Traditions & the Purpose They Serve

Last fall we read in the New York Times an article, “Shabbat is a Salve, and a Scene: Jewish or not, more young people seem to be celebrating the shabbat at gatherings (Nov. 30, 2022).” Those who are non-Jewish are joining in to experience Shabbat as a way to connect with new folks of all religions. It becomes a special time, as the Times article says, to “unplug and connect with family and friends.”

It's also the start of a new non-sectarian tradition among young adults. And why not? Sharing holidays and traditions offer a greater sense of inclusiveness, and we’re all for that, rather than being exclusive and not allowing others into the best parts of our religion or way of doing things.

Shabbat for those who don’t know is a Jewish Friday night tradition with fairly simple rituals of prayers, candle lighting and a time to experience a day of rest. Many attend temple or synagogue. Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, senior rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City, says Shabbat offers 25 hours in “which to stop and restore our souls to ‘be a blessing’.” And how that time is spent can be a personal Shabbat experience whether a family game night, big dinner with your nearest and dearest or shutting down all screens and reading a book or simply talking to loved ones, family or friends. You can establish the tradition that accommodates your spiritual and emotional needs.  

Traditions are concepts handed down from one generation to the next; it’s part of our legacy to our children and grandchildren (and if you’re lucky, even great-grandchildren). It honors what has taken place that we recreate, often at the same time each week, month, or year such as Passover or Ash Wednesday, Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanzaa. It’s how we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries or annual gatherings such as family vacations.  

In a blog we published Dec. 16, 2022, “How We Mark Happy, Stressful & Sad Occasions,” many of our personal traditions, whether secular or religious, started in childhood that we have carried into adulthood. Example: To celebrate a big event such as the birth of a child, grandchild, an engagement, an anniversary, a promotion or a big accomplishment. To celebrate the publication of a book, our tradition is to break out a bottle of champagne or wine, buy tickets to a play or concert or go to a fancy restaurant. And it’s important as we make a mark to start our own traditions or adapt those in our family so they’re new and fresh.

All of this got us thinking about the importance of traditions. We feel they offer a certain, almost necessary structure that keeps our family, religion or society intact and makes us feel that we’re part of something bigger and greater than us, which adds a sense of spirituality.

This week, many around the world are celebrating the holidays of Passover and Easter in whatever form befits their religion, the society in which they live and their culture. Within those traditions—festivals, ceremonies and other events, there is a prescriptive way of observing them. These are rituals.

A ritual has a religious or symbolic significance. They are the rules and regulations. Conservative and Orthodox Jews daven and pray, which is tradition but how they do so is ritual. During the days of Passover, many observant Jews avoid leavened foods such as cakes made with flour. Catholics do a rosary, which is tradition but how they use it is a ritual. Muslims turn to Mecca and pray but the process is ritual. The same for Ramadan, which traditionally calls for a month-long fast with all the rituals within that tradition spelled out.

Rituals tend to remain constant, but traditions tend to morph with the times, ages and lifestyles of those who observe them. Today, we don’t have to go to church or temple for a religious service, to school or an event but can attend online or virtually. (This became popular during Covid and has remained an option at many houses of worship.) To make these situations interactive, we can use some of the tools on such platforms as Zoom, which include a button to raise your hand, ask a question in a chat room, share a document, draw something on the whiteboard, and more. It’s a new way of practicing and keeping traditions relevant so they don’t die out.

Here are some other traditions that have changed with the times: mom staying home to raise the kids in a traditional marriage; families living under one roof with sometimes multiple generations, a tradition that died and now has re-emerged as multigenerations live together again; kids moving out of their homes at 18 or after college and sometimes temporarily moving back during Covid and now moving out again; eating dinner together every night as a family and without TV blasting in the background, then maybe making it a tradition to do so one night a week, hence Shabbat.  

Sometimes, money is thrown at these events making them about the pomp and less about the circumstance. In today’s world, there are so many options about how to celebrate these milestones that don’t involve big expense and lavishness. But the same rituals are observed.

So, enjoy the traditions that many generations have experienced and put your own spin on a tradition or start a new one.

Fourteen suggestions that add sweetness and love in our lives.  

  1. Going on your big anniversary celebration to the same place you honeymooned may be one couple’s tradition, and if not married returning to the first restaurant you dined at together.
  2. Celebrating a birthday with a reservation at the same favorite restaurant for a family tradition or preparing a favorite meal at home.
  3. Making a signature drink that you imbibe on special occasions, or you prefer a certain type of wine as a couple’s tradition.
  4. Every year on Chanukah, donating to a charity of your family’s choice on the last (8th) night of the holiday and doing a mitzvah or good deed.
  5. Not marking big events in your family with presents but with wonderful cards, either store bought or handmade, another family tradition.
  6. Keeping a list of your closest friends’ birthdays and always remembering to send a card, sometimes a gift and call rather than just texting. It’s your way to stay in touch with these special folks.
  7. Every year on New Year’s Eve, celebrating with the same friends and drinking the same bubbly, a social tradition, but if you meet a new couple or individual, including them and avoiding being so exclusive. 
  8. Your grandchildren visit and you develop new traditions of writing a story together, doing a puzzle, going on a hike or walk and having certain foods such as potato pancakes even in the dead of summer. Involve them in the tradition of what to do.
  9. Come Thanksgiving you bring your family together and serve basically the same meal. Everyone goes around the table to say what they’re thankful for in the past year, another holiday and family tradition. But if someone wants to change the meal a bit do so; the more ideas the merrier.
  10. At Christmas time, you buy the tree and have a tree trimming party with hot toddies and hot chocolate. When guests leave, perhaps your family’s tradition is to open one gift on Christmas Eve and the rest on the Christmas morning, followed by a big scrumptious breakfast, a holiday and family tradition. Margaret started a tradition with her next door neighbors' almost 5-year-old son. Every holiday season, they make gingerbread cookies together that he decorates with candy and all kinds of colorful sprinkles. 
  11. When a friend or family member is ill, you check in regularly, if possible, send some food or deliver it, a way to help them heal, your version of a get-well tradition.
  12. On the anniversary of a loved one’s death, you visit them at the cemetery, light a candle back home, say a prayer, go to temple or church, a mingling of traditions to express grief, loss and love.
  13. It’s 2023 and your new tradition is to Zoom as a family, especially if you live in different locales, and you do a digital toast, a family tradition that melds with the new virtual reality whenever you feel the need to come together. Any day and for any reason is a good way to start your new tradition.
  14. You pass the baton to the next generation to do the holiday in their way with their partner or spouse or friends. Sit back, help, enjoy and congratulate them on taking charge.  

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