This is a question I have pondered for a very long time. So many things we do in our lives keep us coming back to rituals and traditions. It is quite interesting really. That is why traditions and rituals are so important and equally important for me to have The Tradition Tree project.
If we think about our lives… it is within our human nature to look forward to the future and very hard for us to stay in the present or moment. It is a balance always being fought for. With traditions, I believe it keeps the balance between the two. For example, we have Christmas as a holiday and for many, we build up the anticipation and preparation for looking forward to the holiday. As a special time of year, we realize the importance and take the time to enjoy moments and pleasures. It is a wonderful system and if we did not have traditions in place, our lives would be very different.
Dr. Donna Rockwell, Psy.D., L.P. is a registered psychologist and has proved information on the importance of traditions.
Fiddler on the Roof is the story of a Russian family forced to flee their homeland. In the song Tradition, Tevye, the wise father, says that without our traditions, the community of mankind would lose its grounding. “Because of our traditions,” Tevye sings, “we’ve kept our balance for many, many years … and because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
Our traditions act as a compass for all of our human relationships and personal interactions, the qualitative experiences of our family life, and ultimately, the development of civilized societies themselves. As we honor traditions, so we learn to honor ourselves, and in the final analysis, each other.
What makes something a tradition is that it is handed down from one generation to the next, creating a living, dynamic flow of rhythm and predictability — like the girl in the kitchen watching her mother and grandmother cook, discerning how to take her place within a meaningful legacy. It is critical for children to be a part of family traditions. It connects them to that greater whole and leads to heightened empathy, a more fulfilling happiness and engaged citizenship. In the same way that composer Leonard Bernstein described the composition of music as “one note that follows another with complete inevitability,” we count on traditions, like a melody, for that dependable and predictable outcome. While filmmaker Woody Allen points out that tradition gives us only “the illusion of permanence,” predictability gives us comfort in an otherwise shaky, unknowable world.
We desperately need our traditions. Part of the responsibility of having the chance to live at all — should we choose to look at it that way — is to be a part of the transmission of our particular family and ethnic customs. In so doing, we honor past generations by passing on their rites and rituals to the next generation. In this way, our family lineages stay stable and strong. Since ceremonies outlive us, they make us feel part of that larger sense of things as we pass them down to our own children, and theirs. That is how we realize our immortality — not in living forever, but in being part of living traditions. And without them, perhaps Tevye is right. “Without our traditions,” Tevye writes, “our lives would be as shaky as…a fiddler on the roof.”