We are entering the season of traditions in a time when nothing is traditional.
It feels especially strange when the rest of creation appears to be operating routinely. The sun and moon continue to orbit like clockwork: the days growing shorter, the nights longer. The trees are all turning shades of amber and scarlet. The woodland critters collect their winter provisions as temperatures dip, dip, dip on the same scientific bell curve followed since the dawn of time.
The natural world is paying no mind to the fact that kids aren’t back in their conventional school desks, families aren’t sitting round their tables, football stadiums aren’t roaring with fanfare, and the traditional social calendar has been completely thrown out.
A devotee of musicals, I can’t help but hear Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof raising fists to the sky, “Tradition, tradition!”
But, really, what are traditions? The dictionary says that they are customs or beliefs passed on from one person to the next, from one time to the next. A tradition can last for a season: We get Big Dipper cones from the ice cream truck in the summers. Or for generations: My family goes to church every Christmas Eve. But the fuzzy edges of traditions remind us that they had a starting point, which means they will, eventually, have an ending. Maybe not permanently—that’s another nebulous area. A tradition can stop and then pick up again at another juncture in history. Breaks don’t mean termination. They simply illustrate that we are human and so, nothing about us is certain. Everything living— from our bodies to our communities— is in a constant state of reinvention. It’s what defines us from the rest of the universe. It’s what makes us unique.
So then, why are we surprised when our self-imposed conventional algorithms disappoint?
It’s made me 1) think about how I define a tradition, and 2) evaluate if the traditions I maintain are helping or hindering my access to peace, joy, and love.
Because sometimes a tradition becomes a burden. It mutates from being a thing we long to do to a thing we feel we must do out of obligation. Cherished tradition and ritualistic superstition can mesh so that we can’t tell one from the other. Recognizing the difference is the linchpin. [Read more…]