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The importance of traditions

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The song “Tradition” in Fiddler on the Roof gives us the downside of doing the same traditional way.   For a good modern example of that, talk to young people about their feelings about Sunday morning. An entire generation seems to be disenchanted with the traditional church.   But…
By Seth Barnes
santa fire truckThe song “Tradition” in Fiddler on the Roof gives us the downside of doing the same traditional way.
 
For a good modern example of that, talk to young people about their feelings about Sunday morning. An entire generation seems to be disenchanted with the traditional church.
 
But traditions do have their upside.
 
I remember growing up in Washington DC. Every Christmas, we had a
neighborhood block party It usually seemed to be snowing and that made
the hot chocolate seem that much more delicious. The highlight was when
Santa Claus would come riding up on a fire engine.

I’m a believer in family traditions, so I wanted to do something similar for our neighborhood when our kids were
young. Never mind that we lived in Florida. All we needed was the
people, a Santa Clause and a firetruck.

I went to the local mall and asked the Santa Clause there if he’d come
out to our neighborhood. He agreed. Then I went to the fire dept and
after hearing my story, they agreed to let their firetruck be a stand-in
for Santa’s sleigh.

It all had to happen fast. So I picked the Santa up in my car and raced
to the fire station. We all got on the truck and then drove to our
neighborhood, arriving to cheers from the kids. When you’re a kid, things like that seem more wonderful than they do to adults.
 
But even as adults, something in us yearns for traditions. The music, the smells, the lights all link us back to warm memories. I had two aunts who used the pecans growing in trees in their yard to make fruitcakes. Every Christmas, their fruitcake arrived in the mail. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about – nobody likes candied fruit normally, so how does blending them into a cake change things?

My guess is that ultimately what made the fruitcake special wasn’t the taste. It was the traditions associated with it. 
 
Why we love traditions

On the one hand, traditions are odd. Why would we want to do something over and over again? There’s no surprise or originality in them, so why bother? In the end, I came up with five reasons why we love traditions:

  • Things that were good will be repeated. If a tradition aroused great memories before, then it has the power to help you conjure up the memories again. We all love to reminisce on occasion. Traditions facilitate that practice of remembering.
  • They give us context. They show us the bigger picture. We aren’t the first people to do this and others who follow us will continue.
  • Traditions are embedded in our collective memory. We may not remember all the nuance, but those responsible for them have the details in their recipes, costumes, and written notes.
  • They reinforce our sense of belonging. We are connected to others around us and to those who have preceded us.
  • They give us roles. We all want to know where we fit in the group. What is our job? Traditions give us something to do, even if it’s only to appreciate the work others have done.
What family traditions transport you to an earlier time?
 
Want to establish some family traditions? Here’s a book for Christmas traditions. And one for other traditions.

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