avatarJackson Campbell


Pass The Fruitcake

The importance of Ritual & Tradition — especially during the holiday season

Photo by Prince Abid on Unsplash

As the holiday season moved past quickly, people have rushed to bake cakes, buy presents, decorate their homes, and attend religious services. All of these things, although stressful and sometimes annoying, are keys to staying healthy in this cyclical journey we call life. These repetitive holiday activities are a part of something our society is increasingly forgetting about: Ritual & Tradition.

From cooking dinner to grocery shopping to taking communion to eating your grandmother’s secret recipe chicken, all of us participate in rituals & traditions. We often forget how intentional each of these things originally were, though, because capitalism has turned them into a profit-making machine. Anyway, why does your grandma make that special chicken in the first place? Why do you grocery shop when you do? Why do you take communion?

I have asked these questions lately and have come up with some beautiful answers. It even sparked an important discussion with some of my family members about (what I thought was) the most disgusting food ever: Fruit Cake. I have always heard of fruit cake as the butt of jokes. My parents hated it, too, so I always heard bad things about it. Baking fruit cake wasn’t always about the taste, though.

In the days of old, folks would bake a fruit cake, which was a hefty, candied, alcohol-baked cake. It would last for years! In this tradition, a family would bake the cake, take however many slices, and pass it to the next family. The cake was said to be an energy booster and a mechanism for spiritual and physical healing. This cake was also very special because it was baked with fruit, which at the time, were not easy to come by in the winter. This ritual of passing the fruit cake was a symbol of sharing the wealth. It was a ritual of love. It was a ritual of healing. It was a ritual of good fortune.

The other day, I went to my Mamaw’s house and asked her about Fruit Cake. With a shocked look on her face, she said, “Fruit Cake? I haven’t made one of those in years. We used to bake them every year for Christmas when I was a kid and when I married Denver. When my kids were growing up, they didn’t like them, so I stopped making it. Me and Denver (my Papaw) sure loved it.” Isn’t it beautiful when you’ve sparked an old memory for one of your grandparents? Perhaps it meant nothing to them. Maybe it meant something, though. You never know. We finished our conversation by me saying that I hadn’t really had a fruit cake, but that I appreciated the older traditions of Christmas, not the commercialized ones we observe now.

Our modern holiday observances have given individualism the wheel and told community to take a back seat. It has often shut down the traditions of old and brought forth greedy, bought-and-sold, made-for-tv, frozen dinner holiday traditions. Our bodies yearn for ritual, but individualism will not take us there.

To do ritual is to participate in community with one another. To do ritual is to reject the powers and principalities that be. To do ritual is to listen to the rhythms of the cyclical nature of our bodies. To do ritual is to re-member the years gone by when we experienced this tradition with loved ones who are no longer with us.

Next time you get annoyed by your grandma’s nasty fruitcake, remember why she’s baking it in the first place. That conversation I had with my Mamaw about fruitcake? I didn’t know how much it meant to her until I showed up on Christmas day….and there it was: My Mamaw’s “Five Pound Fruit Cake,” and lying next to it was an old, tattered recipe written down on a tiny piece of paper. I wonder how much it meant to her to bring back a tradition of her youth. I wonder what it felt like to see her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids devour a centuries-old recipe that gave honor and re-membrance to her family and holiday traditions?

Friends, this isn’t just about the taste of fruitcake. This is about doing things that mean something to people. This is about rituals of community and being together. This is about Re-membrance. This is about rituals of old that sustain us.

Whether it is fruit cake, pajamas on Christmas Eve, or eating out on Sundays, find the rituals & traditions that give sustenance to you and yours.

Then, pass it on.

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