Family traditions: a love/hate relationship

Pumpkin Day

Pumpkin Day

So this weekend, hubby, The Dude and I all took part in one of my fahhhhvorite family traditions: Family Pumpkin Day! Woot woot! Every year, hubby’s family (who all rock by the way) including two sisters, his father, aunts and uncles, his grandmother, and many cousins (and all their significant others and children) gather together at hubby’s middle sister’s house to carve pumpkins. We have a huge pot luck lunch, tons of big delicious pumpkins get carved (see a few of the samples above – mine is the traced out hand), and we spend the afternoon carving, laughing, eating, and bonding.

It’s a glorious day. Yes we all come away with some of the most amazing carved pumpkins but more than that, we come away with great memories and a feeling of connection and family strength.

I love family traditions! But, I gotta be honest, I didn’t always! WHAT?!??!?! Me…not enthusiastic about something?!??!! Yes, I  know…shocking!

When my Dad was killed in a car accident when I was 16, family traditions became a stark, dank reminder of everything that was missing, everything that was torn away from me, and everything I used to have. They were like God’s cruel joke. Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, Valentine’s day. My god, for a while it seemed like there wasn’t a month without a blasted holiday or tradition to painfully acknowledge.

Constant never-ending reminders, a stake through the heart as I watched hundreds of Father’s Day/Christmas commercials with perfect “gift ideas for Dad” to remind me that I no longer had one, to remind me of all the fun I’d never have with my Dad again, to remind me that I was missing a part of my world. It was awful! It was torture!

I began to hate family traditions. I became cynical and bitter and I loathed families who enjoyed them. What’s the point? You just get all settled in a tradition and something will happen to tear it away from you?!?!

Fortunately for me, the years passed by and my pain and anger eased. I healed. My mother remarried and I grew to love a new and larger family. More importantly, I came to once again fall in love with family traditions. They symbolized a renewal and I rejoiced in feeling whole again.

And when hubby and I got together, we started making entirely new family traditions. My family grew and expanded. My heart filled with even more joy! I was so tired of living in fear of having everything torn away from me that I gave in, I let go, and I celebrated each and every tradition with enthusiasm.

I really have had a love/hate relationship with family traditions. We’ve come full circle. And after seeing both sides of the fence, I gotta say that for me, I see them as the glue that holds us together. They are the symbols that create our unique blend and flavour of family.

Whether they are inner sanctum traditions, like between a husband and wife or part of a larger family circle, I count on those  crazy, zany, fun, and ok…sometimes even a little torturous get-togethers to keep us close, connected, bonded and strong as a family. 

After having lost the feeling of “family” once before, I now treasure and guard it!

So bring on the Pumpkin Days, Easter, Halloween etc. I am in! Let the traditions begin!

What family traditions do you have and why do you love (or hate) them?



  1. For me, Pumpkin Day was like what you described – it was another reminder that Mom was gone as it was one of her favorites as well. A time for her and her kids, extended family and grand kids!

    Was it a great day – yes
    Was it a sad day as well – yes!

    Love/hate is so bang on!

  2. Jillian Dodd - Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos says:

    I love that your hubby reads your blog!!! The pumpkins look great and it sounds like you had a great time. There will always be people in our lives that are missing, but I know my Grandma would be pissed if I didn’t carry on her traditions!!

    • Yes – me to – he always has great ideas for posts etc – he actually came up with today’s. 🙂
      That’s true. I think Mamma K would be thrilled to know we’ve continued to honor her by having the traditions she loved most carry on. We honor her, we remember her, we talk about her and I think we need that. I believe the loved ones who have gone on before us would want that. 🙂

  3. What a great tradition and cool pumpkins! And I understand your pain. When my brother was killed in 2005, Xmas and Thanksgiving became trials for my family, especially my mother. The only thing that saved her was being able to focus on my daughter. I’m glad you’ve been able to heal and move on:)

    • It’s tough. Grieving the loss of a loved one is a long process and healing isn’t overnight but I think, as hard as those traditions are, someday the pain eases and we are happy for them because they allow us to honor that person. A few years ago I started making the bread my father used to make every Christmas and although it was hard the first time, in the end, it’s healthy and it feels great to honor him!
      I am soooo sorry about the passing of your brother….big hugs!

  4. Hey..great pumpkins! Did you use any power tools? =)

    Holidays can become a torture as you say, for many reasons. My father passed away this last Mother’s Day…..I’ll never look at that holiday again with the same eyes…..

    • Power tools – lol – nope! Just an old fashion utility knife for most of them. LOL!!
      Ouch – that’s devastating! I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your father…sending you a big hug!!! It is hard to recover from that kind of loss let alone to have it happen on an “acknowledged” day – torturous. My Dad was killed 5 days before my 16th birthday and for years afterwards my birthday became a time of dread…I feel for you and for what you’ll go through each year…my heart is with you!
      I will say that for me, as time passed, the pain did ease – never entirely but much more manageable. I hope you will find the same thing!

  5. Love those pumpkins! My favorites are the cat and the one with the huge teeth. 🙂

    This is a very touching post about grief. I think my favorite family tradition is Christmas…my family isn’t religious, but we like getting together in our pajamas and drinking hot cocoa and giving gifts to express appreciation. I won’t lie – getting gifts is definitely the best part!!!

