Thoughts on Tradition
It is that time of year in which traditions seem to take on a higher priority. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or something else, almost every community has its winter solstice-time traditions. These traditions are generally passed from one generation to the next, and they provide a very important connection to the past. Thus, these traditions are a direct link from the past to the future. They give us direction, personal relationship and serve to honor the culture from which they originated. We receive our core values from our traditions.
Traditions and core values are important because they provide the framework of a community. Within a family traditions serve to provide us identity. Most of our traditions are based upon our history and they provide the framework for who we are today or in the present. Our traditions reinforce the values we hold dear, the core values that help define us. Through our traditions we celebrate those things that are dear to us and that we consider important. By such celebrations we honor our role models, the tenets of our religious and/or spiritual beliefs, and the structure upon which our communities are built.
What happens when we stop honoring those traditions? Award-winning author Frank Sonnenberg cautions that if we stop honoring our traditions, “our beliefs will get so diluted, over time, that our way of life will become foreign to us.” Within the modern-day community, though, there are often differing traditions. Our traditions do provide us a forum to show what is really important to us but what if our neighbor does not celebrate in the same way?
In the past culture is what brought a community together. Culture referred to a pattern of human activity and the symbols which gave significance to tradition. Culture is represented through the art, literature, costumes, customs, and traditions of a community. Different cultures have always existed in different parts of the world. The natural environment greatly affected the lifestyle of the people in that region, thus shaping their culture. The diversity in the cultures around the world was also a result of the mindsets of people inhabiting different regions of the world.
Today, however, we have a far more mobile society and a community is often the home of varying cultures. Culture has served to link people and their value systems. Have we lost that in the 21st century? Can we create culture among so many different behaviors? At a time when people are shouting “remember the reason for the season”, have we forgotten how to be civil towards each other? Traditions serve to unite us but at this time of year, they also serve to divide us. Lawsuits will be filed to determine what symbols can be placed in public locations. People will decry the “happy Holidays” that encompasses the complete community to honor a man who advocated love for all. Can such a traditional saying meant to show support for all really be so divisive?
Traditions developed as a way to continue the family unit, to illustrate identity and for celebration. Unfortunately, there are many who fear embracing the whole community. Rather than our traditions promoting empathy and the engagement of citizenship, too often they serve to be contentious.
I hope this year as we celebrate the core values behind our traditions we remember to let those traditions evolve. We have a few traditions in our family that have developed from less than perfect times. On a day where most people in our community and country eat turkey, we include hot tamales on our table. We do serve turkey as well as ham, green bean casserole, corn pudding, stuffing, filling, dressing (the last three being very similar but each representing all sections of the cultures from which family members have been raised), potatoes (usually two kinds), etc. A prominent spot on the table, however, is reserved for the hot tamales. They represent a Thanksgiving gone bad but yet, at the end of the day when all we had to eat was one can of hot tamales, a day in which we truly appreciated our blessings and togetherness.
It is wonderful to have the picture-perfect traditional dinner or holiday tree, etc. Nonetheless, we should not consider the holiday ruined if it is not impeccable or flawless. In our communities we need to strive more for inclusion and smiles rather than a movie-set depiction of any holiday. I think the best way to keep our traditions – all our traditions – is by remembering their reason. Most traditions are based upon love and strength. This year I hope we find the strength to honor those who are different and share the love of life with them. We build stronger communities through the tradition of community – the coming together, the engaging of others in a shared experience called life.