A lamp chop, a cup of tea and the sound of a tea kettle all have a kind of Pavlovian effect on me.
Beginning at age 4, I would spend time with my grandmother, enjoying my favorite lunch: a baby lamb chop, tiny baked potato and spinach sautéed with garlic (no PB&J for the first- born child). Then, at around 3 p.m., she would take out the good china tea cups (I had a special tiny size all my own) and make us a cup of tea. Sometimes she would take the time to serve from a teapot. We would sit across from each other at her dining room table and chat. It always made me feel very grown up and very elegant.
The ritual has continued to this day. My tea partners (you know who you are) and I enjoy a special closeness over that steaming cup. The kettle is filled, our favorite cups are chosen, the tea bag (still always Lipton) enters the cup and we eagerly anticipate the screeching of the kettle. The brew steeps for three minutes (yes, I time it). Milk or sugar? I add just enough milk to produce a caramel color and a dot of sugar that is similar to the waving of a bottle of Vermouth over a martini. Now, we can choose where we’ll sit and delight in each others company.
So, what is the difference between a habit, a custom, a ritual and a tradition? My grandmother began the daily routine of enjoying a cup of tea each afternoon (a habit). Soon, it became a practice (a custom). Once it was observed and repeated regularly, it graduated to a ritual. Passing it on to subsequent generations made it a tradition.
Here are some of my family rituals that I’m hoping will someday find their way to becoming traditions:
– The secret handshake, created after watching a late-night movie whereby the heroine suffered amnesia, was unrecognizable after an accident and her family was unsure if it was truly her.
– Spanish buzz words for “chill out,” and “not now.”
– Scrabble games.
– The morning shower message: a special occasion is immortalized in words, written on the shower wall with shaving cream (until the water is turned on).
– Preparing our favorite Latin foods at holiday time: Paella (chicken and shellfish with rice flavored with chicken broth, seafood broth and saffron), Arroz con Gandules (spareribs and garbanzo beans with rice flavored with beef broth and saffron) and Pasteles (pork-stuffed dough made from plantains and root vegetables). The youngest helper always adds the green olive to the finished product and the least culinary-capable is relegated to cutting the string that ties up the finished product.Te
There’s something very comforting about repeating an act (or series of acts) in a set, precise manner. I particularly enjoy the accuracy and the detail of the process. Looking forward to these little ceremonies of life can be so uplifting.
Our lives are full, time flies by and family and friends may not live close, but we can delight in the fact that we took the time to create one special moment. Each time it is celebrated, we’ll know that we were the ones that gathered up a small portion of our lives, held it close and wrapped it into an extraordinary gift that can be reopened over and over again.