Over the years, I’ve heard complaints, frustrations and angst about that weird thing we call “traditions”—especially during the holidays. But traditions are a part of human history.
We developed cheers for our favorite football teams that become part of the high school or college tradition—and part of our individual and collective memories.
We developed (in the U.S.) the tradition of getting engaged with a diamond ring and then getting married in a white dress. (In other countries, engagement and wedding traditions are different.)
We developed the traditions of the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus to explain complicated concepts to small children in a delightful way.
And . . .
We developed eating traditions during the holidays that must be obeyed or wrath and retribution shall fall on all.
But have you ever wondered what purpose is served by traditions?
- Traditions maintain continuity between the generations. Grandparents hand down the “perfect” pecan pie recipe or fruit salad or football advice to the next generation.
- Traditions give attention to certain family members who may or may not receive much during the rest of the year. Female family members hand down recipes (Aunt Merdith’s crescent roll recipe) while male members show youngsters how to pick the perfect Christmas tree (Grandpa Roy’s special “limber limb” trick).
- Traditions enforce the cohesion and importance of the family unit. By repeating certain traditions year after year, young members learn to “expect” certain behavior from elders as well as cementing their knowledge of the family history.
- Traditions recall history for us. Christmas is a tradition that began hundreds of years ago to celebrate the birth of Jesus and St. Patrick’s Day was first initiated to commemorate the snakes being led out of Ireland.
- Traditions pass on lessons. Thanksgiving reminds us to be thankful for all the bounties we have in life. Easter reminds us of the sacrifice Jesus made to save our souls.
- Traditions teach solidarity. Family gatherings let young people know that they are included and accepted as part of a society—a fundamental need for humans.
Sure, some of the traditions we encounter seem dumber than dirt and without reason—like having a man walk on the outside of a sidewalk when accompanying a woman. But even traditions that sound stupid may have had a reason early on. (Men walked on the outside because people used to throw their waste pails out the window toward the street and the closer the woman walked near the buildings, the less chance there was of getting her gown messed. And where do you think sidewalk awnings came from anyway?) Of course, now you can say that the man is protecting the woman from crazy drivers on the road.
Regardless of how, when or why traditions are created, remember that many do serve a purpose.
If you don’t like the traditions in your family, why don’t you announce ahead of time that you’d like to do one or two differently this year. If you give a reason, you never know—you just might be the creator of your family’s most endearing tradition.