“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu

Family gatherings, especially around the holidays, can be packed with traditions. Some old, some newer, but it’s the traditions forgotten – then revived, that can be the most special.

This past Christmas there was a dented silver cup on the table with slips of paper folded inside. It went overlooked among all the other offerings on our festive table until midway through the meal.

“What’s this?” asked one of the grandchildren, picking up the old cup to examine it closer. My daughter, our hostess, answered, “That’s our Family Gratitude Cup. I found it in the cupboard when I was setting the table and decided to bring it out. Do you remember it?”

Perhaps if Ken’s mother had known the eventual use of the cup she would have chosen a larger size. But this one will serve, even as it overflows.

As we talked about the cup, the picture came into focus for me. Laura had started the tradition when she and Ken moved into their first home. The cup had been Ken’s as a baby, his name and birth date artfully engraved on its side. That first Christmas, Laura placed a pencil and slip of paper at each setting, asking us to take a moment and write what we were grateful for on our paper.

There weren’t little children around the table then, but my mother and Joyce’s parents were with us. When everyone finished writing, we went around the table, each reading their personal note of gratitude. After the last had spoken, Laura said, “Amen,” and we enjoyed our festive meal together.

That tradition continued for several years yet eventually fell by the way-side. Now Ken’s cup is back. While my mother and Joyce’s parents are gone their seats at the table have been filled by our grown grandchildren.

This year, my son’s wife, Mary Beth, had the flu and was unable to join us for the celebration. As we read some of the old gratitude statements, Laura found one written by her before their children were born. She was new at the table back then and graciously expressed her delight in being part of the family.

Somehow it seems Mary Beth has always been in the family, having a seat at the table, joining in all the conversations. It’s a comfortable feeling so she was missed.

The Family Gratitude Cup idea goes back to a conversation Laura had with her ninth grade Confirmation Elder, Margaret Kelly. I didn’t know this story until Laura shared it recently. Stories always have another layer when we take time to visit.

As the years unfold, our family will change. Members leave and others will take their spots.

Just as we read the notes of gratitude from my mother and Joyce’s parents, I hope children will someday read the notes from Joyce and me.

There’s something reassuring in that. A timeless tradition.

What are the traditions that remind you of the timeless cycle of your family?

Does your family have members at the table from diverse cultures? How do their traditions differ from those you were raised with and has this diversity been blended into an expanded family celebration?

Can you explain how customs and rituals add value to any celebration? Do you have any traditions that were lost and then found, like ours, that you will share with us?

As always, the conversation starts here.

“In the ordinary choices of every day we begin to change the direction of our lives.” – Eknath Easwaran


Brené Brown speaks on the value of a gratitude practice.