It may not seem obvious, but if there is any one place where tradition is likely to thrive it is in the family home. It is not always easy to find out how ordinary people lived, or still live – indeed, the more ordinary a thing seems to be the less likely anyone will bother to document it. ‘That’s nothing special – it’s just what we do at home’ they will say.
But these things are interesting, and they become even more so as life changes and the ordinary becomes uncommon, and eventually even extraordinary. And, in a very real sense, what happens in the home makes us what we are.
There are many areas of home life which are worth documenting. What folklorists call Foodways , for example – not just what you eat, but how you cook it, present it, and eat it, and what are your table rules. Which way up should a boiled egg be placed in the egg cup? Do you slice or bash it? The home is also the place where superstitions are passed on. Do you break the egg-shell when it is empty, to stop the witches using it as a boat?
The family home is also a great place to hear fascinating examples of language – sayings, phrases, words, rhymes, running jokes, put-downs and nicknames. Some will be dialect words or phrases shared with the community, while others will be specific to a particular family, but they are often traditional and last down the generations. It is surprising how many families have a ‘wait-and-see pudding’, for example, and we often find ourselves saying things to our children (and grandchildren) which were said to us many years before.
Nowadays it is rightly frowned upon, but in the past adults often had a figure that they would threaten the children with – ‘be good or the — will come and get you’. This might be Napoleon, or Hitler, or whoever else is in the news, but some had traditional names like ‘the Bogeyman’, or even ‘Raw head an bloody bones’, which is enough to give anyone nightmares, adult or child.