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Saturday, February 23

Creating Traditions

For most of us, the word "tradition" conjures thoughts of something old, something timeless.  Traditions tend to be thought of as practices that no one can remember or reliably explain the reasons for.  Turns out, it's quite the opposite.  Traditions are usually purposefully created and are rarely as ancient as we perceive them to be.  

Did you know that most family traditions only exist for the span of one or two generations?  The traditions your great-grandparents participated in are probably nothing like the ones that you participate in today.  For example, my grandmother had 9 children.  At Christmas the children's most prized gift was a full stocking.  Larger gifts under the tree were rare, but bags of cookies, small toys, books, and handmade socks were the cat's pajamas!  My mother continued the tradition of overflowing stockings as the highlight of the day when my siblings and I were young.  It was the one thing we were allowed to have before dressing for church and we savored the sweets all morning and played with the small toys during mass.  However, as the years went by our church attendance faded and our under-the-tree gifts became more elaborate.  Near the end of my time living at home our stockings were used to hold the batteries for all of our toys with a little bit of candy sprinkled on top.  When I had my son, I did not continue the tradition of stockings at all.  In the House of Mama Stacey, we simply don't hang them.

Pagans & Tradition

If you think about it, the lifespan of your average tradition makes particular sense for Pagans.  In America, modern Paganism is only about sixty years old.  Practitioners have spent those years cultivating definitions and methods for "being Pagan" along with doing research into the origins of our different flavors and paths.  This time has also been spent in the fight for tolerance and religious rights for Pagans.  

The traditions of 1950's Pagans are indeed not what Pagan families of today practice.  Mom most likely doesn't stand in the center of her family circle, sky-clad and bedecked with a glorious crown, hands raised to the heavens as the attempts to channel Brigid.  She is much more apt to be seated on the floor before the altar with a child in her lap, a cat lazily wandering in and out of circle as she teaches her little one the marvel of weaving a Brigid's cross.  And that's okay.

Left: Maxine Sanders, wife of Alex Sanders, in ritual during the 1960's.
Right: A mother and child sharing a seasonal story during a modern, relaxed sabbat.

As parents of the next generation, it is our job to fine tune things and invent traditions.

One of my favorite Pagan parenting blogs is hosted by Many Hands House, aka "The Pagan Family".  If you attend a festival anywhere in the midwest you may have even had the chance to meet Melanie, Chris and their children.  They have a reputation for down-home Paganism and are the envy of many a witchy family.  

The matron of the Many Hands clan once reflected on the evolution of traditions in her household.  She cleverly noted that our children look to us when holidays approach.  

"Your child has no preconceived notions about what should be happening .... You have creative license. But choose carefully. What you do now will be what you are doing for your grandchildren and great grandchildren." ~ Melanie of Many Hands House

We are the lead generation.  It is our job to invent traditions and show our children how to celebrate not as an isolated adult tucked inside of a coven, but as a family.  Our little ones are the second generation.  It is their job to internalize these things and, later in life, modernize and transform them for future generations. 

What is a Tradition?

When you break traditions down, they do have specific qualities.  

1.  For starters, traditions have rules.  These may be precise or vague, but they're still rules.  For instance, we don’t blow our horns and throw confetti around midnight on December 31st; this practice is strictly to be done on the exact stroke of midnight.  This is a precise rule, however timing for the American tradition of ‘spring cleaning’ is vague.  Spring cleaning can be done anytime from February to June, if one participates at all.   

2.  Further, traditions have a quality of symbolism or a ritualistic nature that is quite often void of practicality... such as the inclusion of white gloves and a sword  on a US Marine's dress uniform.  I'm sure it's been quite a while since a Marine has been challenged to a gentlemanly duel.  British cavalry uniforms still include golden spurs, even though I'm fairly certain they no longer ride horses into battle.  

3.  Traditions are invented.  They come about as a response to some sort of social change, like a parent raising their children in a new religion.  As the traditions are repeated and ritualized, they create their own history.  As time goes by, people will dig into history and link new traditions to something from antiquity as a means of creating heritage and thereby stability.  In a chaotic world, this is how our traditions ground us and extend to us a sense of security.  

4.  And finally, traditions must be purposefully repeated.  How else do they become traditions?  

Inventing Your Own Traditions

Do you have to dye eggs at the Equinox?  No, but you should have some sort of craft or activity that you and your children partake in every  Ostara.  

In her blog, Melanie went on to comment that she can't remember exactly how a majority of their family's sabbat traditions started.  She wasn't even sure what traditions her family had until her grown children visited for Yule one year and asked to make "sun sandwiches", something she and her husband had thrown together on a whim well over a decade before.  

So, as time goes by, even if you don't remember, know that your children will.  For Many Hands House, candle making and Vegetarian Irish Stew will be celebrated in their home at Imbolc for many generations simply because that is what her children recognize as hallmarks of the day.   

Doodle Bug's first year in the top bunk, Mabon 2010.
In the House of Mama Stacey, Doodle Bug knows that we spend Mabon at a cabin in the woods, crafting, baking, and hiking.  He knows that no matter what, we always spend Yule in our pajamas and host a huge day-long open house and buffet for local Pagan families to gather.  Our newest bundle of joy will grow up in a home where the first family cookout of the year is always held on Ostara.  

What will you create for your children and your children's children?

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