Preserve Tradition, Even Through Change
The winter holiday season brings to mind traditions, cultural and sometimes religious practices passed down across hundreds or thousands of years or smaller, more private traditions that blossom within a family or individual relationship.
Traditions mark the passage of time and honor the moments and people that have come before us. From the Latin transdare, meaning to transmit or give over, traditions allow us to take part in an activity or maintain a belief infused with meaning and handed down by prior generations. Sometimes they bring us joy and feelings of nostalgia or connectivity, while other times we may not know precisely why we observe a particular tradition — except because that’s the way it has been done. Traditions can be communal, the commemoration of a historical event, specific time of year, or the marking of a religious event. Or, they can be private, a personal milestone.
Though some traditions survive generations, others require adaptation, alteration, or even abandonment over time. Certainly the global COVID-19 pandemic has forced each of us to examine how, where, and with whom we spend time. The pandemic has asked us to confront whether traditions previously upheld still hold the same weight as they did prior to March 2020. How do we wish to spend our time? Do all of our pre-pandemic pursuits make the cut?
In some cases, not being able to carry out traditions, particularly during the stay-at-home orders of the early months of the pandemic, imbued them with even greater meaning. People realized how much they placed stock in (and missed) certain rituals, big and small, that made up their days. Many people found it particularly difficult to observe holidays without the practices that serve as touchstones — gathering for a Christmas meal, attending Eid services at the mosque, or traveling to visit family for the Jewish High Holidays. Still, people adapted, opening their circles through virtual Passover seders and Ramadan iftars, creating new Christmas morning memories and practices, and exploring local summer destinations that were previously passed over in favor of more exotic locales.
Traditions can be lost due to deprivation or inattention, but they can also be born of opportunity. New families coming together, a child entering a home, moving to a different city — these moments can be the impetus for the establishment of a new tradition. The recognition that something is missing from one’s life can also spark change: pausing to share a cup of coffee with a partner at the end of the day, setting aside time to explore family recipes with a child, or meeting a neighbor for an after work walk. The traditions that shape our lives and infuse them with meaning deserve our attention, while others that do not serve us, our families, or our communities should be adapted or let go, as hard as that may be.
The pandemic has taught us some valuable lessons — resilience, introspection, and the importance of belonging — that can change the way we view and cultivate practices that hold meaning for us. As we enter the winter season, which is full of traditions of both the silly and serious varieties, it’s worth taking the time to ask ourselves important questions. “Does this tradition add value to my or my loved ones’ lives? Do I wish to spend my time engaging in this practice? Is there a different way I’d rather spend my time? If so, what is it?” Through identifying which practices we favor, we can focus our attention on those that nurture us, thus cultivating our own tradition of happiness.