When you hear the word holiday, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, shopping, parties, sales, and catalogs rank near the top of your list — while more shopping, parades, a day off, and football follow closely behind. Wouldn’t you think that holidays would be more meaningful to us? The truth is, many holidays are becoming so commercialized that our proud traditions are in danger of becoming trivialized.
Think about it . . . we’re so afraid of offending people that we ban any symbol with the slightest religious connection from our public spaces. (“Happy Holidays”? Humbug!) Today, we’re so profit-motivated that we expect retail employees to abandon their family dinners to return to their store in time for the sale. Or worse yet, their employers force them to supervise “midnight madness” sales extravaganzas, featuring over-caffeinated shoppers seeking that “dream buy.”
Many of us can’t even remember the true meaning of the holidays. Memorial Day has morphed from remembering our fallen soldiers to the unofficial beginning of summer. Labor Day’s role in recognizing the achievements of organized labor now just marks the end of summer and a return to school. Veterans Day is honored as a day off from work.
Tradition: The Foundation of Our Culture
Traditions represent a critical piece of our culture. They help form the structure and foundation of our families and our society. They remind us that we are part of a history that defines our past, shapes who we are today and who we are likely to become. Once we ignore the meaning of our traditions, we’re in danger of damaging the underpinning of our identity.
Unfortunately, this indifference isn’t limited to holiday traditions. Many people don’t treat American, family, or religious traditions with the same emphasis and respect afforded in years past. Family meals around the table have been reduced to eating on the fly. Soccer tournaments are scheduled on Father’s Day — heaven forbid, our kids trade game time for quality family time. Reading before bedtime has given way to “vegging” in front of the TV, so that parents have their downtime. Family vacations have been known to include bringing a nanny along on the trip to “entertain” the kids.
Tradition Performs an Important Role in Our Society
- Tradition contributes a sense of comfort and belonging. It brings families together and enables people to reconnect with friends.
- Tradition reinforces values such as freedom, faith, integrity, a good education, personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, and the value of being selfless.
- Tradition provides a forum to showcase role models and celebrate the things that really matter in life.
- Tradition offers a chance to say “thank you” for the contribution that someone has made.
- Tradition enables us to showcase the principles of our Founding Fathers, celebrate diversity, and unite as a country.
- Tradition serves as an avenue for creating lasting memories for our families and friends.
- Tradition offers an excellent context for meaningful pause and reflection.
Tradition: The Heart of Our Culture
As leaders, role models, and parents, we must strive to utilize every opportunity available to us to reinforce the values and beliefs that we hold dear. Whether it’s reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before school, saying grace before a meal, reading our children a story before bedtime, orienting new employees with a discussion of the company’s beliefs and values, talking to our kids about our heroes and role models, providing quality feedback during an employee performance review, having the weekly family pancake breakfast on Sunday, or asking business colleagues to attend the “Race for the Cure” — no moment is too small or insignificant in the quest to convey the true meaning of the traditions and the values that unite us.
Once these values are internalized, they affect the norms that influence our day-to-day actions, determine what’s important, reinforce appropriate behavior, and change attitudes toward ourselves and our relationships with others.
That’s where traditions come in. We should emphasize the sportsmanship and determination of our athletes as much as we underscore winning during the Olympics. We should fulfill a Secret Santa wish for a family in need just as we satisfy the holiday wishes of our own family and friends. We should emphasize what a person did to help others in his/her career ascent as much as we celebrate the personal achievements of a retiree. We should renew our vows to our spouse as much as we shower him or her with gifts on wedding anniversaries. We should emphasize the struggles that people endured for the right to vote as much as we ask people to support a candidate. We should spotlight how celebrities conduct themselves in their personal lives as much as we celebrate their professional achievements at the awards ceremony.
The alternative to action is taking these values for granted. The result is that our beliefs will get so diluted, over time, that our way of life will become foreign to us. It’s like good health. You may take it for granted until you lose it. If we disregard our values, we’ll open our eyes one day and won’t be able to recognize “our world” anymore. The values that support the backbone of our country, our family, and our faith will have drifted for so long that the fabric of our society will be torn.
Don’t let thoughtless apathy overshadow tradition. We all have a moral obligation to regularly remind the world why our values matter to us. Laws and regulations won’t protect our culture. In fact, somebody recently figured out that we have concocted 35 million laws to enforce the Ten Commandments. So, the next time you celebrate a holiday, remember that your real gift and responsibility is to mark the true meaning of the day. Cheers!
