By Anne Gagliano

The Gagliano boys getting their tree many years ago…
The holiday season brings to my mind the rich and meaningful word ‘tradition.’  Traditions abound in American holiday celebrations; they are rife in our society and our families as we remember our beliefs and seek to honor our customs.

Tradition is a comfort and a cornerstone; it is a source of strength and identity. I think firefighters appreciate tradition more than any other profession, for firefighting is an honorable job that involves life and death situations. Without the solidity of tradition, firefighters couldn’t do what they do.

The word tradition means to pass culture, custom, and heritage down from one generation to the next. The rookies learn that which cannot be found in a textbook from the veterans. Tradition is the art of learning by doing; it is the act of cementing who you are.

Families have traditions as well, and these traditions are essential to helping raise solid, beloved children. Never underestimate the importance of your holiday traditions, no matter how trivial they may seem. Even how or where you get your Christmas tree has meaning to your kids. A dear friend of mine recently shared with me her family’s struggle to find a time to get to the tree farm–a tradition they’ve practiced for years. She has four very active kids, three of whom are teenagers. They finally settled on a day they were all free–that is, except for their oldest son.  They assumed he wouldn’t mind missing out, since he’d seemed a bit disinterested in family gatherings of late. But happily, they were wrong! When he learned that the tree outing was to take place without him, he protested and insisted they pick a day when he could go too.  Tradition–it has meaning to even the most distant of teenagers.
What is it about tradition that is so powerful? I think it is best described in one of my favorite musical movies of all time, “Fiddler on the Roof.” As the movie begins, we hear the haunting yet joyful strains of a distant violin. The camera pans over a humble farmyard then focuses on the farmhouse, where we see a fiddler precariously balanced on the rooftop peek. Then into the frame walks Tevye, a poor milk man with a rich character. Tevye says, “We are all like fiddlers on a roof–trying to scratch out a pleasant tune without breaking our necks. Why do we stay?  Because this is our home. How do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word:  Tradition. Tradition has helped us keep our balance for many years; because of it every one of us knows who he is. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”
I think only a firefighter can truly appreciate the urgency of balance on a rooftop! One wrong step and down you go! Tradition gives you strength by preparing you to face the shaky precariousness of life. It is learned and ingrained in you at home (or at the station) through repetition demonstrated with care.

     Our holiday traditions are just as essential to our well-being, for they help complete the soul.  Your children watch you, and they learn who they are by your example. Think about what you show them as you prepare to celebrate this year. Repeat the meaningful traditions, and start new ones. My most joyous and memorable childhood moments are of Christmas. Because they are repeated year after year, they become ingrained in our memories. They become part of who we are. If you only do something once, it is more easily forgotten.
One of our most cherished holiday traditions is one we started when our boys were old enough to understand it: We began finding meaningful little stories or scriptures to read to them between rounds of opening gifts. This slowed the process down and made the morning last longer and have more sentiment. Some years we had the boys find their own things to read to us. This has helped incorporate a little more meaning into the day, as opposed to having it be just about gifts (although gifts are special too!) Another favorite Gagliano tradition is to celebrate “Christmas Adam.” This is the name we’ve given to December the 23, the day before Christmas “Eve.” On this day, my husband Mike surprises us with a new game, and we play it all that day, just the four of us, to have time alone before we get together with the rest of our extended families.
Mike and I have traditions we share just between the two of us as well, for we believe it is so important to  have time as a couple, away from the kids. Each year, we make a special trek to our favorite mall (which is quite far away), and we shop just for each other. Then we go out to dinner, like a real date. On Christmas Eve, we exchange our private, romantic little gifts, after the kids have gone to bed, and when we’re finally alone. This reminds us of who we are apart from our children. Traditions like these, for both the entire family and just you as a couple, make the holiday season sentimental and so very precious.

This year we are watching our newly married son struggle to meld his beloved family traditions with his new bride’s family traditions. It is both joyous and painful for us all, as both families are very close and very “traditional.” It’s a good problem to have; it should be painful to say goodbye. Tradition has helped our son and our new daughter-in-law to be strong in their love for family and for each other. And we are so pleased to see that our son is already picking up where his father left off; he is planning and strategizing ways to surprise and delight his bride for Christmas on his young and limited budget, just like his father. One generation has passed down a meaningful custom to another: Tradition.


Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 25 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.


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