05 July 2011

Tradition: A Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What traditions do you keep?"


I can't hear the word tradition without thinking of Fiddler on the Roof and poor milkman named Tevye. Tevye lived with his wife and five daughters in a shtetl in Czarist Russia at the turn of the last century.

Alfred Molina as Tevye in the 2004 revival of Fiddler on the Roof. via.

In 2004's brilliant revival of The Fiddler on the Roof, Alfred Molina and cast breathe new life into Sheldon Harnick's lyrics and weigh in on the topic of tradition.

Over the course of Fiddler, Tevye and his family deal with changing traditions that come at them from all sides. In a time when marraiges were arranged, Tevye allowed his eldest daughter to marry for love. In a time when Cossacks loyal to the Czar could pillage Jewish shtetls at will and Russian Jews accepted it as their lot, Tevye and his family leave for the United States and the promise of a better life.

The tradition they would have run into upon their arrival in New York was that Jews were summarily excluded from public life in the first part of the 20th Century, but at least they weren't being dragged from their homes in the middle of the night. But they had each other and they would have been free to practice their religions as they saw fit and to make new lives for themselves.

Tradition is one of those terms that gets loaded with a lot of nostalgia and a lot of unnecessary meaning. It's easy to sentimentalize traditions and hard to see them in a broader context. There are times when traditions provide a script to get through awkward moments. There are times when traditions provide a framework for social interaction. And there are times when traditions lock people in place and hold them to the stations where they were born.

Rituals and traditions are fascinating to study in and of themselves, but even more fascinating is watching them evolve over time. And all of them evolve over time. Even though they change, they provide a terrific opportunity to step back and remember the people who came before.

So far as traditions I keep, the first one that springs to mind is that I vote religiously. Despite the current vogue for early voting and mail-in ballots, I stand in line and exercise my right to cast a ballot in person. As distressed as I may be with an election's outcome, I always know that I stood in line and made my voice heard. Over the last ten to 15 years, getting an "I voted" sticker after I cast my ballot has become a new addition to the ritual of voting. So now I get to feel better about my role in a representative democracy and gloat over my participation at the same time.

Second to voting, another tradition I keep that springs to mind involves Christmas Eve. When my youngest brother was old enough to stop believing in Santa Claus, my family started celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve with a late dinner and we'd exchange gifts some time around midnight. I have people over every Christmas Eve and it's a continuation of that tradition my parents introduced. Some time between 11pm and midnight on Christmas Eve I stop for a second and think about the fact that all of my siblings are having a gathering at the same time I am. Each and every one of them is sitting at a table and he or she is surrounded by the people they love. No matter where our lives take us, that one moment of recognition every Christmas Eve reminds me that I came from somewhere.

Finally, just to pick a third tradition I keep, I like to bake pies and my pie baking starts in earnest with the arrival of cooler weather in November. I make my pie crusts from scratch and I follow my grandmother Stewart's recipe. It'd be easier just to buy the pre-made stuff and honestly, I think the only person who can tell that my crusts are the real thing is me. But I don't do it for the recognition. I do it as a way to remember my Gram and to keep her memory alive for another year.

So there you go. Three traditions I keep in my own way. What about you?

As the day goes on, the rest of the participants in today's Blog Off will appear miraculously at the end of this post. Keep checking back and check out everybody's posts. You can follow along in Twitter as well, just look for the hashtag #LetsBlogOff. If you'd like more information about about the Blog Off or if you'd like to see the results of previous Blog Offs, you can find the main website here.


  1. Wonderful, Paul. I love the juxtaposition of a tradition as broad and sweeping and culturally ingrained as that of Tevye and his family with that of you and your family: intimate and sweetly (not saccharinely) nostalgic. And what a great video!
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nice post Paul. Voting at the polls is our family tradition as well. I have been taking my daughters to the polls with me since they were toddlers, and they get to do the physical voting process. It's been fun for them, especially since they get the "I Voted" stickers as well. My oldest daughter is now almost 16, so just two more years before I see if she carries on the family tradition.

  3. Voting is a big tradition in my family too. This past Federal election that we had in Canada was the first time that I took me son to vote and I was really excited about it. Every election previously (up until they were young teenagers at least) I took both of my kids with me every time I voted and talked to him about what was important before every election to let them see how much thought should go into the whole process.

    My son has been bugging me lately to pass on a new tradition and take him to donate blood. It's so great to see him be so excited about being an adult and taking up some of the responsibilities thereof. :) Makes me proud.

  4. Sounds like someone did an excellent job of mothering.

  5. I like that tradition; well, both of them.
    Nice post. I thought of Fiddler on the Roof, too.

  6. I like what you had to say about Christmas Eve. I think our own traditions got lost somewhere along the way. My wife and I are childless, so after we married, we spent Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with hers. My parents are long gone, but hers are still here. But even that tradition is changing as people age. Oh, and by the bye, I would definitely know if the crust were homemade or not. My wife and I still bake homemade pumpkin pies; she does the filling, and I roll out the crusts—homemade!

  7. Never had any strong traditions growing up except for wild black raspberry pies around this time of year. I made two in the last week and both were gone within a day or two. It seems that Thanksgiving dinner is starting to be one here at our place though. We've hosted the last two years and I think I'll do it again, although this year I might start amassing decent decorations.


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