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Lolly Daskal says
Frank YET AGAIN you have posted an article that is provocative, profound and perfect.
Your article makes you think, feel and see things in a way you might not have thought of before…
for me TRADITION has nothing to do with religion.
Tradition is about the rituals we do with family, with loved ones, with ourselves in our lives.
Traditions come from the observance of the heart and they are practices that feed our soul.
If we make traditions of the heart a habit, we are spreading the word of our spirit.
Here is to a NEW tradition: WE MUST ALWAYS READ Frank’s thoughts BECAUSE they make us a better person!
Lead From Within
Frank Sonnenberg says
I consider myself very blessed to have been born in this country. I know that the freedoms we enjoy are a direct result of the sacrifice that others made before us. If we take our traditions for granted, our beliefs will get so diluted, over time, that our way of life will become foreign to us one day. This pertains to family, faith, and our personal values as well.
Thanks, as always, for your encouragement and support.
Mark Hill says
I have mixed feelings about cultural traditions. I agree that good values are on the decline. But is this decline because of the departure of traditions or is it an indication that traditions (patriotism, religion, the Easter Bunny) do not possess real sustainable power to keep good values intact?
Should we be embracing traditions or questioning them? Is it possible that we need to find a new paradigm in thinking instead of clinging to that “old time religion” of traditions?
We are an evolving species. Is it possible that traditions hold back our evolution to becoming better value based people? Can we engage in the expression of good values without the aid of traditions?
What would it be like to do an experiment that involved ending all of our holidays and rewriting new ones? In fact, what would the world look like if all the traditions in every country ended and we started all over with a clean slate? Would there be fewer killings or more? Would there be less hatred or more? What would the country Iran look like without their traditions? Would it be a better place to live in than now? What would America look like if it let go of its traditions? Maybe we would all be frightening lost without our traditions but just maybe that would be a good thing. Maybe we could rediscover who we really are, past the veil of traditions, and become a better people. Maybe we could then begin to make a better world to live in.
Are traditions an aid to living a good valued-based life or an impediment?
Frank Sonnenberg says
We live in a complex world. Some folks think that we should abandon our principles. I believe quite the contrary –– values are not the problem, but rather it’s the lack of adhering and reinforcement of them. We get into trouble when we stray from our values or force them upon others.
Because beliefs and values form the heart of our culture, we must never miss an opportunity to reinforce them. We bring values to life though our heroes, rituals, ceremonies, and storytelling. We also bring them to life by serving as exemplary role models.
I believe every parent in the world wants the best for his or her children. It is our responsibility, as role models, to instill proper values and principles that guide them to live their lives with purpose. I believe, traditions play an important part in that effort.
Thanks so much for your thoughts and for advancing the conversation.
Carol Anderson says
Interesting debate, with Mark’s comments. In some ways I agree that traditions can’t be taken at face value without some element of questioning, because traditions can morph into routines that were not originally intended.
That said, I think we have lost all sense of traditions that are important to us because, as Frank said, we are afraid that embracing those traditions publicly will offend someone else.
We are the melting pot of the world, but yet those values and traditions that built this county are subjugated to other traditions, without allowing our own to thrive. And we are allowing it to happen. That’s sad to me.
Frank Sonnenberg says
It’s sad to me too.
When I look back on my childhood I cherish my memories of the costumes, songs, fireworks, parades, and family get-togethers that were all part of our traditions. They were fun and exciting, and we learned so much about life through them.
As parents, we couldn’t wait to share the good-times with our kids. Looking back, our kids still treasure the bedtime story telling, Sunday morning breakfasts, and family vacations at the beach. We used every occasion to teach our kids about the importance of family, education, integrity and being a good citizen of this great country.
So, what do we gain by minimizing our rituals? I believe we lose something very special when we abandon or “dumb down” our proud traditions.
Have a great day!
August Turak says
Another home run! Tradition also embodies the collective wisdom of many many generations. Our ancestors learned many things just from trial and error and then encoded these truths in traditions so we would be spared the pain. Of course some traditions outlive their usefulness as circumstances change, but I long ago decided that the burden of proof is not on the tradition but on the person who wants to do away with it.
