Content and Context:
Informant -“I remember my mother did this several times. At the Christmas meal, my mother would set an extra seat and an extra place setting. Now the tradition is in case someone shows up, but I always associated it with the people who weren’t with us. That’s how I like to think of it.”
JK – “The people who aren’t with us. Does that mean people who have died or people who just aren’t there?”
Informant – “Either way. When I say prayers at home now, I always add that I ask god to take care of those who aren’t with us. That means your dead grandparents and those who are away.”
JK – “Did the Christmas tradition lead to this added prayer?”
Informant – “Maybe the thought did. Not consciously. It just seemed to me that our meals couldn’t possible be complete without recognizing the absence of those who couldn’t possibly be there.”
It’s interesting that the informant did not carry the tradition forward, but rather his interpretation of the ritual. While his mother wanted to be prepared for unexpected guests, the informant wanted a reminder of guests that weren’t coming.