Music Is Our Family Tradition

We used to have a recurring movie night, and light candles. Now, we have a ritual that fits our family's shared interests a little better.

Family Traditions

We’ve been discussing family traditions lately. The other night at dinner, our 10-year-old, Yakob, said, “You know, we should have family movie night. We could each pick a movie to watch.”

“Four movies would make for a long night,” I replied. “But maybe we can rotate.”

We actually used to rent movies every Friday. More often than not, however, we’d select too many films and not have time to watch them all. Late fees would accumulate. Or my husband, Rick, and I would beg off and watch an R-rated flick in our bedroom while Yakob and Ayalkbet would watch a more kid-friendly film in the family room. At any rate, it was a tradition that, like many others, faded away.

Our boys’ friend, Graham, goes to a bookstore with his family every Friday night. They also have a weekly yogurt night and, I believe, a YMCA night. The family attends church together each Sunday. And our family? Sometimes, we don’t even make it to church on Christmas.

In theory, it should be easier to hold on to traditions that take place only once a year. For the first couple of Christmases we shared with the boys, I lit a special candle in honor of their Ethiopian mothers. While I think of these women often, especially as the boys get older, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t even know where that candle is now.

Our own list of family rituals is pretty short. I bake sugar cookies with the boys every holiday season. They love creating their own one-of-a-kind designs with icing and colorful sprinkles. Each time Yakob or Ayalkbet scores a goal in soccer, we celebrate with ice cream. We sometimes regret this when, after a long day of traveling, the soccer stars demand that we find a Marble Slab Creamery.

And there are passions that we share as a family. Musical taste, like love, is something that can be passed on, and certain songs will stand the test of time. We recently decided to make a compilation of our favorite songs, as a family project.

When I walked into the house the other day, I heard the drum beat that leads into “Born in the USA.” Rick had finished creating the mix. I got chills as I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s voice, and my eyes welled with tears. I’ve heard that smell is the most powerful sense in evoking memories, but sound must be up there, too. This was one of the tunes we sang with the boys when they first came home.

As I entered the kitchen, I saw Ayalkbet doing his homework at the table. He began moving his head in time to the music, murmuring, “Oh, yeah.”

I passed through to the family room and saw Rick sitting on the couch. The look on his face was a mixture of pride and nostalgia. The first few songs on our family-mix CD are ones we listened to over and over when we lived in Indiana, where Rick and I are from. We associate them with the beginning of our life as a family. The tunes that follow remind us of different cities and states where we’ve lived since.

Yakob skipped into the room and began to cut a rug. Ayalkbet, spying his brother through the doorway, got up from his homework and joined in. Springsteen gave way to Carole King, and Rick and I began shaking our behinds in unison.

Did songs touch the boys’ hearts long ago, in Ethiopia? Perhaps their mothers sang them lullabies. I don’t know if listening to music qualifies as a family tradition, but it is a mainstay in our family. And in that moment, as we all danced together, it sounded like home.


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