This past week or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of tradition. Probably because we have been immersed in the phenomenon known as Wurstfest….and the holidays are looming over us. Before we go any further, for those of you not from around these parts, let me elaborate on the ‘fest. Wurstfest is an amazing local festival that occurs every year at this time. It’s a crazy, fun, popular, tradition-soaked German ten-day salute to sausage and giant party, complete with carnival rides and polka music galore. Yes, you read that correctly. Ten days of sausage, sauerkraut, polka and lots of beer. The men who are the host/workforce of this event bear the coveted title of “Opa” (getting in to this group is no small feat….it may actually be easier to join the CIA), and attend/party/run the show dressed in lederhosen, vests and hats. Their wives/girlfriends don dirndls for the week. Locals and tourists alike show up in droves, many also dressed in variations of traditional German garb. Others simply choose creative expression in the form of crazy hats, hair pieces or random costumes – I personally witnessed a guy dressed as Miley Cyrus (not from her modest period) and someone who was quite convincing as Thor. To my knowledge, neither of these two are of German heritage…..
People line up throughout the grounds, eager for potato pancakes, sausage-on-a-stick and deep fried everything. Tents are crammed full of revelers ages eight weeks to eighty years, bouncing and clapping along to polka music. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer” done as a polka. Or “Amazing Grace” performed through a beer bong. I kid you not. It’s epic.
So, the idea of tradition has been swirling around in my head. Naturally, the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof has also been stuck in there. If you have no idea about this reference, stop reading now and get to googling or you-tubing. Seriously, people. Make sure to check out both “Tradition” and “If I Were a Rich Man”. Typing this out has just cemented those songs in my brain for at least two more weeks. The irony is not lost on me that I am singing songs from a Jewish musical while discussing a German festival……
Rabbit trail over…back to traditions. I started musing over traditions – those well-known and those particular to our family or background. It’s still football season, so my mind wandered down a predictable path, since when I think football + tradition I get images of Texas A & M. No, I am not an Aggie. But even I know what a custom-heavy university that is. Plus, I visited once. Several of my good friends at PT school received their undergraduate degrees there, and one of them had a younger brother attending, so we took a road trip in order that I find fulfillment in the whole Aggie experience, complete with midnight yell practice. Let me talk you through this experience as a non-Aggie, because it’s very different than the experience of the natives.
First, I didn’t know any of the cheers/yells/whatever you call them…..and everyone else did. Not knowing the yells = not knowing the movements, which means I didn’t know when to shift my weight. As a result, I fell off the bleachers approximately every ten seconds…..for 30 minutes. Who needs step aerobics? Second, this group is very particular about who is allowed to point their fingers in which direction while whooping. I got so confused by the rules (and nervous to invoke whatever curse inappropriate pointing brings), that I basically just clasped my hands together the whole time. Finally, and perhaps the most fun part that no one warned me about, is what happens after the last yell ends. I’m standing there, hands clasped, falling off the bleachers in a regular rhythm, when all stadium lights go out. Silence and darkness ensued. WTH? No warning, nothing to prepare me. About the time I began to suspect some sort of alien abduction, people start flicking on lighters. Seriously?
Let’s pause for a moment, lest any younger readers become confused. I am aware that, at this point, no one uses lighters any more. I know you all have cell phones for this purpose. Believe it or not, we did not have cell phones at that time. And the few that were in existence didn’t have lighter apps…..or LED screens…..or a battery charge that lasted longer than two hours…..and they were too heavy to hold for any length of time. Stop laughing.
So, lighters. This added to my already heightened sense of unease on many levels. It’s weird. Only certain people were lighting them. And I believe I’ve mentioned my hair situation on more than one occasion. This much hair with that many open flames is not a good plan. Ever.
We have many unusual traditions in my family as well, seeing as how we are a blend of Armenian, American and German. Holidays are the best, because we have a veritable smorgasbord of fun activities. We do everything from the hidden pickle in the Christmas tree to Santa letters/cookies/gifts to Christmas Eve pajamas to the Wishbone Game (it’s an Armenian thing). We join our friends and family at Wassailfest and the tree lighting.
As funny and out there as many of these stories and traditions are, I love them all. Okay, not all, but I love the concept. They give us a sense of history and belonging and self. They remind us of events and emotions past, and give us a feeling of continuity. It’s comforting to know that generations to come will experience the things we experienced and share the memories of our youth. I look forward to seeing my children do the things I did as a child, and to watch their anticipation of the activities they love the most. The memories and stories entertain us, and help us cope on the holidays when we miss those who are no longer with us.
So, share, please. I’d love to hear about your favorite (or least favorite or weirdest or most memorable) traditions. Leave me a comment…..I’m always looking for a good laugh or great idea. You can even tell me your favorite song or scene from Fiddler, if you’d like.
On the other hand….
Solidarity, sisters. Tradition flows through us all.