December 12, 2014

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Fiddler on the Roof lauded tradition, and so should we

Cynthia DewesThe holidays are times when traditions rule. We have the traditional visit to Santa in the department store, the cookies set out for him on Christmas morning, and so on. We love to think about them, even when we’re at a different point in our lives without little kids around, perhaps, or far away from people we love.

Still, we think traditions are important. The Catholic Church is known for its respect for tradition. We love the old-fashioned rituals, the glorious Latin hymns, the incense and candles. We Catholics may range from enthusiastic fans of Vatican II to spiritual reactionaries, but we all realize that tradition is essential to carrying the Church’s message.

Having said that, we must admit that tradition just for its own sake is neither valuable nor necessary. Clinging to a certain symbol or way of doing things just because we’ve always done it that way makes no sense. And the results can be damaging if we refuse to recognize the moral value of certain scientific advances or changes in social attitudes.

For example, our attitudes about respecting others who are different from us have changed, at least in public. Whether we agree with their behaviors or not, we must show respect for the homosexual, the protester, or the unmarried people living together as families.

Speaking of families, they seem to be fracturing these days, and I wonder if some of that destruction isn’t due to the lack of tradition in modern family life. The frantic pace of combining work, marriage and parenthood in a tight economy and an often hostile culture makes it hard to manage a family in traditional ways. We’re sure not in Kansas anymore.

That’s why I was so pleased recently when my granddaughter asked hesitantly if we’d mind celebrating Christmas with her family on a different day. She has three small children, and she said that she and her husband would like to spend Christmas day just with them. In other words, she’s establishing a new tradition in her little family.

She was afraid she might hurt my feelings by asking this, but I was proud of her. She has the right idea about what’s important. When we were young parents, we set a pattern of family custom, and now it’s time for them to do the same. Now, my husband’s and my responsibilities have shifted from being in charge of every event to sitting back and enjoying the scene.

Indeed, one of the great pleasures of this time of life is to observe what our kids found meaningful in our family traditions, how they changed or abandoned them, or what creative new ways they’ve come up with. But the important thing is that they find family traditions to be something they want and need.

When people marry, they bring their traditions together and these become the basis of the new family’s custom. In our case, both our families opened presents on Christmas Eve, while we set up the Christmas tree earlier in December and my husband’s family did it on Christmas Eve. This and other mild differences morphed into what our kids remember: all of us decorating the tree a couple of weeks before Christmas, while munching Norwegian goodies such as krumkake and Jule Kage.

Some of our children continue these things, while others have adopted and adapted new ones. The point is, they do them as a family. We hope that all families might be traditional during this Christmas season.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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