, so it was always surprising when others didn’t place primary importance on this. I enjoyed learning stories about my ancestors growing up but I feel that I know very little about them; my father’s people were Italian/Sicilian and my mothers family came from Ireland, England and Scotland. My maternal grandmother once told me there was an Irish princess way back in our family. My Italian paternal grandfather owned a fruit and vegetable stand. Both sides of my family were very creative and loved the outdoors; these qualities were, of course, very suitable for someone like me who decided to leave behind Catholicism at a young age, wander through the world as a melancholy agnostic, and eventually discover paganism.

What are your favorite family traditions?
The one that means the most to me is our annual trip to the beach in South Carolina. We went every year when I was a kid and my dad went with his family too. Now that the kids are grown up, it’s up to us to keep it going and it’s struggling. But it means the world to me to go back to our little beach. So much of my personal growth, development, struggle, and soul searching happened there.
Other traditions are little things like my Granny’s “tassie” cookies which are like tiny pecan pies. Or my Grandmother’s riddle. Towards the end of her life she would tell me the same riddle every time I saw her and it’s become like a little mantra that I say to myself every time I see a train track:
“Railroad Crossings Look Out For Cars. Spell that without any ‘R’s”
I’m also weirdly sentimental about certain little things. My grandmother once gave me a glow-in-the-dark plastic rosary and I actually still have it to this day!
Carolyn n Grandma

Peg: What are your favorite family traditions?

Hallowe’en was always fun; my mom made our costumes, usually on the sewing machine but sometimes putting together creative objects. She’d make homemade treats, too, like cookies, candy apples or popcorn balls. The scare around contaminated treats back in the 1970s put an end to that and everyone was expected to had out storebought candy. My mom was upset about that; I remember the first year that happened, and one kid burst into tears when he realized he could not have one of my mom’s delicious homemade caramel popcorn balls.

Christmas was also a big deal; we’d go to midnight mass at our local church, which had beautiful caroling at the end. We lived about a fifteen minute walk from the church so it was nice to walk there, and sometimes it would be snowing. Christmas eve dinner was spent with the Italians: I don’t recall anyone referring to the food as the Feast of Seven Fishes, but there was a lot of yucky seafood (calamari, eel) that I would not eat. My grandfather would sneak my some of his delicious roasted chicken before midnight.

Christmas day we were allowed to open up our stockings (hung by the fireplace) full of small gifts before the family arrived; there was always an orange in the bottom and this was an old English tradition from when they were considered a great delicacy. There would also be mixed nuts from the bowl in there; I think this was an Italian thing. Christmas’s dinner was more Irish-English: a turkey or ham, lots of vegetables (mashed potatoes, string bean casserole, squash), plenty of pies, and my grandmother would sometimes make Yorkshire pudding or cranberry sherbet. My father often made stuffed oysters or oysters Rockefeller. We were fairly lower middle class so these indulgences were a real treat.

Are you able to trace where they came from?
I don’t have a good sense for the history of our family. I should spend more time talking to my cousin Betsey who is the historian for my Dad’s side of the family.
Carolyn n Grandpa

Peg: Are you able to trace where they came from?

It was sometimes clear that some of these foods or customs came from one side of the family and not the other; having Christmas split between the two families helped identify this to some extent.

Do you find that you get more traditions through your mother’s side or your father’s side? I think because my grandparents on my mother’s side died when I was fairly young, I have a sense of a gap in family connection. I’m very close to my aunts, uncles, and cousins, but it all spreads out rather than into the roots of a family tree.
I do have one aunt who tells me stories about my grandmother’s life growing up and how she came to America On my dad’s side we lost his dad really young but his mother was a part of my life until very recently. Still, I can’t remember many stories about her life. She didn’t really talk about the past as far as I remember.
I always craved stories about my parents when they were children and about all our relatives. I love hearing the stories of people’s lives. What they hope for, what they get, what they wish. But I think a lot of my family is focused on moving forward and letting the past be in the past.
Ambaa and Granny.jpg
Yes, that’s a Christmas tree. It’s complicated! 🙂

Peg: Do you find that you get more traditions through your mother’s side or your father’s side?

I think it’s fairly equal to be honest. Both sides had very strong foodways, for example. But on my father’s side, we had family reunions nearly every year when I was growing up; so in a way there was amore direct and visible connection my heritage form that side of things, though I did sometimes attend gatherings of my mother’s side of the family, which was large. Family relations were somewhat dysfunctional on my mother’s side, and after a point I stopped seeing the cousins I had grown up with. I think in general lots of kids of my generation spent a lot more time with their cousins back then; they were almost like sibilings.

Did you modify or add to family traditions for your own family? My husband and I don’t have children yet but we’re definitely thinking a lot about what kinds of things we want to pass on to them. Probably most parents do that, trying to pick and choose the very best bits from all the things they did and stories they heard, etc.
Carolyn Nathan Papa

Peg: Did you modify or add to family traditions for your own family?

I don’t really have my own “family” (I am divorced and have no children) but I do have a very close-knit “tribe” of friends that are engaged in the pagan community. This concept of one’s chosen family is very popular among modern pagans; possibly because most of us left behind the spiritual traditions of our childhood, partly because we may simply feel more comfortable identifying with people of like mind. But I have noticed that many of us bring our family traditions to gatherings and celebrations: certain favorite dishes, for example, or ways that we decorate our homes at holidays. I still make the same decorated sugar cookies my mother made at Christmas time and send them to friends and serve them at parties. I love to entertain and I think this is based in my family’s very social habits learned from childhood onward.


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