However I was hoping that somewhere in your post you would have demonstrated just how brave you are in our brave new world by actually daring to use the word “Christmas.” Just kidding, but it is strange that Christmas is the national holiday yet most folks are scared still to actually use he word. Thanks again for another great post.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks for your kind words.
You make a very interesting point, “Our ancestors learned many things just from trial and error and then encoded these truths in traditions so we would be spared the pain.”
The truth is, there will always be values and beliefs that require debate due to changing times. But, we shouldn’t dilute or abandon the other values that we hold dear (especially when some people who want change do so for personal or political gain).
And so, my friend, let me be first to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.
Mark Hill says
First of all I want to thank you for encouraging me to comment on your blog. I appreciate you for being who you are, where you allow and encourage opposing views. Very refreshing.
For the purpose of advancing this conversation;
As mentioned before, I have “mixed feelings” about traditions. I like the idea of passing on a story to our children that encourages moral virtues. I tell stories consisting of moral metaphors all of the time but they are just stories and remain stories. Traditions though, encompass more than offering just simple positive encouragements to be a better person. Traditions can become bigger than life itself and unfortunately can have a serious negative impact upon the world.
The definition of traditions is; an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom).
It was our tradition for years to allow slavery to exist and even biblical scriptures were used to reinforce and encourage this practice. Not too long ago, it was also our tradition to not allow African Americans to marry whites, with again religious backing. Here we had beliefs and values that formed the heart of our culture back then.
Clearly traditions have not served humankind well. The lists of tragedies are many. One county’s tradition of values is another country’s doom. The oppression of women’s rights is the direct result of religious traditions.
We can look back now and see right through the many tragic “traditional times” for what they truly were about. There will hopefully be a day when humankind looks back at our present traditions and sees through them as well. Better yet, we can we become “out of the box of tradition” visionaries and contribute to making change now. Malala Yousafzai is one of these visionaries fighting against the traditions of her day.
We should not oversimplify tradition and reduce it down to a simple innocence that it’s not. The problem lies that a tradition is one of the most difficult things to see through and change. We tend to enshrine tradition and turn it into an irrevocable God. It becomes very difficult to dethrone once it becomes a cherished idol of belief.
World traditions are not our friend. Look at history! We must resist being conformed by the power of traditions and transcend far above them. We must lift our heads above the clouds of our traditions in order to become a better people.
I owe to my parents everything for the example they set before me. This came from their heart of love to me. Nature possesses this inherited good tradition within itself. We should tune into its heart beat instead of the drum beats of the world’s traditions around us. God has made human beings good and we are taught to be bad. Traditions make robots out of people. We become parrots. In the name of God, we become murderers. We become disempowered as human beings, and lose our good nature.
Yes, I have mixed feeling about traditions. I like to tell stories that point to a higher way to live our lives. That practice seems to be an innate built-in tradition for us human beings. And what can I say about parents setting examples to their children like my parents did for me? What a blessed and powerful tradition that nature urges us to do. As Lolly Daskal has so well said, “Traditions come from the observance of the heart and they are practices that feed our soul.”
Traditions? I guess it matters what you “exactly” mean by traditions. Some traditions should be cultivated while others should be dethroned. Patriotism, religions, all inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (traditions!), should not be treated as a Sacred Golden Calf but should put under the alter of scrutiny. God help us.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your feedback and hear what you’re saying.
Our behavioral and cultural norms define, “how we do things around here.” These norms are passed down through generations in part by the traditions that we hold dear. Our rituals showcase the kind of behavior that is expected of everyone in a family, business or nation. In the absence of tradition, values will loose influence, and the culture will die.
I agree that we must not blindly follow traditions nor should we refrain from challenging them. In fact, there will always be times when a family, business, or company decides that it’s in everyone’s interest to change –– and they will. I believe that Augie said it well in his comment, “Of course some traditions outlive their usefulness as circumstances change, but I long ago decided that the burden of proof is not on the tradition but on the person who wants to do away with it.”
There will be times when “we” veer off track. When that occurs, we must find ways to emphasize and reinforce the values and beliefs that we as a family, business or country, hold dear. I continue to believe that traditions play an important role in that effort.
Thanks again for your thoughtful opinion and for advancing the conversation.
Have a wonderful evening!
JOHN T POTO says
This is true Frank most people are so modernised they even lost the sense of tradition.Back in the good oldern days tradition meant everything but today tradition is so meaningless to an extend that people no longer value its importance.
