I love traditions. My family is always cautious to start something new, worried that I’ll suddenly exclaim, “this should be a new family tradition!” We have many, beautiful traditions in our family, but if we had a tradition for every time I declared a new one, we’d have hundreds…and then we’d probably have none because there’s no way we’d be able to maintain them all.
Traditions are important because they help write our stories and engrave memories. They are a connection to the past, and they are a hope for the future. Traditions help us remember who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. This act of ‘remembering’ is essential to faith.
One of my favorite traditions is Thanksgiving. The whole day, really; but particularly our family tradition of starting the day off with Mass. For years, at the end of Mass on Thanksgiving morning, our parish has given out little round loaves of sweet bread, baked by a parishioner, and blessed by the priest. At the end of Mass, there is, inevitably, extra loaves of bread. Families are welcome to take extra, and the rest is donated to a food shelter.
It would be embarrassing to walk up and take six loaves of bread but my cousins and siblings would strategically stagger our timing, each of us taking a loaf of bread. We would actually end up with 6 loaves. Embarrassing, I know (…but also kind of brilliant. I’m proud to say that today, we have a little more self-control.) This bread was… is… magical. You could practically eat an entire loaf by yourself. It’s so sweet and tastes so good. I’m not sure what makes it so magical — if it’s because this bread is a labor of love, or if the holy water sprinkled upon it by the priest adds a special note of sweetness, or because it’s the only food we’re really allowed to have until the big feast. Probably a combination of all of that.
The slight drawback to going to Thanksgiving Mass is that we end up missing the majority of the Macy’s Day Parade (but free, amazing bread… plus Jesus… so the ‘sacrifice’ is nominal). One year, when I was particularly captivated by the floats passing by on our TV, I asked my dad why Thanksgiving was a Holy Day of Obligation. He looked at me slightly puzzled. “It’s not,” he replied, rather matter of factly. I was incredulous. I felt as though I’d been tricked into something my whole life. “It’s not a Holy Day?!”
I blurted back “then why do we go??” If I had taken a moment to think this through, I could have answered my own question. But dad answered, “Caitlin, Thanksgiving is a day about giving thanks, which means we go to God, who has given us everything, and we thank him, for without God all of this is worthless.”
As Catholics, traditions are an essential part of our faith as they help us understand our faith more fully. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word eucharistein meaning to give thanks. Every time we gather at the Eucharistic table we come to give thanks to God and to remember the sacrifice of our Lord — we receive His body and blood in remembrance of him.
This Thanksgiving, in the midst of the traditions that you and your family have, give thanks to God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon you; and the next time you receive the Eucharist, recall that this too is a form of giving thanks. This sacred tradition helps remind us who we are, who we come from, and gives us a hope for our future.