“Oh yes, I forget you like to toss out every tradition just because it’s a tradition.”
My boyfriend said this to me. In the context of our conversation, it kind of hurt because it told me he didn’t care about my opinion. But he’s more traditional, so maybe I hurt him too when I wanted to cast out all traditions.
So let’s talk about tradition. Where does it stem from? The first traditions recorded were predominantly religious. The traditions laid down were very specific, they were important, they held strong meaning so that people wouldn’t forget the sacrifices and gifts that literally saved their lives.
So we can safely assume tradition can be important.
Now let’s talk about your average family tradition. Holidays. Weddings. Funerals. Three things that literally define our lives in the eyes of our families.
Our parents and grandparents hold onto these traditions to the extent that they will make their child/grandchild’s life miserable if they do not consent to these traditions. In some cases, they will ostracize the family member in question. Incredible. But scarily true.
Here’s my take: why should I care about a tradition, a habit, or idiosyncratic pattern that does not affect my life or quality thereof? For holidays, why do I need to decorate? For weddings, why can’t I have a private wedding? For funerals, why do I need to spend money when I’ll be dead and won’t give a damn?
What if I wanted to make my own traditions? What if I didn’t want to be tied down by an obligatory task which I personally do not particularly enjoy and which taxes me every time I have to do it? What if I don’t have time for such patterns of tradition?
My boyfriend has, on occasion, gone so far as to credit my mother to my disinterest in traditions – comments which I found deeply offensive since he was insulting my mother. I will get him for that.
But some of what he said is true. One year she told us if we wanted a Christmas tree, we had to set it up and decorate it ourselves (we’ve only had artificial trees.) But Mom raised, educated, cooked, and cleaned for five kids. Holidays were more stressful than enjoyable for her. So I utterly respect her ultimatum. Besides, it taught me how to replace ornament light bulbs (and how to appreciate string lights with bulbs which are NOT all connected.)
Thank you for putting up with all my griping. There are some (a few, slight) positives (of no consequence) to traditions. Traditions ensure consistency within the family. Rather than coming up with a new plan for every holiday (wedding, funeral), the family already knows what is supposed to happen and what their individual obligations are. There’s a level of comfort with knowing what will happen. Much of our lives is a mystery, so a little reliability is appreciated.
What’s more, family traditions, like religious ones, ensure memories are retained. It’s the reason we never throw out the dorky ornaments, because they signify our children’s accomplishments in school, or why we keep making the disgusting cranberry and cottage cheese jello, because it was our great-grandma’s recipe and reminds us of our English heritage and Thanksgivings with Gma. We sing Amazing Grace at funerals because it brings us comfort knowing our loved ones are safe in the great beyond. We invite everyone and their mother to our weddings because we want to share the joy of a son or daughter marrying the love of their life.
Traditions carry meaning. Even if we think they are stupid or a waste of time. Traditions mean something different for everyone. We as humans attach emotions to memories. Those emotions are important, and it is important not to step on someone’s feelings because of our non-traditional pride.
What traditions can you not live without? What have you given up or created for yourself? I’d love to hear about them.
Now, excuse me while I go collect my non-traditional pride which I put away in the lockbox so I could write this post.
This has been,
Fanny T. Crispin