Jerry Davich: Holiday traditions illuminate the unique, the universal
Jerry Davich email@example.com December 2, 2012 4:44PM
Members of the Zaradich family has been continuing a Christmas tradition of getting together on Xmas Eve for several decades, standing the test of time. It's blossomed so much that the family tradition has been switched to a clubhouse, with people coming from across the country and Santa showing up for the kids. Pictured at a recent holiday gathering are; front row,Marilyn Deavers, Kathy Norkus, Carole Maxwell, Kay Marcus and Phyllis Stefankiewicz. Second row-Don Dillman, Dennis Yugo and John Krzyston | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 20, 2013 11:08PM
In many ways, this is what the upcoming holidays are all about.
Yes, there is Santa Claus, gift giving, holiday movies, shopping lists, feasts of food, New Year’s Eve revelry and, of course, the celebrated birth of Jesus. But traditions are what keep us together and compel us to get together again and again this time of year.
Take, for instance, the Zaradich family, which has celebrated Christmas Eve together for decades, reuniting loved ones in this region from Portage, Valparaiso, Hobart, Crown Point and Schererville, as well as from across the country.
“Our Christmas Eve tradition began with my grandparents, John and Katherine Zaradich, before I was even born.” said Marilyn Deavers of Portage.
Deavers contacted me from a deep pride of her extended family and its Christmas tradition that has stood the test of time.
“I feel as though our family is very unique in that we are able to gather 50 to 60 family members every year to celebrate this Christmas tradition,” she explained.
She’s right, but then many other families also believe they, too, are unique. I know. I’ve heard from a lot of them through the years. That’s the universal beauty of such traditions.
Millions of families celebrate them in a similar fashion yet feel uniquely special in a wonderful, intimate way.
What captivates me is that most of us take part in traditions that date back centuries, often without knowing how they began or their original meaning and purpose. It doesn’t matter, though. Not really. All that matters is getting together with family, friends and loved ones to share the experience — any experience — with one another.
Universal, yet unique
The Zaradich family’s Christmas Eve tradition initially began with John and Katherine’s six children, their spouses and their children.
“The early celebrations always took place at my grandparents’ house,” Deavers said. “As they got older, their four daughters took turns hosting the celebration at their homes.”
Over the years, other family members took turns hosting the celebration, another common trait with successful traditions.
“Now that our family has grown and become too large for anyone’s house, we have been hosting it at a hall,” Deavers said. “The past few years, at the clubhouse at Shorewood Forest in Valparaiso.”
The entire evening is a group effort, including setting up beforehand, bringing in various dishes, and Santa handing out gifts to the kids. Again, universal yet unique.
“This is followed by an activity of some kind,” Deavers said. “Two years ago, one family member put together a photo slideshow of pictures from past Christmases. Some years we have a gift exchange or grab bag, other years we play games.”
My family also is big into playing board games into the night after we feast during the day.
It doesn’t matter which games we play or who wins and loses. Such silly details are often forgotten anyway. But the warm memories of our precious time in the same air space linger throughout the next year. And often for many years to come.
“After the activities conclude, we always have a birthday cake for Jesus and the kids sing happy birthday,” Deavers said. “Some years we sing Christmas carols.”
Another key aspect about traditions is that they routinely outlive the people who celebrate them — as they will do with all of us at some point.
“I think it’s impressive that our family has been able to continue this Christmas Eve tradition despite my grandparents passing away, as well as two of their daughters and two of their sons,” Deavers said. “Sometimes families drift apart when this happens, but we continue to stick together.”
Sticking together is key, above and beyond anything else, and this thankless duty historically falls upon women in most families. (This is probably why it was Deavers who contacted me about this ancient issue, not any of the men in her family.)
Women instinctively and intuitively have a better understanding of the deeper, even primal importance of family traditions. The word itself, in its English form, comes from Latin origins, meaning to transmit, to pass down, to give for safekeeping.
Regardless of any tradition’s spark of origin, this is precisely why we continue to keep these flames alive. It’s not only to share this mysterious torch from our past, but also to help illuminate the feared darkness of our future.
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