It’s a Family Tradition

Jim_Cangany_Author_Photo_-_Compressed~ By Jim Cangany

Ah December, the time of celebrating and/or observing the holidays. It seems that regardless of our belief systems, this is the month we gather together with family and friends. Perhaps we gather to attend a religious service. Or maybe it’s to perform a community service project. Whatever the reason for gathering, it seems to me those gatherings are often accompanied with a certain “thing” done year after year.

The Family Tradition.

Growing up in a Catholic household, it was a tradition that we went to Mass on Christmas Morning and then hosted the relatives for Christmas dinner.  With kids of my own these days, it’s a tradition that my wife, the boys and I watch Muppet Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve.

It’s little wonder the holidays, and the traditions that go with them, are such fertile ground for storytelling. What’s one of the key scenes from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? When Scrooge is watching the Cratchett family sit down to the family dinner with the traditional goose. Or how about the gut-busting scene from The Christmas Story when Ralphie draws a blank sitting on Santa’s lap? His family had been going to the holiday parade and Higbee’s for years.

As authors, we’re told to write what we know about. My wife jokes that I’ve taken that advice to the extreme given that the characters in my books often live in or near my hometown. They also tend to have careers that I’d love to have, but I digress.

To me, writing what we know about can also mean writing about things, like family traditions, many people know about. And can identify with. How many of you remember Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor and his epic holiday decoration battles with neighbor Doc Johnson in Home Improvement? Who can forget When Harry Met Sally… and the fact that the movie reaches its climax at a New Year’s Eve Party–yet another holiday tradition. One of the magical things about story telling is that you can take a real family tradition and weave it into something completely new and unique.

Another trick we authors can perform is to take a tradition from one holiday and move it to another in order to tell a story. That’s exactly what I did for my holiday short story The Christmas Angel. For years, my family has marched in the Indianapolis St. Patrick’s Day parade. So when I needed an idea for a holiday story, I made a mad dash to my Something I Know About Bank and withdrew the parade. Move it from March to December, keep the marching bands but change the leprechauns to elves, and boom, there was my setting for a holiday story.

So as the year comes to an end, I challenge all the authors out there to keep your eyes, and your minds, open to even the most simple of family traditions. After all, you never know when a tradition as mundane as the office holiday party can get turned on its ear and morph a blockbuster hostage drama like Die Hard.

So how about you? What are some of your family traditions? Have you used any of them for source material? I’d love to hear about them. Until next time, tailwinds!

The youngest of eight children, Jim grew up in a household full of books, people and traditions.  These days, Jim writes romance on the sweet end. If you ask him what is a guy like him is doing writing romance, he’ll reply, “Those are the stories in my head.” A believer that the world has enough doom and gloom, he likes stories with a happy ending, regardless of genre. He lives in Indianapolis with his wonderful wife Nancy and his two sons, Seamus and Aidan. You can find Jim on line at



4 thoughts on “It’s a Family Tradition”

  1. very clever to take the parade setting (that you knew quite well) and relocate it to a diff. season and reason.
    Good thinking!

  2. Great post, Jim. I especially love this line: “made a mad dash to my Something I Know About Bank and withdrew the parade.” To my knowledge I haven’t withdrawn a holiday tradition, but I have extracted many a sea story. I write Navy novels and have “borrowed” sea stories from my retired Navy husband and a multitude of our friends, along with pranks both from my time in the service, along with ones from camp and college. My friends are often delighted to find our shenanigans of years past being relived through my characters.

    Hope you are enjoying your holiday traditions with your family! Merry Christmas!

  3. Thanks, Celia. It’s interesting you mention a food debate. I remember one year when my Mom ran short of potatoes to mash and wanted to resort to instant potatoes. You would have thought she wanted to amend the US Constitution! It all worked out in the end, but, again – story material. Have a great holiday!

  4. Jim- I love your suggestion of keeping a to go file on cherished family traditions! We have many in my family. And as an Italian Catholic the Christmas Eve tradition of feasting on seven fishes is essential. Just the past couple of days I’ve had many debates with my fiance who makes the annual stuffed calamari sauce (we call it gravy). This year he wanted to put meat into the gravy. It turned out into an all out two-day fight (what can I tell you, we’re hot blooded Italians) and he claimed that if you don’t go to church every Sunday (guilty as charged) what’s the difference of having a little meat in the gravy, ya know. Regardless, we CAN”T have meat–my father will kill us. The argument is now settled, there will be NO meat in the gravy and all is well with the world. But I think it’s a wonderful drama to work into one of my stories as you suggested. Cheers Jim. Looking forward to hearing more from you in ’14.

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