My dad has a pretty warped sense of humour. Case in point: I’m going to title this example The Vegemite Assassin. At some point in my teens Father Comedy thought it would be a funny prank to creep up behind his unsuspecting victim (one of his three offspring) and smear vegemite across their face, usually leaving a brown smudge that travelled from the bottom lip to the opposite cheek, allowing for an unexpected punch of salty goop in our mouths. Aussie or no, this is not something you can prepare for.
As we groaned and rolled our eyes, licking our lips and heading to the bathroom to clean up, the not-so-covert Vegemite Assassin could be heard practically choking on his own laughter. Tears, holding his sides, the works.
It began to happen more often – dad’s courage being fuelled by our reactions. He even did it to a friend once. Mortifying. It wasn’t long before The Vegemite Assassin got a taste of his own… gag, and that, my friends, was the start of a decades-long family tradition that is yet to be put to rest.
While some family traditions may be embarrassing – they make us unique, they celebrate a special bunch of people.
Some family traditions will be carried over from past generations. Another Vegemite story for you – my grandma taught us to dunk our toast. It had to be Beaconsfield bread (made the old-fashioned way, heavy and crusty) with butter and Vegemite. The tea had to be black, strong, with honey. And you simply dipped your Vegemite soldiers in the brew – mmm!
Confession time: I still do it.
So when you start your own family you have this wonderful opportunity to begin some family traditions of your own. I know a dad who takes his daughter on ‘dates’ (milkshake and cake) and buys her flowers every so often. I know many families who call on a babysitter a night each month so that mum and dad can have some ‘adult’ time, alone. Stockings at Christmas. Egg hunts at Easter. Favourite meals for birthdays.
A family tradition that we have carried forward from our own childhoods is to say grace before each meal. It’s pretty simple at the moment (“Dear God, thank you for the food…” followed by a very charismatic, “A-men!”), given that the little one is not yet two. You can never be too thankful, particularly for the simple things that we tend to take for granted – food, shelter, work, health.
The word grace comes from the Latin gratias, meaning thanks. I learnt this from a sweet little volume called A Book of Graces, compiled by Carolyn Martin (Hodder & Stoughton, 1996), which gives more than 500 examples from around the world.
“Would you have Christians sit down at table, like hogs to their troughs, without remembering the Giver?…” is the beginning of a prayer penned by Charles Lamb. I like the tongue-in-cheek examples:
“Three potatoes for four of us
Thank the Lord, there are no more of us!” (D. MacInnes)
I remember singing grace to the Superman theme song (with actions) as well as waiting for the long-winded, floral graces of our elders to conclude. Whatever its form, whether sung or danced or muttered with eyes squeezed shut, “grace” is the training wheels to a life of thanksgiving.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says.
That’s why we’ve decided to make grace a family tradition.
As printed in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday March 11, 2013.