Rhys on Traditions.

  RHYS BOWEN: We arrived home to California after the winter in Arizona and immediately started a big clearing out of closets and desks. Do I really need this? How many pens does John actually need? Why does he need to keep a flag from Sri Lanka? He is never going to fly it over our house (I hope).

This process has made me think of all the things we don’t use any longer. Jelly molds in the shape of a rabbit?  Uh no. Birthday candles (no. Buy when needed). Frosting in different colors (ditto). But it has also made me realize that the festive side of life seems to have disappeared. I bought a women’s magazine for the plane ride and it had all these wonderful ideas for Easter decorations–dying eggs, making centerpieces, cakes in the shape of a lamb or a rabbit etc etc.

Who does that any more? I did once dye eggs when the children were small, but I have never made a cake in the shape of a lamb, or made my own chocolate bunnies. Am I a failure as a mother, I wonder? (I did write a series of clues for each child to hunt for their Easter basket, and that went on to the grandchildren until they went away to college)

 On the whole our only celebration is a good meal for a birthday or holiday. The exception is Christmas when I do decorate the whole house. However I limit my baking to the traditional sausage rolls and mince pies. No more cookies or the Stollen I used to make. If I want baked goods, i’ll buy them.

In a way it’s sad that so many traditions are disappearing, simply because we don’t have enough time. Or is this just in America where we have all lost our roots? The Chinese community in San Francisco still has its famous festivals, so has the Latino with its Carnival. But being British we have no real holidays to celebrate:--the only one that comes to mind is Guy Fawkes Day and that's to celebrate the execution of the man who tried to blow up parliament. Hardly the most peaceful or joyous of occasions!


When I was a child they put up a maypole at my primary school on May 1 and we danced around it, weaving ribbons in and out. In England they still have village cricket matches, all the pomp and ceremony with the royal family, and village fetes in the summer, with booths selling baked goods and all the carnival games as well as races for children (egg and spoon race? Sack race?) They are a tradition in most villages still.  

I wonder if there will be parades again, this Fourth of July, which is as close to a holiday celebration as we get around here. I always enjoyed the local parades with decorated bicycles and cub scouts marching out of rhythm. We may have a family picnic. I may even buy red, white and blue plates and there might be fireworks. 

So who still celebrates holidays in a big way? Who still has family traditions? Do you think that most of these will be lost forever?

LUCY BURDETTE: I hope they won’t all be lost Rhys! Seems like some have gone to the wayside because our society is less formal than it used to be. Possibly less church-oriented too.  Growing up, we always had fancy meals with the same dishes for Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving. Now our holidays are much more relaxed. Probably part of it is because our family isn’t close by, and the kids are grown. They carry on some of the traditions for their kids–Christmas stockings, Easter baskets…

As for me, I’m still baking all kinds of things! (I’ll happily take and use your birthday candles, Rhys.) And I know our town will have a 4th of July parade–it’s very charming and very well attended and we wouldn’t miss it.

 HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, it’s such a process, and doesn’t it depend a bit on whether there are children? Here in New England, July 4th is adorable, I have to  say. We love going to the LIncoln town parade, where they have marching moms and veterans, and junior high school bands and dogs and haywagons and old-fashioned firetrucks, and lots of proud veterans.  And lots of happy kids and dripping ice cream cones And the fireworks on the Esplanade, with the 1812 Overture and  booming cannons. Not to be missed. And ooh, I always have birthday candles.  Those things are markers, no matter how we celebrate.

JENN McKINLAY: I bake a bunny cake every year for Easter, and birthday cake upon request. At Christmas I am in a frenzy of baking cookies, usually. But there is a shift when the children get older. 

On the Hooligans’ birthdays, from the time they were little, I would decorate the house with streamers, a huge Happy Birthday sign and balloons, and while they were sleeping I would barricade their bedroom doorway with streamers and balloons so they had to bust their way out. So fun! But now they’ve moved out and we’re empty nesters…*sigh*

I think traditions just shift and change with the family. Although, if the Hooligans have kids, I really hope they barricade their bedroom doors, too, and keep the tradition going! 

HALLIE EPHRON: We did more when the kids were little. There had to be a homemade chocolate cake with chocolate icing decorated with nonpareils for each birthday. We colored easter eggs and ate chocolate bunnies even though we don’t celebrate Easter. My kids and grands troop over to watch the marathon runners when they race through Brooklyn and find a spot to watch July 4 fireworks, from a distance. At Christmas I make chocolate-covered orange rind and chocolate turtles. And we have our special dishes that I’m happy to make to celebrate special occasions.

We’ve all got our own traditions, some more elaborate and public than others. I remember being in London on Remembrance Day and having no idea why people were wearing poppies.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Agreed about things calming way down after the children are grown. And let’s face it - all the baking and decorating and sign making and basket hiding: who is doing that? Women, that’s who. Tired women who just want a break after making holidays magical for 25 years. I love my family tradition of huge dinner parties on Christmas and Easter (and every third Thanksgiving) but honestly, it was nice to not have them during the past two years. 

Like Jenn, I hope and expect my kids will revamp our earlier celebrations when they get around to having their own children. I’ll show up with chocolate in a stocking/basket and enjoy admiring my daughters’ and

daughter in law’s hard work.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've never been much for holiday baking, and I think I can safely say I've never made a proper birthday cake. I somehow seem to have missed the gene, much I'm sure to my daughter's disappointment. I'm very fond of some of the traditions we do have, but most of those have really fallen by the wayside in the pandemic. We went out for both Easter and Mother's Day brunch this year, and that's a new tradition I'd be happy to continue–no one having to spend hours in the kitchen!

RHYS: I agree, Debs. Nothing that involves hours in the kitchen for me! But Hank is right about needing to have children around for traditions to be meaningful.

So who does carry on family traditions? Bunny cakes?