Every Labor Day for my entire life (except for the year my youngest brother was born), I’ve walked the Mackinac Bridge (pronounced MACK-ih-naw).
For those who don’t know, the Mackinac Bridge is the suspension bridge that connects the lower peninsula of Michigan with the upper peninsula. It is the fifth largest suspension bridge in the world. Each year, tens of thousands of people gather for the annual Labor Day bridge walk, including Michigan’s governor.
I love the tradition. I love the feel of walking five miles high above the water, Lake Michigan on one side, Lake Huron on the other.
It’s a tradition that’s bigger than just my family. It is a tradition that connects generations. My dad did it. My grandparents did it. Years from now (if I ever get married and have kids) my kids will do it. Even if I don’t get married, I’ll keep walking the Mighty Mac each year until I no longer can walk.
There’s something special about walking in the footsteps of your grandparents. The bridge connects Michigan, but it also connects generations in Michigan. I remember walking across the bridge holding my grandma’s hand. My brothers spent several years walking across with our grandpa.
It’s a part of a culture. A culture that walks the bridge rain or shine, wind or sun. Fall isn’t allowed to start until that bridge is crossed. It’s a culture that’s tough enough to get up early in the morning to gather for a five mile walk.
It connects those who do it. When I meet someone who has walked the Mighty Mac for a number of years, we share stories. We both remember the year the wind was so strong that the whole bridge swayed, causing everyone to stagger. We remember the years it was so cold we walked in our winter coats and scarves. And we’ll remember this year, the year it was spitting a warm rain and all the early walkers got covered with a sheen of rain.
There’s a power in that. It isn’t a religious holiday or tradition. It’s a cultural one. Something that is specific to just a small number of people.
For someone who loves traditions as much as I do, it’s strange, when I think about it, how little I remember to add them to my fantasy worlds when I’m writing. But I should make more of an effort. Traditions hold a lot of value and power. They will shape our characters and hold our fantasy worlds and cultures together.
What about you? Do you have any traditions that your family has? If you’re a writer, do you have any traditions for your characters?