Traditions that hold us together
Traditions give our life structure and meaning. They help keep families and cultures knit together in shared and expected experiences. They create space and behavioral guidelines for celebration, grieving and living. As we get into the thick of this holiday season, traditions can lift us or weigh heavily on our minds and hearts, but either way, they seem omnipresent. This month’s books look at traditions in many forms and cultures.
Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices is a compilation of short stories all revolving around the sacred Islamic holidays of Eid. Although there are some geographical cultural differences in how Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are celebrated, family and community are always at the center of these traditions.
Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley is an award-winning young adult thriller about a girl who straddles two cultures but doesn’t quite fit in either one. Her life is further complicated when she becomes part of an FBI drug investigation that puts both halves of her own cultural identity – white and Native Ojibwe – at odds. She must decide which cultural traditions are most important to her at risk of tearing her community apart.
You Bring The Distant Near by Mitali Perkins follows three generations of Bengali American women as they wrestle with their Indian traditions while living in America and the intergenerational strife that results.
The Neapolitan Quartet: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante. Ferrante states all four books are one serialized novel. The Neapolitan Quartet is an Italian coming-of-age saga following two young girls from 1950s Naples through the subsequent decades and well into their adult lives. They grapple with the underlying and often destructive cultural traditions in their city of birth.
Christmas: A Biography by Judith Flanders follows the traditional celebrations back into the past hundreds of years and across the globe. She reveals that some of our current traditions have been around much longer than we think, showing the depth which traditions are buried into our collective culture.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger was made into a movie with the same title in 2000. Junger retells the story of fishermen from Gloucester, Massachusetts and the perfect storm that hit the northeast late in 1991. Fishing and seagoing traditions are strong in the northeast – a way of life – sometimes pulling men against their will, with disastrous consequences.
The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco is a children’s book that illustrates how family heirlooms can be practical and a tether to tie us to memories, places and people all distant and past. “We will make a quilt to help us always remember home. It will be like having the family in back home Russia dance around us at night,” states a line from the book.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow illustrates the power of traditions: to destroy relationships and communities or to bind and build. The Eastwood sisters suffer damaging effects when traditions and rituals are deemed unacceptable and buried deep. The three sisters also learn to rely on the power of their traditions to heal the wounds that cut the deepest.
By Celeste McNeil