Tuesday, November 17, 2009

On Traditions

One can't help but notice that the word "tradition" seems to come up frequently during this time of year. After hearing the word about ten times in five minutes this morning while listening to a cooking show on the radio, it got me thinking about all of the family traditions that we, frankly, haven't started yet. And what a tradition is, and what it should be, and what it should not.

The Mister and I are the "young marrieds" of our family, so we aren't exactly on the forefront of starting family traditions. And the slightly longer-marrieds among us are far too busy caring for young children to even think about such things, and I don't blame them one bit. Although the traditions I heard about this morning had more to do with food rather than family rituals, it's not easy to separate the two. I will forever associate baked apples full of raisins, cinnamon and brown sugar with breakfast on Christmas morning, a special treat. But what it really got me thinking about are the traditions, rituals, and habits that have been passed down through generations. A strong work ethic, compassion for God's creation, and a love of books are some of the traditions handed down in our family that are far more valuable to me than any apple.

Here is what I think good traditions do best. They nurture, they bring people together, they diminish differences and highlight commonalities. And they should have a beauty all of their own. It sounds like a tall order until you actually measure some of your favorite traditions against this criteria, and then you delightfully find that they measure up every time. I am saddened by those who seemingly toss traditions aside decrying them to be no longer "relevant" for today. There is such a thing as a timeless tradition. And there are many new things that are developed "for today" that may be relevant, but certainly won't prove timeless. Yes, I try to be a defender of good rituals, and an admonish-er of the worthless ones because I believe tradition has value. It has been said that traditions are the "We always" of a family. We always take a walk at the park on Sunday afternoons.

But what do you do when, within a family or group, there are disagreements over the value of certain traditions?

We always do it this way.
We're not doing it that way anymore.
Why not?
Because we're doing something new and we only did it that way because...
But it was that way for so long and it was fine. If you want to change something, let's get rid of x, y and z...
Oh no, that has to stay.

Dissent is never an easy pill to swallow, but somehow, we get through.

One summer before we were married, the Mister and I were in Tennessee visiting his aunt and uncle. We were attending a public event in the Baptist-heavy south, and stumbled on an acappella hymn sing being led by a beautifully harmonized quartet of four men. They called their singing "new-found tradition" and I found this fascinating, since I had only ever thought of this type of singing as an enduring tradition. But in that instant, I found comfort in another new idea- that you can also rediscover and revitalize lost traditions. And it also made me grateful for those who stand firm in maintaining the traditions that nurture, fulfill, and draw us closer. The ones that have nourished us from the beginning and continue to provide a sense of security and a feeling of we always that draw us closer together.


  1. Traditions can definitely be beautiful & heart-warming. Thanks for reminding me of that fact. :)

  2. We are trying to make traditions with our boys, neither of our families really celebrated traditions.


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