One of the most controversial matters throughout the ages has been the concept of traditions. By their very nature, traditions can and ultimately are forced to change to continue in any form. From religious practices to habits within a family passed down from one generation to the next, traditions exist to create solidarity and a sense of belonging. As the group they developed to bring together change, so too do traditions. Most of the time.
Some practices, particularly religious observances, have remained almost perfectly intact, at least to our current understanding, for centuries and across the world. But they have remained the same through a great deal of bloodshed, loss of life, loss of nations, and a sense of no longer belonging to the rest of humanity that changed and adapted to new discoveries.
Whether changing traditions is good or not is always a topic of argument somewhere in the world. If you sat down with a translator program and scanned online versions of newspapers from around the world, you would find at least one article, every day, on the subject of whether changing a standing family, community, national, or religious tradition is acceptable or a sign of the beginning of the end. It is certainly not an unreasonable argument when you take into consideration the number of cultures that are now extinct due to the forced removal of traditions and imposition of another culture’s traditions and norms. This is still a process happening today, and in some cases, it is hard to not agree with the need to forcibly change certain things, such as the acceptable practice of beating one’s wife or killing a daughter that “shamed” the family by defying the existing traditions.
The situations where traditions excuse violence and hateful behavior are easy to look at and say that need they to be changed. But what about those that are not so clear? What about the traditions that develop from habit or necessity? Is it reasonable to toss aside things like the Christmas stocking orange? For those who have not seen the tradition passed on, it became common for many families to help ensure children would not suffer from scurvy in the winter during times when vitamin C was otherwise difficult to maintain in their diet. Some have passed that on to teach the lesson of gratitude for better times, as well as the importance of keeping a healthy, balanced diet in the season of over-indulgence.
In my own family, many things were introduced as a tradition in childhood, but only a few really held on over the years as we children grew. Some traditions developed later, and like the Christmas oranges of children in yesteryear, my sisters and I began to consistently receive underwear and socks, not for Christmas, but for Easter.
One holdout has been Christmas Eve pizza. Created when my Mom’s unkind older brother insisted on getting everyone pizza for dinner from the one place open on Christmas Eve day, because my Mom was planning to make baked chicken and my uncle insisted she could not cook to save her life. For the record, no one makes baked chicken as well as my Mom; my uncle was quite simply a jerk. But from that one act of unkindness, a funny tradition grew as it became a thing we as a family unit of five did by ourselves. Friends would groan in jealousy or look at us like we were crazy the first time they learned of this, but it was ours and we loved it; so much so that even as adults unable to return home we kept this as a reminder of those simple moments together as a family when we were happy.
One major change in adulthood was how and where Christmas dinner would actually take place. The result of the 2013 tornados, my parents and I found ourselves too exhausted and with too much food to repurchase last minute after things spoiled due to the power outage to make our own Thanksgiving dinner. So after some calling around, we managed to get a reservation at one of the most high-end steakhouses in the city, eating a spectacular buffet. While we have not had leftovers since that year, it has been a superb meal each time and all without the chaos of cooking and cleaning up. Until last year, it was Thanksgiving AND Christmas Day dinner at the Steakhouse, and last year deviated only because they chose not to serve on Christmas Day.
This year has brought many changes, and some of the most profound have been the most painful. As a result of numerous circumstances, we find ourselves celebrating Christmas in the middle of October. This means getting pizza for lunch and going to the Steakhouse for dinner, but this time we will find ourselves ordering from the menu instead of having a wide-ranging spread. The lack of choices is disappointing, but it means my sisters get to have a meal with us that we can call Our Christmas.
It is honestly funny to even vaguely celebrate “Christmas” like others and like we did in the past when today only one of the five of us holds to the beliefs behind the popularly held Western concept of Christmas. For us these days, it is no longer about beliefs, but instead about spending time together and being happy to still have each other. We have lost a lot, individually and as a family, in the past decade and even though there will always be at least one major argument with plenty of more minor bickering along the way when we all get together, the love is still there. My Mom would often say when we were little: you will always love each other, even when you do not particularly like each other. I honestly do not believe we fully grasped what that meant until we were grown, dealing with being apart from each other, and seeing how much it was truly possible to hate everyone else in the world, except each other.
Family is weird. Family is ups and downs that mold, break, and rebuild you from the inside out. Through the course of life, every family develops their own traditions; some will stand the test of generations and distance, while others will become memories you tell over a photo album. It is my current belief that if a tradition does no harm and helps create happiness, there is no reason to push for removal or major changes (although I admit it would be nice to try a different pizza this year). In all truth, traditions are a big part of how I became an artist and writer. But those are stories best left for another day.