How Do You Guarantee the Survival of Traditions?

Traditions get passed down from one generation to the next. Our family is in a transition phase now, with a new generation being born and raised. I want to know how to pass on our Christmas traditions. Do you have any experience with this? Can you tell me how to engage the next generation in order to sustain our traditions? I’d really appreciate your feedback!

(P.S. Age doesn’t matter. Whether you are from one generation or the other, I still want to hear what you think.)

On Christmas Eve every year, my family celebrates Wigilia. We never knew that, though; we just knew we had our family’s traditional Polish feast once a year on Christmas Eve. Following the dinner, we gather around the tree and share gifts like everyone else does at Christmas time.

Xmas at Ricks3
Me at my brother’s house for Christmas


The definition of Wigilia is:  the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland. But I call it the Polish Christmas feast. The making of sauerkraut pierogies got passed down to me and I spend days every year making enough of the stuffed dumplings for about 25 members of my extended family and pack extra bags of them to give to my sisters and brother. My sister, Cathy, makes the same amount of pierogies but fills them with potato-cheese filling. My sister, Nancy, makes cabbage bread which is something passed down from the Slovakian side of my family. My brother, Rick, makes sauerkraut from scratch mixed with kielbasa and sometimes even catches the fish that he makes for the dinner.

My Slovakian grandmother made a tomato-based mushroom gravy that we call Christmas gravy because that is the only time of the year that we have it. It goes perfectly over the pierogies, cabbage bread, mashed potatoes and fish that comprise some of the elements of our dinner. My husband, though, says it makes anything taste better if you pour this gravy over it, and I think he’s right!

I am gifting you with the recipe for this superb Christmas Gravy that has been passed down in my family for generations. Find it at the end of this article. 

I also make Bobolki, another dish passed down from the Slovakian side of the family. It is little puffs of dough browned and then doused with butter, honey and poppy-seed paste.

So I guess ours is not a true Wigilia because it blends Polish and Slovakian foods. And besides, my siblings and I are second-generation Americans who never even knew this was called a Wigilia. We were just raised with this as our Christmas dinner and trained by our mother in how to make it.

Many years ago, a friend of ours invited us to go to a Wigilia at the Polish Cultural Center, hosted by the Friends of Polish Art. We have been going every year since then and have learned a lot about the traditions.  This year, it was hosted by the Polish Art Center in conjunction with Wayne State University’s Polish Cultural Club.

It begins with the sharing of the Oplatek before the dinner. This is a wafer similar to the hosts used for Communion during Mass. Family members break off a piece of the Oplatek and share the Christmas wafer with others, giving a kiss and a blessing or good wishes for happiness, prosperity, etc. in the coming year. I remember my father sharing Oplatek with us when I was a kid. Maybe it was only once, and perhaps no one else remembers that. Because when I brought Oplatek from the Polish Art Center this Christmas to share with my family, they were only mildly interested, puzzled and refrained from passing it around.


At the Art Center, our dinner this year consisted of creamed herring, a vegetable salad, a green salad, borscht (beet soup), fish (usually carp), pierogies, kapusta (sauerkraut),  rye bread, kompot (a warm fruit beverage made from cooked and dried fruits such as plums, apples, pears, raisins and apricots), and poppy-seed cake as well as many other delicacies.

Nut rolls
Nut Rolls – almond (L.) and poppy seed (R.)

Our parents are no longer with us, we are getting older, and our children are having children. We are lucky that so far the family has held together and we have still seen each other as an extended family every Christmas Eve. But this year, a few of our nieces were not there with their families and it felt a little empty.

I have been feeling the last few years that it is time to pass some of the cooking on to the next generation. Only a few have stepped forward to help, two because they are close to their parents and one because she loves the food and wants to know how to make it. I have been understanding that some of them have babies or small children. But overall, I sense a lack of interest in keeping up the tradition.

I’m not sure if this extended family will continue to get together and carry on the Christmas traditions that we have had all through our lives. That makes me sad. I remember my mother feeling sad when she went through this stage of trying to pass the helm down to us. She continued to do most of the cooking until she could no longer do so. But we did help more and more as time went on, and finally took it over from her.

Modern Version of My Grandma’s Christmas Gravy

  • 46 fluid ounce can of tomato juice
  • 1 cup sauerkraut juice drained from a jar of sauerkraut
  • 10 dried mushrooms, crushed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • Wondra Flour for Sauce & Gravy
  • *Optional:  1 egg, beaten; or sour cream to taste

Cook the diced onion in two tablespoons of margarine in a large pot until soft. Put in the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil and cook for two hours. Thicken with Wondra flour (only Wondra will do) very carefully and slowly to avoid lumps.

If desired, add a beaten egg or sour cream to taste.

Wondra flour
Wondra from Kroger

What do you think? Are you passing on traditions to a new generation in your family? Is it happening seamlessly and successfully? If so, how are you accomplishing it? I hope you will let me know because I need your guidance! Maybe all I can hope for is to train someone every year and wait for a gradual evolution. I’m afraid it will be abandoned and lost.  Please leave your feedback in the comments below.

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