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?

What’s the Point?

As I clipped the quaint silver cross onto a fir branch I took a good look at it. A little shabby, bare on the edges, bits of broken wire on some of the corners.  Years ago we spray painted it and sprinkled on fresh glitter to spiffy it up, but it’s still looking a little dilapidated. I suppose it has a right to be. It’s as old as I am, and I’m a little worn around the edges myself.


My parents bought this ornament the year I was born and it has been on every one of my Christmas trees. We have a half dozen other old fashioned ornaments that were on my grandparents’ trees and have been passed through the family ranks, too. None of them are really beautiful anymore, and look a little out of place among the newer baubles, but we treasure them anyway.


We have a delicate white baptismal dress and underslip that has been worn by three generations of babies in our family over a period of almost seventy-five years… all but two of the babies also cuddled into a handmade white shawl that is fifty years old.


Ask any of my family about Christmas fruitcakes and you’ll hear that they have to be made on November 11th as they have been every year since I started making them back in the 1960s, and every family member present must take a turn stirring the batter, regardless of their age. (We won’t mention the ongoing argument about whether dark or light cakes are better tasting!)

Traditions. How do they get started? What makes them endure? And do traditions find their way into your writing? What do they tell readers about your characters?