Hard Candy – It’s Tradition

Every Christmas Eve my dad’s mom used to make fish. It’s an Italian tradition; some people call it Seven Fishes, but my family just called it “the antipasti,” as in “I’m going to make the antipasti for Christmas Eve.” I won’t delve into the glorious stench of a house filled with sardines, scungilli and salami (I know it’s not a fish, but Grandma put in the antipasti), but I wager you can work it out.
This year at the fireworks, our city manager, as usual, had his daughter with him. She comes every year; that’s their tradition. The idea of not going to Gulfport for the 4th, he says, doesn’t enter her head.

Gulfport, like an Italian-American family, has a bevy of traditions. Some are mainstream; others are not. We have the annual Little League parade, the mullet toss at the Historical Society’s birthday bash, GeckoFest, and a host of other things we do every year. I love them all. To varying degrees, but I love them all. 

No one who’s a part of a tradition is ever elated at the thought of it going away. I wrote an article a few months ago that bore the headline “Little League in Peril.” Next year, Gulfport Little League will likely include kids from outside the city and have a different name. GeckoFest? Well, that’s already changed. Organizers now have a full Gecko Season that includes the Gecko Pub Crawl and the Gecko Ball. The Historical Society’s birthday bash will be different this year, too: I’m on the board, and I’m thrilled to see us finding new ways to show Gulfport how all of our traditions matter. 

It seems to me, though, the idea of tradition is somewhat elastic. It isn’t as set in stone as we tell ourselves. I wonder what Gulfport’s first traditions were – I’m pretty sure they weren’t remotely related to fireworks or geckos. I wonder, too, after years of fishing, how fishermen felt to watch their traditions give way to new ones until all that was left of them was an annual mullet toss. I know pretty well how the gallery owners of 25 years ago feel about how their traditions changed, too.

Every year on Christmas Eve, I think about my grandmother and what it used to be like when we’d gather around her table. I like to remember the best parts, of course, but it never felt the same after we moved down to Florida, not even after my grandparents moved in with us years later. The final time my grandmother ever made the antipasti, my grandfather could barely make it through dinner – cancer had taken over his body. My grandmother placed the dishes on the table in between bouts of tears. We had the dinner because it was tradition, which, if it’s the only reason you do something, isn’t the best reason to do it.

In reality, we often improve on traditions as we go, although we don’t always realize it. I have heard that Gulfport Little League maybe wasn’t always as welcoming to kids from Childs Park as it could have been. When the Gulfport Merchants Association first held the Gecko Ball, it was, shall we say, an intimate affair. This year the city manager’s daughter had a friend of the male persuasion with her. All these things are good types of change, even if the city manager might not see the last one quite that way. 

Change is how we get from one place to another, and I know there are more than a few of you reading this who wish Gulfport could stay just as it was. I understand, even if I don’t agree. Who cares if it’s called Gulfport Little League as long as our kids can play ball? So we don’t have fish houses lining the water anymore; we will never forget how fishermen helped build Gulfport. Our traditions aren’t a specific set of things. They’re simply the way we honor our past, and the significance lies with the fact that we do honor it, not how we do it.

In my family, we don’t often do Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve anymore, but in honor of my grandparents, there is always fish. (Although we usually have to lie to my mom and tell her whatever fish we’re serving is flounder, because she won’t eat any other fish; that’s another quirky Salustri tradition.)

But tradition isn’t necessarily about doing exactly the same thing, year after year. Tradition, at least as I see it, is preserving what matters. 

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.

Originally published in print and online for the Gabber Newspaper’s July 17, 2014 edition.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.