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Tradition: The True Meaning of Holidays
By Frank Sonnenberg
When you hear the word holiday, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, shopping, parties, sales, and catalogs rank near the top of your list — while more shopping, parades, a day off, and football follow closely behind. Wouldn’t you think that holidays would be more meaningful to us? The truth is, many holidays are becoming so commercialized that our proud traditions are in danger of becoming trivialized.
Think about it . . . we’re so afraid of offending people that we ban any symbol with the slightest religious connection from our public spaces. (“Happy Holidays”? Humbug!) Today, we’re so profit-motivated that we expect retail employees to abandon their family dinners to return to their store in time for the sale. Or worse yet, their employers force them to supervise “midnight madness” sales extravaganzas, featuring over-caffeinated shoppers seeking that “dream buy.”
Many of us can’t even remember the true meaning of the holidays. Memorial Day has morphed from remembering our fallen soldiers to the unofficial beginning of summer. Labor Day’s role in recognizing the achievements of organized labor now just marks the end of summer and a return to school. Veterans Day is honored as a day off from work.
Tradition: The Foundation of Our Culture
Traditions represent a critical piece of our culture. They help form the structure and foundation of our families and our society. They remind us that we are part of a history that defines our past, shapes who we are today and who we are likely to become. Once we ignore the meaning of our traditions, we’re in danger of damaging the underpinning of our identity.
Unfortunately, this indifference isn’t limited to holiday traditions. Many people don’t treat American, family, or religious traditions with the same emphasis and respect afforded in years past. Family meals around the table have been reduced to eating on the fly. Soccer tournaments are scheduled on Father’s Day — heaven forbid, our kids trade game time for quality family time. Reading before bedtime has given way to “vegging” in front of the TV, so that parents have their downtime. Family vacations have been known to include bringing a nanny along on the trip to “entertain” the kids.
Tradition Performs an Important Role in Our Society
Tradition: The Heart of Our Culture
As leaders, role models, and parents, we must strive to utilize every opportunity available to us to reinforce the values and beliefs that we hold dear. Whether it’s reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before school, saying grace before a meal, reading our children a story before bedtime, orienting new employees with a discussion of the company’s beliefs and values, talking to our kids about our heroes and role models, providing quality feedback during an employee performance review, having the weekly family pancake breakfast on Sunday, or asking business colleagues to attend the “Race for the Cure” — no moment is too small or insignificant in the quest to convey the true meaning of the traditions and the values that unite us.
Once these values are internalized, they affect the norms that influence our day-to-day actions, determine what’s important, reinforce appropriate behavior, and change attitudes toward ourselves and our relationships with others.
That’s where traditions come in. We should emphasize the sportsmanship and determination of our athletes as much as we underscore winning during the Olympics. We should fulfill a Secret Santa wish for a family in need just as we satisfy the holiday wishes of our own family and friends. We should emphasize what a person did to help others in his/her career ascent as much as we celebrate the personal achievements of a retiree. We should renew our vows to our spouse as much as we shower him or her with gifts on wedding anniversaries. We should emphasize the struggles that people endured for the right to vote as much as we ask people to support a candidate. We should spotlight how celebrities conduct themselves in their personal lives as much as we celebrate their professional achievements at the awards ceremony.
The alternative to action is taking these values for granted. The result is that our beliefs will get so diluted, over time, that our way of life will become foreign to us. It’s like good health. You may take it for granted until you lose it. If we disregard our values, we’ll open our eyes one day and won’t be able to recognize “our world” anymore. The values that support the backbone of our country, our family, and our faith will have drifted for so long that the fabric of our society will be torn.
Don’t let thoughtless apathy overshadow tradition. We all have a moral obligation to regularly remind the world why our values matter to us. Laws and regulations won’t protect our culture. In fact, somebody recently figured out that we have concocted 35 million laws to enforce the Ten Commandments. So, the next time you celebrate a holiday, remember that your real gift and responsibility is to mark the true meaning of the day. Cheers!
What Are Your Thoughts About Tradition?