Gael Gilliland and her dad singing

3 Family Traditions and How to Write About Them

Ah, family traditions. Those activities we do with the people we love, over and over again. Even when we tire of the activity and desperately want to do something else. This post isn’t about one of those kinds of traditions. For the next few moments, I’m going to regale you with one of my favorite traditions. It includes my dad (RIP), his guitar, and me.

Early memories

Some of my earliest memories include my dad singing and playing his guitar.  He shared his love of Irish music with me and my brother. It’s something I've really enjoyed sharing and passing on to my kids. Irish music is legitimately at the very top of my list of favorite family traditions. Maybe a more accurate way of describing my appreciation for Irish music is a deep passion and love, especially Irish folk music.

Traveling to Ireland to visit family meant being around people related to me that also loved Irish music. Of course, they didn’t call it that. For them, it was fiddle-dee-dee music. At least that is what my Auntie Louise called it.     

Performing together 

We just didn’t listen to Irish music together, we experienced it. We got to go up on a stage together and sing together. He played the guitar, which is always on my list of things to learn, but I’m still learning, and we sang together. We got to perform together a couple of times and it was really, really cool.   

Family traditions 

Another way I got to experience Irish music growing up was when we went to things called sessions. Irish sessions are when a bunch of musicians get together, and then they take turns playing songs. Generally, in order to lead the song of your choosing, you have to play an instrument. I didn’t always get to pick a song to do because I didn’t have an instrument, but I did get to enjoy the atmosphere creating music. 

The great thing about Irish music, and most folk music, is that it relies heavily on oral tradition. Even if you aren’t classically trained, or great at reading music, you can still learn and participate in the storytelling. Now, thanks to the internet, I still get to connect with that music and the sessions that my cousins continue to have. I love that this family tradition is not just a part of my immediate family, but is a part of the whole Connolly family as well.  

Passing it on

Despite the songs not being written down often, my dad had a book of all of his songs. Now, I have that book. It is one of the things that I’ll be able to pass on to my children, and something I’m currently working on. It is something that connects my children to their Grandfather and helps them know what kind of a man he was. 

He was the kind of man who took his daughter up on a stage to share his love of music. One who carefully collected songs as he learned them and took the time to make notes in the margins and document performance notes. He knew that every song could evoke different emotions based on how you performed it. I loved hearing him practice and refine his way of performing the songs.

Your family traditions 

So that is one of my favorite family traditions. Now I want to know what is one of your favorite family traditions. Think about all the different things you have experienced in your lifetime and see if you can identify anything that classifies as a tradition. Here are some questions to reflect on

  • Who did you do this activity with?
  • What did you like/not like about the tradition?
  • Where did this tradition usually happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • What made you think of it now?
  • What do you want people to remember about this tradition?

Don't forget to ask someone you love what theirs is as well. This conversation can be started simply and then dig into the deeper parts of their memory. Here are a few ways to get started

  • What is your favorite family tradition?
  • What is/was your favorite thing to do with your father/father figure?
  • Did you have something special you did as a kid with your parents?
  • What traditions did you start on your own as an adult?
  • What traditions have you always wished you had started or experienced?

Follow up with questions like, how does it make them feel and what do they want people to remember about this tradition or activity. 

Music Memories

Here are a few prompts to help you start a storytelling conversation centered around music memories

Musical family traditions and prompts. The text is below the image
  • Do you have a favorite music-memory?
  • Who was with you when this memory was made?
  • What happened in this memory?
  • When was this memory made?
  • Where was this memory made?
  • Why did this memory happen? What led up to it?
  • How do you feel about this memory now? How did it impact your life?
  • What do you want people to remember about this memory?

What now?

Looking for that thing to help you keep your storytellers engaged and talking? For the writers in your care, this journal will keep them talking for a good long while. Encourage them (if they can) to reach out via phone or video to family members and share the memories they write about.

This journal was designed for storytellers in their sunset years who are ready to write about and share their memories. Simple to use and elegant enough to keep around to remind you of them long after they are gone.