A Middle Aged Woman Laughs at Traditions
By: Mary Fran Bontempo

Tradition. According to Webster’s Dictionary, it is defined as follows:
1: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior 2: the handing down of beliefs and customs from one generation to another 3: cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions

Leave it to an intellectual to water something down to the point where it becomes almost unrecognizable. The Webster’s elite have managed to capture the factual essence of the word, but have completely missed the emotional nuances known to every mother in America, and quite possibly, in the world.

The definition should read as follows: Tradition—the never ending practice of doing the same things (particularly during the holidays) over and over until a stint in an asylum begins to look like a vacation.

Traditions resurface like a bad penny in every family during the holiday season. Initially begun (usually by the mother) as a balm to provide comfort and continuity, after twenty or so years, to us moms, the mere idea of repeating a well-intended tradition can bring on a sweat to rival any hot flash.

Whether it involves reenacting a decades-old routine (“Of course we’re going to pack up the entire family and drive three hours for dinner at Grandma’s. It’s what we always do!”), or dressing a holiday table with the same menu that’s been around since the Eisenhower era, or hauling thirty-five boxes of junk down from the attic to festoon the house in a manner that would put the Griswolds to shame, the simple fact that something has been declared a tradition enshrines it in a kryptonite enclosed coffer that even Superman couldn’t break through.

So, why, ladies, do we keep it up?

In part, we continue the practices simply to quiet the objections of the troops, who balk at the mere suggestion of change. “What do you think about eating at home this Thanksgiving?” “What! Eat here? It’s not Thanksgiving if we stay home!” “What’s that red stuff? Where’s the cranberry sauce from the can?” “But we always hang up 8,000 lights outside. Why can’t we do it this year?”

Ultimately though, and despite the mass howlings of protest over the mere idea of change, the real reason runs much deeper, and can be summed up in a phrase—“the green bean casserole.”

The green bean casserole is ubiquitous at holiday meals. Across America, millions of festive tables will be graced with the green bean casserole, a dish that surfaces only during holiday seasons and thankfully retires to the netherlands of the recipe box once the celebrations are through.

Consisting of milk, a can of cream of mushroom soup, frozen green beans and dehydrated fried onions, the green bean casserole’s ingredients list reads like the last remaining rations in a fall-out shelter. Why, aside from the milk, would anyone voluntarily consume any of the above, let alone slop them together and bake them into a bubbling mass to plop on the table as part of a festive holiday dinner?

The answer, of course, is simple: believe it or not, it tastes pretty good. And, even if one cannot be captivated by its culinary charms, the green bean casserole inevitably shouts, “Holiday Dinner, on the table!”

Because we have imbued it with tradition status, the green bean casserole, before it is even raised to the lips, lets us know that we are in the middle of a special occasion, one to be treasured despite, or perhaps because of, its resemblance to years past.

Though the idea of chucking the whole Thanksgiving/Christmas extravaganza in favor of a week’s vacation somewhere warm would likely appeal to lots of women, in the wake of disasters natural and man-made which plague the world at every turn, the fact that we can still inflict green bean casserole on the masses is a blessing, though well disguised. A hot, bubbly green bean casserole in the center of a table is a visible reassurance that despite the mess we always appear to be in, eventually, things will be okay. And even if the world isn’t perfect, being together with food to share makes navigating the tricky waters of life much more palatable both literally and figuratively.

So, once again, we will reenact our traditions this holiday season, possibly through gritted teeth, but also with thanks for the comfort derived from celebrating the familiar.

I wish you the best during this holiday season, annoying traditions and all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a can of cream of mushroom soup to find.