Family Traditions

This post is part of ROOTS – a series that originates on BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo – see what others are posting on the topic.

Roots: they are the stories that ground you, the food that returns you, the music that comforts you, and the people who know you. Everyone has roots that influence them, even if they don’t consciously know them or can’t access them.

Monday, June 10, 2013:

Tell us about a tradition passed through your family.

When we think of traditions, we might think of foods, of meals, of holidays. Those are very “classical” traditions, and I was wanting to find a more unconventional tradition, that would belong to my particular family only. I like it when things are not exactly like with everyone.

Image courtesy of -Marcus- at

There is a long lasting tradition of unconspicuously shaking the piece of clothing at our collar bone, pinching it between the thumb and index and slightly shaking it as to take off an imaginary dust. The gesture could even be accompanied by the energetic statement “On se secoue!” (“Let’s shake oneself off!”). The whole ceremonial (as discreet as can be) is a quick way to chase the evil eye, in other words a way to call upon some kind of protection in the face of a gloomy possibility. Someone mentioning a bad accident that occured to them recently could elicit the gesture while feeling very sorry for what has happened to the fellow and showing our compassion, while quite mechanically bringing our hand to our collarbone and shaking it off from the bad luck that might have befallen us too. I know that other people would knock on wood in the same kind of circumstances, we don’t: we shake ourselves and secretly wish for the best!

This tradition seems to stem its origins in sefardim, the Jews from Northern Africa descent, and all my cousins do it too. It’s like a secret sign of acknowledgement. I often wonder what strangers to our family or tradition could think when they would hear us or notice us in passing! (You have to really observe to notice and wonder what it means, unless you keep hearing bad news in a row!).

Another tradition started sixteen years ago between one of my brothers and me only.
My youngest son and his were born two months apart, both on an eleventh of the month. As they were babies, it was customary to celebrate each of their month, as we usually do after four weeks of life of those precious bundles of joy. We kept counting their months far above the time lives of babies are counted in months, and even after their third birthday, we would solemnly wish each other something on the 11th. Since we were not neighbors anymore, it had become a special email message, with something witty, related – or not – to the number 11. In 2001, thankfully we had already exchanged our facetious wishes when the tragedy struck the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, as it was already much later in the daytime for my brother who lives in Europe, and I usually answer his emails first thing when I get up, so much before the terrible events unfolded. It was my nephew’s fourth birthday, and also the first day of his last year of nursery school for my son. We still faithfully kept the tradition going on even though tragedy again struck on March 11 in Madrid a couple of years later (2004 as a matter of fact) and then the terrible earthquake followed by the devastating tsunami in Japan 2 years ago.

This tradition has absolutely no superstition component to it, it is as facetious and friendly as can be, and it is made of brother/sisterhood at its best. It is a way to remind ourselves how important we remain in each other’s thoughts, and having a date to formally acknowledge it is very meaningful. We do email, or chat each other very often otherwise, at any given time of any day of the month, but this tradition of formally celebrating the eleventh is extremely strong. Tomorrow will not be any exception to our very special game! And it is always a surprise on what the theme might be. I am looking for it.

This is maybe not a tradition that was passed through our family, but rather a newly established one, that, who knows, will pass to the two cousins, our sons?


See my other posts of the series:

A sweet name

Genealogy and Family Trees

Three generations away


Random facts about my judaism