Yes tradition means having that famiy gathering and that special holiday with your family only.Nowadays we spent our holidays occupied with more meaningless things rather than being occupied with something that means everything to us which is family .
Christmast is also no longer the same ,some people have killed those family lunches and diners ,it’s all about partying and shopping we even loose connection with the ones we love because we don’t spend enough time with them .
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks for your thoughts.
Even though we’re all moving at warp speed, we shouldn’t lose sight of the true meaning of the holidays. As you say, holidays should be more about family than gift giving.
Have an awesome weekend.
Mark Hill says
I hope you do not mind me being so over-chattering regarding the subject of tradition but this subject touches down to a very tender part of my heart. I surely hope I am not being a nag.
Nature within itself urges humankind that we adhere to good family values. That is a universal tradition. I personally am heartbroken over the fact of how many children do not have good examples set before them within their own family structure concerning parenting. This naturally inherited tradition of being the best parents we can possible be is deteriorating rapidly. Unfortunately, bad parenting examples replicate themselves. The African American community has been more harmed by fathers abandoning their children than racism. Though my wife and I am Caucasian, I feel that I can make such a daring and bold statement because we adopted an African American child when she was two weeks old. Her father abandoned her. My daughter’s birth mother was suffering from schizophrenia, and knowing that she couldn’t care for her, she lovingly handed her over to our family which consisted of two other children that we naturally had given birth to. To say the least, this grafting in and infusion of two races into one family has been gloriously mind and heart expanding for all of us. My adopted daughter is now twenty seven years old and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
Back then, twenty eight years ago, when we adopted her, it was not very customary or tradition-based for a Caucasian couple to adopt an African American child. We were seriously warned against doing it. There was a lot at risk. My whole family would be at risk including our newly adopted daughter. How would she be treated by African American’s knowing that her parents are white? What would it be like to try and explain to her why she looked so different than the rest of her family? What would it be like when our family would be faced head on with racism (and we were)? But something down deep within our hearts called upon us to reach out and go against the grains of that day’s tradition. Here we can witness a higher tradition of the heart, taking on risk, by going against the tradition of its day.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all,
Frank Sonnenberg says
First, thanks so much for sharing your story. Your daughter must be very proud.
Second, there’s a very important lesson to be learned from our string of comments. This comment puts your other thoughts into context. Now, I have a better understanding of your point of view.
This is an important reminder that when we take a position, it’s important to remove our blinders and see the world through the eyes of others.
Thank you for your passion, determination, and for advancing this conversation. I hope to see you back here soon.
Have a wonderful weekend.
kiven aberham says
Regarding holidays my wife loves to hang out with families and friends. My wonderful speech therapist for my son ask me what do i celebrate? I say only when i finish a project. I really don’t celebrate anything other than reflecting on my life. or take stock of my place then and there. here is why.
1. I’m an immigrant from Asia. tho my granddad baptized as a lutheran. i don’t care for any middle east religion of any kind. nor do i care for asian religon. I love psychology and sociology, western philosophers albert camus and nietzsche.
I hold dear the christian vaule of the cardinal virtues and it’s twin sister, heavenly virtues. It’s not that i believe in the rest of Christianity because i believe in heaven or god, no. It’s because i think it’s good for all human tobe good for one and other. at the end of the day. between the abyss of the universe and our very own human frailties. I’ll pick my autistic son anyday.
2. what is a American holiday. what is their ” tradition?” To me, it’s a an old painting by and for white people in the 1800 1900 that’s has no identity to my life. My own family doesn’t really celebrate holidays. they have a few thing they enjoying doing. but we really don’t talk much about it. it’s the dull drum of our life we somethings blab about.
3. those who believes in holidays is great. My wife is one them. she is a hard core Christian. Loves Christmas. Loves Holloween. Loves the church, like a school girl. I just love my wife for loving the world. I think holidays are for people like her. I just sorta tag along like my son’s favorite toy.
Frank Sonnenberg says
I’m pleased to see that although you feel tradition isn’t right for you, you don’t judge others for living according to their beliefs. It’s important to note that tradition shouldn’t be confined to religion or holidays. The fact is tradition could be the celebration of a birthday, eating as a family at dinnertime, reading a bedtime story to the kids each night, taking your spouse out for a date each week, first-day school photos or even ringing in the New Year with a toast of champagne.
Have a wonderful weekend!