Traditions and Customs: Do They Impact Our Lives?

With the holiday season upon us, I like to ponder the many traditions and customs our family has passed down through the generations.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years are among the most popular of the many holidays celebrated with great joy at this time of year.  Celebrations of family, home, community, spirituality, good bounty, gift-giving, and revelry are prevalent.  Even those who live by themselves, without family members or other loved ones nearby can find love, comfort and happiness during the traditional festivals. 

We may consider traditions and customs similar; however, according to Merriam-Webster, “a custom is a practice common to many or to a particular place or class.”  On the other hand, “a tradition as an inherited, established or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior, such as a religious practice or a social custom.  Traditions are representative of a person’s culture.”When I was a child, our home barely accommodated six children and two parents, yet we always found room for relatives to celebrate the holidays with us.  This meant not only setting up several large tables in the dining room and living room but in the basement as well, to serve our many guests.  I recall my brother and I having to surrender our bedrooms, as several distant relatives chose to stay on with our family for several days or longer.  Looking back, I find it amazing how we accommodated all those people with only one bathroom!

As my older brothers and sisters started having families of their own, the celebrations grew more contemporary; however we still preserved the traditions and customs of the previous generations.  A favorite tradition is the Easter egg-roll and hunt which began when my nieces and nephews were old enough to maneuver the egg on a spoon; a generation later, their children were doing the same and soon, another generation may begin.

Of course, most who celebrate the more common American holidays still have the traditional turkey feast on Thanksgiving, complete with a vast assortment of autumn vegetables and fruit pies, not to mention stuffing and gravy.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has countless photos of family members with puffed cheeks as they blow out their birthday candles; always an attractive photo.  We generally eat similar food on the same holidays too; Lamb on Easter, Fresh Ham on New Year’s Day, Corned Beef and Cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and Turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There are rituals surrounding religious services, and customs of opening or exchanging gifts, stringing popcorn, decorating wreaths and trees, sending cards, putting up lights and so forth, which make the holidays so enjoyable.

Traditions, customs, rituals and habits all have their place in our society.  Even if you don’t celebrate any of them, you’ll find yourself entangled in the labyrinth of holiday madness no matter where you go.  From crowded airports and rail stations, to post offices and banks, garden centers, grocery stores and malls; the masses are in full swing when the holidays come around.

It’s nice to take time and reminisce about the holiday traditions and customs we hold near to our hearts.  Having a large family is wonderful at this time of year however even if I found myself away from home, I would still be able to enjoy the memories and continue the family practices of my past.  To me, traditions ignite the embers in a dormant soul which brilliantly surge with the first spark. 

Dropping supplies off at our parish food bank followed by church services is the prelude to Thanksgiving morning.  I’m looking forward to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television this week, as I’ve done for many years, as I prepare an assortment of baked desserts and side dishes to bring to the celebration at my sister’s house.  I hope to enjoy a day of gratitude, hope and customarily traditional activity with many family members as we pray for blessings on all.

“A love for tradition has never weakened a nation; indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril.” ~ Winston Churchill

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