“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, . . .” How many families read that famous story year after year on a particular day, creating anticipation, and promoting wholesome fun and imagination! It has been read and recited so many times that it has become a “tradition” for many families and communities. Of course, if you live in south Louisiana, there is a special version with alligators instead of flying reindeer.
With towns and communities creating their own stories, or their own version of the same story, what is the value of tradition? Is it all about fun and imagination, or is their more to consider?
Fiddler on the Roof is a musical written about the shifting values from one generation to the next. The main character, Teyve, is grieved as some of their cultural and religious traditions were being neglected and abandoned. After much emotional turmoil and family unrest, he concludes that he must change with the times because he is hopeless in trying to influence his daughters.
Though this is a deep cultural issue, the point we should take away is that traditions are ways to pass down values and communicate truths. Though the values and truths can be challenged and evaluated, as they should, traditions give a system through which we can easily transfer important information or habits. Often, traditions are associated with matters of faith, but sometimes it is a matter of citizenship, or friendship, sportsmanship, or just good old fun.
We have traditional greetings for the telephone, traditional acknowledgement of graduations, traditional statements before one performs in a play, and traditional statements on going to bed for the night. All these, and many more, give us structure to offer a sense of goodwill to another. They can give us words when we have none, and they give us an ability to understand the intent to the one who is speaking them to us when we are the recipient.
In this same vein, when we want to communicate an idea of value, creating or following a tradition is one way of doing it. Some traditions are passed on to us, and we keep them alive, while some we discard. Yet, it is the ones we create that often carry the most value.
When our children were approaching the teen years, we expanded our birthday celebration tradition. As cakes, candles, and games became less impressive to our older kids, we felt we must find a way to capture the cause for the celebration in a way appropriate for an emerging adult. To truly celebrate a birthday, one must celebrate the person of the day. And what better way than to have what we have come to call “the birthday blessing”?
After a meal, the family and friends present directly address the birthday person, telling them what they value in them, or something about them or their actions that is admirable. As we are expected to find the good in one another, we do. We find that each has admirable qualities, and that the blessing seems to fuel further growth in a positive direction.
As daughter-in-laws have been added to the table, new perspectives about the honoree show up, and it is a delight to see our family member through new eyes. Often, we learn things about one another that we would have never known. But most importantly, we learn the value of honoring one another.
It takes a little work, a lot of thinking, and a bit of bravery to start or adopt a tradition, whether it be sharing a meal, reading a story, playing a game, or hosting an event. Starting with the desired goal or value in mind helps us to follow through and to plan well.
Take advantage of the holiday season to plan for the traditions you want to establish. What is it that you want to communicate to others in your home? Plan something that embodies that value. Be bold! Be traditional!