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Traditions You'll Only Understand if You Grew Up in the Midwest

I’ve always felt a special pride about living in the Midwest. When you think of this region of the United States, you think of comfort, of inherent politeness, and, of course, agriculture and the outdoors. We get all four seasons here, some lasting longer than others (ahem, winter), and life is full of simple pleasures. 

However, there are a few nuances to the Midwest lifestyle that you’ll only understand if you’ve lived here for a decent amount of time. These are the key traditions that, if brought up in a room with another Midwesterner, will result in instant camaraderie.


Traditions You’ll Only Understand if You Grew Up in the Midwest

Friday fish frys at a supper club

Supper clubs are so inherently Midwest that it’s likely you don’t know what they are unless you grew up here. These restaurants/social gathering spots are particularly prevalent in Wisconsin, where they’ve become a go-to destination for a Friday night meal any time of the year. The Friday night fish fry is popular among people of all religious backgrounds, but it has an interesting history. Wisconsin was settled heavily by Catholics of German, Polish, and other northern European backgrounds whose religion forbade eating meat on Fridays.  When we think of great Midwestern traditions, that Friday night fish fry with a brandy Old Fashioned and a tray of relish on the side (yes that’s a real thing!) is at the top of our list.

Celebrating the first warm day of the year

While summers are short-lived, winters tend to drag on and on in the Midwest. That’s why, when the weather starts to warm up, even if the temperature is just above freezing, we celebrate. On the first warm day of the year, you’ll hear us saying things like, “It’s not too bad if you stand in the sun.” We’re breaking out our shorts, or at least packing away our winter coats even though we know that, without fail, there will be one more snowstorm before spring is truly here. Denying the weather is a Midwest tradition unlike any other.

Heading to the state fair

Summers go quick in the Midwest, and we like to make the most of the warm weather. Our state fairs are a great opportunity to get the entire family out and about, tasting new (often fried) foods, getting in line for amusement park-level rides, and checking out the local 4-H contestants. 

Yes, 4-H. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and this organization was a huge part of my childhood. My family raised sheep, and would bring them to the Illinois state fair every summer. Now, I head to the Wisconsin State Fair each year and have incredible memories of taking my kids to experience the fun - and the food. Cream puffs and cheese curds anyone?

The long goodbye

No Midwest gathering is complete without a long goodbye. When it’s time for a Midwestern party to end, people will get up, grab their bags and coats, and start to say their goodbyes. This process will proceed to take at least another 30 minutes, if not a full hour. Each person that you say goodbye to will require a separate conversation, maybe a long hug or two, and that classic “Midwest nice” won’t let you cut it short - you won’t want to anyway.

I wouldn’t give up my Midwest experience for anything. Even reminiscing on these little traditions fills me up with joy and nostalgia. What are your favorite Midwest traditions or idiosyncrasies?

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