If you’re part of a family, you are no doubt familiar with traditions.
As a society, we are engulfed in traditions. We tend to do the same thing each Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It breeds consistency.
But sometimes, I wonder if tradition isn’t the first cousin of superstition. We do things the same way and, if we change, we fear that something bad might happen. Therefore, in some ways, traditions are good luck charms that make us feel secure.
If you’ve ever ridden a horse in a cattle pasture you know that it is infested with various paths here and there. That’s because cattle, when not grazing, tend to travel throughout pastures on familiar paths. Cattle, too, have traditions and habits.
Ellen Goodman is an American journalist and syndicated columnist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980. She said traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. The most powerful being those we can't even describe or aren't even aware of.
When I was young, we went to my paternal grandparents’ house every Christmas Eve. It was a tradition that was so special and fun that I naturally wanted it to continue forever. But like everything, it couldn’t.
In some ways, we have continued that tradition with my sister’s much bigger ranch house, replacing my grandparents’ little house. And with one generation replacing another. So, time and traditions march on.
When I played basketball, if I had a particularly good game, I would put my socks on the same way the next game. How funny it is to think that I somehow thought socks could positively affect a game. If they had, I could have sold them for millions to Kobe Bryant. Or maybe I did.
By itself, the word tradition conjures up pleasant images and thoughts. But not all traditions are so pleasant or memorable. For example, the Klu Klux Klan might have some traditions that aren’t so fabulous. And the Aztec tradition of sacrificing children on those flat-topped pyramids hardly seems charming.
There are other unusual traditions, too. For example, in Roman burial grounds, graves contained pipes that led to outside of the grave. That’s because feeding the dead was a tradition of the Romans. They’d pour honey, wine and food stuff into the grave through this pipe.
In many locations in China, Indonesia and the Philippines, you’ll find hanging coffins. That’s because the practice of hanging coffins over a cliff prevented bodies from being taken by wild animals.
Meanwhile, members of the Masai Tribe, found in Kenya and Tanzania, often spit on people they meet as part of their initial greeting.
But when it comes to tradition, I think Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson summed it up most refreshingly when he said: “Every heart that has beat strongly and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse behind it in the world and bettered the tradition of mankind.”
That’s a nice thought.