My Daughters’ Love of Tradition.

Posted: September 9, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

“When was your family’s tradition invented?,” I asked my student.  She was dumbfounded by my query.  “What do you mean?” she replied.  It was the first class in my food history course a couple years ago when this conversation took place.  The class had been discussing the meaning of food, and how food is central to our traditions.  When I asked my student about her family’s Thanksgiving tradition, and when it was invented, the question didn’t register.  For her, the tradition went back long before her birth, and was timeless.  There was no beginning; there would not be an end. After reminding her that it must have been created at some point, I could see her mind was just a little bit blown, for better or worse.

The idea that traditions are ‘invented’ does seem odd.  Traditions often feel as though their creation is organic; a natural occurrence.  In his essay titled “The Invention of Tradition”, the late, great British historian Eric Hobsbawm 28005218343illustrated that they are actually social constructions that have a definitive purpose.  His contention was that traditions shared by citizens of a state are a much needed ingredient in the formation of national consciousness, and that since the French Revolution, when our notions of the modern nation took form, the invention of national traditions has taken off. Shared national traditions help transform disparate individuals into a connected community.

Hobsbawm was concerned with the macro view. At the individual, micro level, traditions are just as important. If they didn’t exist, we would need to invent them; and, we do. We, as humans, simply love tradition.  No matter our political stances, we are inherently drawn to our traditions.  We depend upon them.  When traditions fall away in time, we mourn them.  As a parent, I have seen this love of tradition develop.

My girls are now 6 and a half, and almost 5 years old.  Both love tradition, though the older one is definitely more concerned with it.  During the last couple years, she has latched onto traditions that, in her mind, must be upheld.  Now, you may think this is crazy.  How could a girl love tradition if she only has been alive for some six years, and really only remembers about 2 to 3 years of her life?  Perhaps it is my influence; perhaps she is a wistful soul; perhaps it is biological?  I don’t know, but her need for tradition is obvious.

5409238621_bdc3493eb7Last month, my wife took the two girls camping for a couple weeks at her family’s traditional vacation spot in Michigan.  As my wife’s family has been going to this spot to camp for 50 odd years, the two weeks spent there are all about tradition.  My daughter senses this, and eats it up.  She has quickly become one of the enforcers of upholding certain traditions.  The whole family must, and I mean must, go to House of Flavors for food and ice cream a couple times during the vacation.  We must watch the big ships come in from the lake, playing on the large playground as we wait for their arrival.  We must run down the big sand dune outside the ranger station immediately after we enter the park.  Events, foods, and experiences will inevitably be repeated each year, and my girls already realize this.

Traditions form during the special times of our lives.  If my daughters ran down a sand hill every day, it would no longer be tradition; it would be habit, or routine. It is the rarity and repetitiveness that sanctifies the annually  repeated vacation moments. Similarly, this is why holiday traditions are so endearing and necessary. My daughters already have created their own holiday traditions. For instance, my older girl has made it clear that her birthday party must be at grandma and grandpa’s house, since this has been our tradition since she was two years old.  Likewise, since that first party, we have ordered pizza from the same restaurant, so that must continue.  And don’t forget that grandma must make a strawberry birthday cake.  If her mom or I mention having a different type of party for her birthday, she is fine with that….as long as we have her real party at grandma and grandpa’s.

The Sandhill - My Girls are going up.

The Sandhill – My Girls are going up.

As I have mused on my daughters’ love of traditions, I wonder if the eventual death of our traditions is what leads to that odd feeling known as nostalgia.  Nostalgia is bittersweet. It is melancholic and, yet, heartwarming. Nostalgia does not form when we have a memory of the random past events of our lives.  We only feel nostalgia when we look back, and feel a strong reminiscence for something recognizable, repeated and safe. I think my girls are going to feel this most for their inevitably lost traditions.

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