“Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.”
Them are fighting words, I know. We hold tight to our traditions. That goes for individuals, families, communities, countries, and world. At this holiday time of year, we can’t help coming face-to-face with what those traditions are and maybe even ask why. Going one step beyond “why,” we ask “are they still working or do we just do this because we’ve always done it?”
Here’s how Merriam defines tradition:
1. a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) b : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable.
What strikes me most is the power of the subconscious surrounding tradition. We do the thing because we’ve always done the thing. One earful of how a friend spent Thanksgiving again with a drunk uncle that she finds quite disturbing, but will most likely see again next year in the name of tradition, makes me wonder why we just go along with repetitive rituals that don’t necessarily serve us. Much anx and holiday blues are called by feelings surrounding doing things in the name of tradition, or by avoiding them.
This is not to say that our traditions don’t give us great joy. My husband and I love our weekly tradition of date night and have consistently held tight to that for the past 20 years. It’s a tradition we look forward to and don’t want to change. As a world, we celebrate many different holiday traditions and religious traditions, and there is a clear beauty and richness that threads through them all.
The idea, though, is to not go unconscious about it. An interesting exercise might be to point some conscious thought at a t-chart of personal traditions. On the left, traditions that are in place that are done out of obligation. On the right, traditions you love and don’t want to break. Below the chart, new traditions you want to start. Be willing to look at this chart as a working documents. Think about it from year to year. Just because you’ve always eaten turkey on Thanksgiving, do you really need to, want to, have to? Or, this year, might you want to eat Eggs Benedict for dinner, like I did, just because?
It’s interesting, too, what each partner thinks is a tradition and which doesn’t. I had one friend say his wife thought decorating the day after Thanksgiving was a family tradition, and though they had been married for many years, he didn’t realize that. I think comparing lists with your partner (kids?) about what they think is a tradition might not produce identical lists. Asking which ones work could possibly start a fight.
Purely by applying ongoing critical thinking, and looking at tradition with present eyes, we avoid falling into the lull of a decaying mind. It’s not that traditions are good or bad. These are judgy, duality words that we like to slap on things. It’s just that sometimes they keep us from being original thinkers and thinking outside the Christmas box. As long as we stay aware of why we are doing what we do, and whether or not it brings us joy and happiness, we can build, start or maintain traditions that serve our highest good.
I love this, Jamie – thank you for giving me something to reflect on, as always!
Thanks, Beth! You’re welcome and good to hear from you!
What stood out to me “why we are doing what we do” or why are we doing what we do! Marrying into a Japanese family, a culture steeped in tradition I would ask “why” and the answer was frequently the same, it’s tradition, it’s what Japanese people do. It seemed to me there wasn’t much thought, as if on auto pilot. Thankfully our lives changed and now we choose to participate in those traditions that have meaning for our family.
Poignant observation. I experienced that also stepping into Jewish culture (and not knowing what a bagel was before I saw one in the UCLA vending machine in my dorm.) The traditions are so rich and so steeped, yes–and also so autopilot. It’s such an interesting study for both perspectives to share insights on those, but it can also get heated. We cling tight to our traditions. I’m happy you have built your own that you love. (See you so soon! xo)
Great article! A break from tradition might be to ignore “family lore” about everyone else in the family and spend some time with the drunk Uncle to see what makes him tick. Sit down with the “black sheep” aunt and actually visit with her. Half of what you think you know about either of them is nonsense.
Thanks, Joanne! I would LOVE to spend time breaking down family lore. What fun! Thanks for the perspective–and do report back after the holidays if you venture into the Shadowlands.