Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Traditions and Other Holiday Clap-trap

“Tradition is the illusion of permanence,” or so sayeth that old urban oracle Woody Allen in his movie “Deconstructing Harry”. 

At this time of year, so rich with tradition, many times we do things simply because they have always been done. Take the ubiquitous Christmas tree:  Most know of the pre-Christian origins, and the “ever-green’s” symbolic meaning of everlasting life in the season of cold and dark when most of nature is dormant. So, in our funny human way, each year at this time, we go out and kill the very thing that represents eternal life, the only green, living thing around the bleak and wintry landscape, and we drag it home and stick it front and center, breathe in its lovely piney, fresh smell and bask in its wildness.   We hang ornaments made by wee hands and sticky fingers, lovingly drape its fragrant boughs with sparkly, golden garlands and twinkling colored lights.  And then, when the dressing is completed, we turn off all the lights in the house and bathe in its luminescence. 

See what has happened?  Merely by this ritualized act of tree-decorating, (completed last night I might add) I have become a changling; issuing forth sentimental yule-tide oozings  and proselytizing squishy holiday sentiments.  By Jove!  The ritual worked!  Why am I surprised?  After all, the purpose of all ritual is to change the individual involved in some way, launching them into an altered state.

“And the purpose being?”  One might ask. 

To connect with life; to connect with those that have gone before--our ancestors, who did many the same things. Perhaps their very memories still run through our veins, in much the same manner as blood type or inherited conditions like blue eyes, or high blood-pressure.  The socially accepted reasons for participating in the ceremony may have changed, but the results can still be similar.

I think we should feel free to ad-lib and creatively design our own seasonal traditions, keeping those that resonate with us, and discarding those that have lost their meaning.  Just think, perhaps  a cherished custom you begin this year, may be the one your Great-Great-Grand-child decides is stupid and meaningless, and they decide to chuck it! 

Whatever traditions your family decides to embrace, give a nod to the ghosts of Present, Past and Future.  Our past can make up who we are, but our present moment is up to us.



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nice post. It is interesting to ponder what ceremonies and/or rituals serve to inspire and those that no longer do so.

  3. At least we can always plant more trees. It does seem odd that tradition dictates the sacrifice of something so beautiful though. I've thought about this myself when I hear some gorgeous tree dies every year to decorate New York's Rockefeller Center. I guess it's an honor for a state to select a tree for that fate.

    Did you hear about the white Indian owl? I guess because of Harry Potter, the owl has been mistreated and may be put on the list of endangered species because so many want them as pets and they don't do well in captivity.

  4. Hi Michael, Thanks for the thoughful comment. I'm going to have to Google this one for more information. Who could mistreat an owl for Heaven's sake!? Why people try to keep wild creatures as pets is beyond me.


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