An Accidental Tradition
by Dianne Barker
“It’s tradition!” I said, explaining to my husband why I’d invited fifteen people for Thanksgiving dinner.
This tradition began the first year of our marriage. Not wanting to choose whether to celebrate with his parents or mine, I suggested we invite everyone to our home. Problem solved. We did Christmas the same way.
By the next year, it seemed sensible to host both family gatherings again. And that established the tradition.
Each year our guest list grew. We didn’t limit the dinner to just family because some friends were close as family. I’d prepare a turkey and all the trimmings and bake a couple pumpkin pies. Others supplied extra desserts and side dishes—salads, vegetables and casseroles.
The occasion became more than sharing a meal. We lingered by a blazing fire, mingling lives, relishing stories from the past, treasuring memories for a future day when there would be empty spaces at the table.
A tradition doesn’t usually begin with a decision to start one. More likely, it begins with a desire to repeat an enjoyable event—again and again.
One of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions began accidentally. No one had any idea a casual get-together with friends in 1973 would begin a holiday custom continuing more than forty years and embracing three generations.
“Why don’t we get together during the holidays?” Jessie Bowser suggested after church one Sunday in December. “Lee and I will host a snack supper at our house. I’ll make a cheese ball and spiced cider.”
“Count us in,” I said. “James and I will bring dessert.” Roger and Mary Langrel volunteered sausage balls. Don and Glenda Smith had ham biscuits in mind. We were four young couples with interests in common—all members of the same church and the husbands employed by the same company. Among the wives were a speech therapist (Jessie), a teacher (Mary), a registered nurse (Glenda), and a writer (Dianne).
On a snowy December night amid glowing candles and the scent of evergreen, we shared life and laughter. Before leaving the Bowser home, James and I offered our house for the next year’s supper. After each couple had hosted the affair, we began the rotation again but eventually lost track of where we’d met last year and the year before. Jessie came up with an acrostic to aid our memory: Mary Goes Jogging Daily (Mary, Glenda, Jessie, Dianne). No problem remembering the menu—it remained unchanged.
Over the years we welcomed a combined seven children, sharing the joy as we watched them grow (all graduated from the same high school), pursue college degrees, and enter various professions—finance, medicine, engineering, and education.
This second generation also formed strong friendships. During childhood they exchanged gifts at our Christmas gatherings. Later they exchanged college and career experiences. We’ve celebrated six marriages and the arrival of six grandchildren, introducing a third generation to our accidental Christmas tradition.
From Texas, Kentucky, and Tennessee they travel with spouses and children to spend the holidays with family—and a little time with our “extended family” when schedules coordinate.
Through the years the four couples stayed active in church—teaching, serving on committees and in choir, bus ministry, and Vacation Bible School—building a tradition of faithfulness to God as well as family, friends, and marriage. Each couple has celebrated more than forty-five years of marriage.
The annual get-together provides a relaxed time to catch up, but our friendship stays active throughout the year. Occasionally we have a summer picnic, and some couples have vacationed together. That’s bonus time. The certainty on everyone’s calendar is our holiday gathering. Although a few have missed due to work schedules or illness, we’ve never cancelled the event.
The rotation placed us at the Bowser home for our fortieth anniversary—appropriate since the tradition started there. Marriage and career moves having scattered our children, the four original couples clustered around the dining table munching snacks. Someone noticed a change in the conversation. Instead of talking about how fast our children were growing and career accomplishments, we discussed retirement adventures, health insurance, recent surgeries, and the antics of our grandchildren—typical topics for our stage of life.
This year’s celebration went on the calendar early to make sure we scheduled everything else around our “family reunion,” bringing together our children, their spouses, and their children.
Sharing life with family and friends has no age limitations, and the process has changed drastically in recent years. Social media keeps a new generation connected when career changes and other life adjustments scatter friends around the globe. But nothing replaces face-to-face presence.
Life is busy—often chaotic. Personal connection in today’s world requires intentional planning and creativity. Plan an event. Choose a date, time, and place. Send invitations. Prepare activities. Enjoy the fellowship. And next year, do it again.
Four couples came together as young friends… established families…exchanged parenting advice…celebrated achievements. We prayed over problems and grieved over losses. We shared love, laughter, and life—forty years’ worth. Along the way, we discovered the cornerstone of tradition is not an event…it’s relationship.
Why not get together with a few friends? You might start an accidental tradition.
Dianne Barker—speaker, radio host and best-selling author of eleven books including Twice Pardoned and I Don’t Chase the Garbage Truck down the Street in my Bathrobe Anymore! Organizing for the Maximum Life—is a member of Christian Authors Network, Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and Christian Women in Media. For more information, visit www.diannebarker.com.
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