Love Traditions

I used to hate celebrating my birthday. It was so bad that I didn’t tell my friends the date of my birthday.

And today I love traditions from celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. How can hate turn to love?

I got help from two books. And it’s not everyday a book can give you a 180 perspective change. It happened because in Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, she explained why we can become irritated and even dislike some of our ritualised gatherings.

Gatherings are made up of two components: purpose and form. And we often, if not most of the time, conflate the two.

Purpose focuses on the why. Why are you gathering in this moment? And the relevant part of this is “this moment”. Taking the birthday example, it may seem obvious why we celebrate birthdays – to celebrate our life. Yet, wasn’t your 7 year old birthday gathering different than your 18 year old one?

There were different purposes in those ages and every year there is often a different reason to gather and celebrate. And because of this, we chose a different way of celebrating each birthday year.

Form is about who we invite, the location, the food, etc. My 7 year old birthday party definitely had a different form than at 18 years. It’s often the unbeknownst linking of purpose and form that causes headaches.

Christmas traditions become about who should host or what traditional food should be cooked. All of this discussion happens without even clarifying the purpose of the Christmas gathering for that specific year.

In weddings, often the purpose needs to match what the couple wants but all too often discussions are centred around (and argued) over guest lists and bridesmaids. Having the wedding celebration be about the parents of the couple rather than the couple.

Traditions take shape and are changed over generations and often what was true decades ago is no longer applicable. Weddings are different even to the fact that weddings today include same sex couples and brides no longer wearing white in Christian weddings. We now have gender reveal parties (although this is currently changing as well) instead of baby showers.

And maybe even more relevant is how we changed our gatherings during the COVID pandemic. Our gatherings became digital and the form took a different shape. And in Priya Parker’s podcast episode she highlights how the Passover Seder could still have meaning and purpose with this new form (the video call).

Our traditions, although having a past element, shows us that they’re also about the future. A point Manning Nash touches on in his book, The Cauldron of Ethnicity in the Modern World.

It seems quite logical to think of the past when it comes to honouring traditions but what we often forget is that traditions need and must include the future generation. For then what is the point of honouring a tradition if the future generation does not carry it forward.

When I could separate out the purpose and form and look at how traditions are about honouring the past, present and future, I began to see the value in the celebrations in my life. I now look at my birthday each year and think of its purpose in this year and make a plan around that purpose. One year it was a trip, another it was just with my family and another I spent time on my own.

Traditions needn’t look to the past to gain wisdom in honouring the reasons why we gather. Every tradition, no matter how old or its origin, has evolved, taken shape and form and served a purpose in our humanity at a certain time.

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