Including traditions in your storytelling


Traditions are big in my family. There are things we’ve done for generations. Ask any of us about making Christmas fruitcakes, for instance, and you’ll be told November 11th is THE day for that project. Even a granddaughter who doesn’t actually like fruitcake made time to bake a batch on that day last year as she prepared for her first Christmas away from home.

This baptismal dress and its underslip have a long history with us. They were first used in 1934 for my brother-in-law’s baptism. A few years later my husband was baptized in them, and since then all of our children and most of our grandchildren, boys and girls, have worn them, too. The accompanying shawl was handmade by a family friend for our children, so isn’t quite as old, but is equally special.

How do such traditions get started, and why do we carry them on? For us, something meaningful is associated with an action or article and every repetition brings back pleasant memories. Their continuation isn’t a necessity – nobody has to bake fruitcakes, and not every babe born into the clan is required to wear the dress – but for those who do there is a subtle strengthening of the sense of family.

You guessed it. There’s a writing application coming.

As I create characters in my novels I try to find ways to individualize them within their settings. One way is to make certain traditions important to them. Those things will reveal something about their personalities and give us a glimpse of their uniqueness.

Are your characters affected by any traditions? Did they originate during childhood or develop later? How do they play into the story?