We spend every Christmas with my mother-in-law (whom I love dearly, no monster-in-law jokes here), and we eat a proper multi-course Christmas dinner using actual silverware and goblets made of actual silver. This is very important to her, and it’s the only time all year the silverware and silver goblets get used. The rest of us care more about the food and the conversation, despite the obligatory “this was my mother’s and her mother’s” reminder, the significance of the silver is lost on us.
Here’s the thing. Silverware is fine, functionally not much different than stainless steel utensils, maybe just lighter. But silver drinking vessels are functionally deficient. Kinda like the aluminum cups a friend of mine from decades ago always insisted on using because he thought they were so mid-century modern cool. Like aluminum, silver is a great conductor, so within a couple of minutes your cold water is room temperature.
Of course the day before Christmas the silver has to be polished, because it’s been sitting for a year and has the inevitable year’s worth of tarnish. And when the meal is done it all has to be hand-washed, can’t put that stuff in the dishwasher. It takes a lot of work to keep this tradition alive, and it will only stay alive as long as someone remembers why it was ever a tradition in the first place.
These silver pieces were significant for my mother-in-law’s mother, and her mother, because they remembered how precious (literally pricey) they were and how they managed to keep these valuables during times of incredible poverty. And bringing them out periodically and using them, maybe that’s a reminder that abundance can be temporary. But it’s a hard tradition to continue because my wife and I have lived through decades of ridiculous abundance, we’ve never seen hardship even close to the likes of the Great Depression. And I suspect it will be the same for our children, they are also living in times of ridiculous abundance and lack of real hardship.
I hope I don’t sound callous, but when we inevitably inherit these silver heirlooms I doubt we’ll ever use them. We’ll probably keep them out of a sense of obligation, and then hand them down to our daughter. But the tradition, and the memories behind it, will be dead and likely she, or her daughter, will end up selling them.