As a young boy growing up in a reasonably large family, I understood that there were some things that just happened, repeatedly. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned these repeated events were traditions. They were just things that we always did. Pot roast for Sunday dinner. Gathering at Grandma’s on decoration day to sort flowers on the lawn before taking them to the cemetery to decorate graves. Attending Christmas Eve services at church and receiving a bag of goodies to take home and being allowed to eat them at night before going to bed. And countless others that clutter my memory.
And then I married into a family that had even more rigid traditions. There were correct place settings for particular meals. There were certain days when things were done. There were certain ways that things were done. Without exception. Sacrosanct. Almost stifling. I think I do understand the value of traditions. They give roots. They provide stability, a home base. But they are not sacred.
I married a second time into a family with four young siblings. I learned quickly the value in being open to change. Our family is a very viable community and as such is always changing, always growing, always becoming something new. Rigidity has no place in our world. This was made evident several years ago when one of the siblings traveled at Christmas time with a boyfriend’s family. I overheard a comment about how she “spoiled” Christmas, and yet Christmas continued, life went on, and I think we all grew as a result.
We all learned that changing locations, changing traditions wasn’t a bad thing, but a learning thing. In fact, last year, my wife and I traveled to Alaska for Christmas, and then we moved here. This year we celebrated Christmas with the whole group (minus a deployed son-in-law) in Orlando. And I heard discussion that next year we’ll return to Iowa for the holidays.
I’ve aged a bit. But in that aging, I’ve become more flexible in thinking and in action. There are no longer certain foods that have to be prepared for certain meals. When I dine out, I choose foods I’ve never eaten before. I choose wines I’ve never drank in order to find new tastes. I travel to places I’ve never been before to gain new experiences. There is so much life to be lived and so little time to live it. Traditions have a place, a marker for beginnings, but not an anchor to prevent movement. Traditions have the greatest value in showing us how much we have learned, how much we have grown.
Long live traditions! May we always be willing to change them!