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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Thanksgiving and traditions

Jean-Louis Gérôme Ferris, Le premier Thanksgiving

This afternoon, as I was merrily grocery shopping for fondue meats, I noticed a teenage girl wearing the Muslim headscarf along with a deep cleavage, skinny jeans and stilettos. Needless to say, I was stopped in my tracks.

My goal today is not to start a debate on Islamic customs, but to raise the question of traditions.

Traditions are great in that they give us a sense of belonging, of continuity, of repetition. They ground us. They connect us to each other. They provide meaning. Boundaries. Oftentimes, they also provide a pretext for celebration, and who would complain about celebrating?

But it never fails to amaze me how people will endorse traditions without even understanding them. Rituals and beliefs are passed on without a question, even when they fail to make any sense at all anymore. Worse, sometimes we hold on to them even if they go against our core values... or do harm to others.

And then you end up with the teenager being sexy from the neck down, but completely covering her hair. Let's allow for a moment of puzzlement here.

I don't know for you, but as much as I appreciate the good that traditions bring, I like to feel I have a hold on my life. To feel I am the one with the hands the steering wheel. To feel I am making informed choices that are in line with what I believe and don't believe in. Call me rebellious, but I don't like to follow a tradition without a good reason, just because. Last time I checked, I wasn't a sheep!

The fondue is a good example: we used to have turkey for Thanksgiving. That was until we realized that no one in the family really cared for turkey. Why did we keep serving it, then? What else we were doing that didn't make sense to us, that didn't even make us happy? What does Thanksgiving mean to us? What do we want to make of it?

That question is worth being asked for each tradition, and each family, each individual, will obviously come up with their own answer. Isn't that precisely the beauty of the thing?

Of course, any tradition that fits our beliefs and preferences can happily be kept alive. Which is why we will be enjoying family gatherings and good food this weekend... and which certainly justifies stuffing ourselves with delicious pie! ;-)

Happy Thanksgiving!

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