I sometimes resent traditions. I feel there is a Tradition Wizard making me do certain things and I actually sort of hate him for it. I feel this entity has too much control. There is a dissonance when I just don’t really want to obey him and I do anyway. It seems he has the power to wave his wand and lull society into some sort of Tradition trance.
Traditions are usually founded on some practical purpose, but often do not evolve with changing time and new information. Even so, the pressure to continue them is overt. So deep runs the pressure to abide by most public holiday traditions, that commercialization is having a party nearly all year long.
I am not saying that traditions don’t have their place. I realize there are many traditions, including some religious ones, which are important to a large portion of humanity. For the most part, I enjoy the big holidays. And I have loved creating some smaller traditions for my own family that have revolved around reading and mealtimes and birthday celebrations. Those are my favorite ones, actually, because we created them. They became habits that have made life sweeter.
But the Tradition Wizard is fierce and persistent and he comes around every year, many, many times. Halloween, for example. I’ve given out candy every October a zillion times now. I feel obligated to buy the candy that I am trying not to eat, to give it to the kids who really don’t need to be eating it either. Doorbell rings, dog barks, candy is dispensed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Enough already. I’ll never finish my book if I stop for every Hallmark occasion or legend. Does this make me a rebel?
I won’t even get started on Valentine’s Day. Well, just for a second. I love, love, love every day. And I am loved back every day. And as far as receiving chocolates, well, there’s that sugar thing again…
And Santa. Oh how I resented Santa when my kids were little. Not for religious reasons. Not because I don’t understand how fun and magical and wonderful it feels for some people. I love the spirit of Christmas. But for me, Santa isn’t it. I knew my kids were suspicious all along, but it can be so damn hard to break traditions without feeling like some kind of societal deviant. Everyone’s supposed to play Santa for their young children, right? How do you admit to your four year old that she’s right, there is no silly Santa, when there is that Tradition Wizard, waving his wand like he means business? When nearly every adult she encounters is asking her “What is Santa going to bring you?” To the child: Ignore your instincts, and your common sense, little one. I will explain away every question you have about this magical guy in red that defies all logic and brings you stuff! And we will tell you that the holiday isn’t about the stuff, as we perpetuate this overwhelming, magical excitement around Santa coming to bring you… stuff! When the brief Santa phase ended in our home, one of our children declared, “Oh, it was a lie. I knew it! I’m not ever going to play the Santa trick with my kids”.
Many people hold to traditions like they do to ingrained beliefs. To hear of something different feels threatening, outrageous even. There are fierce supporters of the Tradition Wizard. I don’t care which traditions my children choose to follow. I only care that they choose them consciously and respect that other people also get to choose for themselves. Deviating from the norm can cause stress and takes courage though. I hope they always hold firm to what they believe is right for them, and not what they think is expected of them.
My oldest daughter is getting married soon. The advice I gave her regarding her wedding was that there are no rules. She should pick and choose which traditions to include and which ones not to. Fortunately, she agrees that the wedding garter tradition is really tacky. I also suggested that she consider whether or not throwing the bouquet was appropriate for her celebration. This tradition began in the Middle Ages. The single girls line up to compete in catching it and the lucky one who does is said to be the next who will marry. This implies all the single girls want to be married, and as soon as possible. We could question all of the wedding traditions, such as the father “giving the bride away”, and the ancient tradition of the veil worn over the bride’s face, lest the groom in an arranged marriage change his mind when he sees her. Or we can question none of them. But we at least get to choose.
This engaged daughter is choosing not to have a wedding shower. Originally, these were thrown to “shower” the bride- to- be with items that she needs to set up her first home. My daughter and her fiancé have decided that they have all the essentials they need to function in their small home. She doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by too much stuff. Besides, she would rather do just about anything before sitting at the center of attention opening gifts. She is simply choosing not to follow this tradition. It is a perfect tradition for some, but decidedly not for her.
Any of these traditions can be carried out simply out of preference, or a matter of style, or fun, with no implications. Each bride should pick for herself. But it should at least be chosen consciously. And to do that, we have to remember that there is a choice. There’s always a choice.
Some traditions are wrought with a history of oppression, and others serve a purpose for some but are meaningless to others. All are optional. The more pressure we feel about a tradition, the more we should question it. I say look the Tradition Wizard in the eyes, crack his wand in two over your knee, and walk away. He may try to follow you, but he doesn’t really own you.