    • Thank you Annalise – LOVE your family tradition. It sounds so warm, cozy and loving. There’s nothing quite like it, eh?!
      And duh…the name of the game is GIFTS! LOL!!!

  6. Wow! Those pumpkins are amazing. I will never, ever show you what I do with mine. I can’t draw at all and even following the stencils I’m a complete goof.

    I haven’t had anyone taken away from me, but I’m with you on the love/hate. I’ve had family member voluntarily leave and so I decided I’d make my own. Now my kids know my traditions as ‘our’ traditions and it’s great. I miss having the extended family around, but I can’t force something. My hubs’ aunt is actually stepping up and having more family activities now that her grandkids are getting bigger. It’s fun, but not the same as having my blood relatives there.

    • Oh girl, I feel your pain. Bringing our blended and extended family together hasn’t always been easy and we STILL have our ups and downs (with loads of DRAMA…lol) but we stick with it and do the best we can, right? Sounds like you are making the best of a tough situation and honestly, that’s all you can ever do. Good for you for keeping the traditions alive and doing what felt right for you. You rock!!!

  7. Natalie,

    It IS hard to go through the holidays with a piece of the family missing. My mom died in 2004, quite senselessly, and it has taken a long time to get over it. One of the things we do is tell “Jo Stories” (her name) at family functions. We have ourselves cracking up in no time. The other thing we do is every year on her birthday, we send an email around and add memories of her to the email as it goes my. Plus, one Maxine cartoon since she sounded just like her. It helps.

    Enjoy your Halloween! And I too love that your hubby comments on your blog. Mine does too, but he doesn’t do it publicly. *jealous* 🙂

    • Oh Jenny, I am so sorry to hear about your Mom – that is so devasting! Sending you a huge hug!
      I have to say, I LOVE your new traditions as a way to keep her spirit and memory alive. LOVE that!! The Maxine cartoon cracks me up and WHY am I not surprised…sounds like Jo was a wonderful, spirited, funny woman! She’d love how you honor her, I am sure!
      I was so young when my Dad died with very little extended family around that it’s sad that I feel like I don’t know him or stories about him. In the more recent years, doing things like making his Christmas bread has been a wonderful way for my Mom to share stories about him and bring him “back to life” a little bit.
      For Mamma K, we keep a memorial facebook group going where people post some of the most amazing things about her that we’d have never known.And like your family, we talk a lot about her at events…she’d love that as much as your Mom does, I am sure. Sharing those stories is such a GIFT!!!
      You gotta tell your hubby to get with the program!! It’s cool to comment publically. I bet MY hubby would see HIS comments and join RIGHT in! LOL!!!

  8. Wow, those pumpkins are fantastic! I love your and your family members’ imagination 🙂

    I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I can imagine how hard it was for you to face all those holidays with a constant reminder of his absence.

    When I moved to the States, I left all my family (and friends) back in Poland. It’s been almost 20 years but I still hate/love Christmas. I hate it because I can’t spend it with my parents, my sister and her family. I love it because I have a family of my own and we celebrate “in style”. So I’m with you, sista — these holidays get to us, no matter what.

    • Thanks so much Angela. I can’t imagine moving away from all of your family and how hard it’s made your holidays and celebrations. So tough to be away from your extended family but thankfully you have the comfort of celebrating with your own family in “style” – sounds totally up my alley! 🙂

  9. What a great tradition! Do you mind if I use it in my Wednesday mash-up? I’m talking pumpkins that day, and this would be perfect!

    Thanks, Kathy

  10. What a great Halloween tradition! I used to love holidays, but they are starting to lose steam. My kids are spread out like pollen and it gets hard to bring the gang together. After reading your post, I am going to try to change that. The Halloween carving and potluck sounds like a great time.

    • Hi Annie! Yes, I can imagine when it’s hard to get everyone together, that can take the steam out of traditions. It’s tough. I am glad my post inspired you to change that – how freaking awesome!!! Sniff…Just keep at it and enjoy it! In my family, we’ve been more open to changing dates around to accommodate more people. So what we don’t all celebrate Christmas together ON Christmas day – we do it Christmas Eve or Boxing Day and have actually talked about doing it Dec 27 or 28 when more people are free. It’s about getting together and making traditions that work with our changing lives. Good luck and keep me posted on how it turns out!

  11. Elena Aitken says:

    I am SO impressed by those pumpkins. Nicely done.
    I love family traditions. They’re not always easy to carry out, that’s for sure. But so important. In fact, so many of my favorite childhood memories are centered around those traditions as a child.
    Most of mine are with Christmas although, for many years it was my tradition with my dad to do the pumpkin together. I still vividly remember going with Dad to my kindergarten class to decorate the pumpkin, just the two of us. …okay, seriously, that made me teary. May be a blog post….

    • Thanks Elena – after a few years, you start to master the carving. I’ll have to update the post with pictures of ours when they are lit up.
      Awwww…a definite blog post. Sounds very touching and wonderful. That’s the thing about traditions, isn’t it. They can warm our hearts and souls and make us remember and reminisce like it was just yesterday! 🙂


  1. […] weekend’s pumpkin day potluck is a case in point. The drink station was located just before the food station which was located […]

  2. […] also want to visit Natalie Hartford’s post, Family Traditions: a Love/Hate Relationship, for a bittersweet account of how her feelings about a family pumpkin-carving tradition (and […]

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