The Trouble With Traditions
Joe Clark ~~ Dec 23, 2005

There was a two-week period or so after Thanksgiving this year when I was having fun listening to Christmas songs and thinking about the Christmas season. But as it got closer, other things were going on in life, and somewhere the joy of the season slipped by me. Now, it is nearly here, and I'm not really very excited about it. There are the usual reasons, like the commercialization of the season or the Santa-ification of Christmas or the typical lines repeated on, for example, newscasts ("Santa is being tracked by NORAD radar"), or just a winter blah-ness inspired by rarely seeing the sun for more than 15 minutes at a time. But those are typical reasons, and I probably don't need to say anymore about them here. I want to explore another reason for my thoughts right now, namely, traditions and how I relate to them in this season...

So, first off, a general observation. My thoughts change. A lot. Frequently. So it is entirely possible that my thoughts today will be different tomorrow or the next day. I suppose I'm in one of those phases where I'm evaluating a lot of things in life, and so it's hard to be sure that my thoughts today are really my "philosophy of life." But having said that, I think there is a bit of JoeTruth to my thoughts today (a pattern that periodically comes up in my thinking). If I take the time to write it down, there should be some valuable bit of timeless personality to glean here, right?

Okay, so I have a problem with traditions. The primary problem is that I don't see a lot of traditions in my family or, to a lesser degree, in my life overall, especially when it comes to Christmas. My parents never made a big deal out of traditions; one reason was that my dad worked holidays a lot, so it was hard to make a big deal out of them. On the other hand, we did have patterns to what we did -- we would open presents on Christmas morning, and then just "hang out" for a period of time after that. But that's not much of a tradition, really, not anything spectacular. And, now that my mom has passed away, and my dad and I don't make a big deal out of gifts, there's not much left to be traditional about.

Another thing contributing to my nontraditional-ness is the fact that my immediate family consists of 2, and my close extended family consists of basically 3 (possibly 6, but the other 3 have never typically done stuff with us for Christmas). So, if I do stuff with my dad, well, that's the same as any other day could be. If I do stuff with my dad & Grandma, that's kinda special, but again it's something that we could do most any other day. And, the fact is, when we do get together for Christmas, we don't do anything too unusual -- just go out to eat or otherwise "hang out." Not very traditional.

I suppose one possible response would be, "Well, start a tradition then." Maybe I'm just biased, but I just don't think my dad or my grandma are very tradition-loving people. Like, they would do it, but I would be the one making it a tradition. And aren't the older generations supposed to pass the traditions down, not the other way around? I know, sounds like a copout. It's almost as if I lock myself into this pattern of nontraditional life just because I don't want to be the one to make the effort to instigate change. For some reason this reminds me of what people tell me a lot, "You need to move out on your own." <sigh>

After all that, the primary result is that I feel alienated from other people with their cool traditions, and I feel alienated in conversations talking about cool holiday traditions. I can talk about how we'll go out to eat, but.. that's not very glamorous, and not very interesting. I guess I try hard to convince myself (and other people) that my life isn't boring. And I come up with some cool thoughts toward that end. But to look at my day to day life, in the right frame of reference it could look pretty boring.

Here's another level of overanalysis. I think I'm a minimalist. When I lived in a dorm and prepared my own food in the summer of 2000, I prided myself on using only one bowl and probably only one spoon, and never using a stove. I decided that you don't need milk to make macaroni and cheese, therefore you don't really need a refrigerator. And, "I don't need no stinkin dish soap." That kind of rugged outdoorsy mindset never completely left me. I still like reusing dishes rather than washing them (within reason). But, taking that idea to an extreme, the minimalist approach doesn't work in "normal" or "cultured" life. Normal people don't just eat beans and say it's "healthy and good enough." Normal people heat their spaghetti sauce. Normal people use something other than plastic bowls. So being minimalist is cool if you live on your own in Montana, or apparently if you live with your dad who doesn't care, but it doesn't work so well otherwise.

Being a minimalist leads well into the problem with traditions in two ways. If I am a minimalist, I can say that I don't need to waste time on the "cultured" things in everyday life, and instead I can take that time to go ponder the universe or reflect on God's glory or whatever. In that way, I can say that I don't need a tradition to remind me of whatever cool thing I'm supposed to be remembering, since I take time daily to remember the finer points in life. However, I don't actually go ponder the universe that often, sadly, and even in the "finer points" I can miss a lot of things, so this isn't a valid excuse for not having traditions.

Second, I think I've learned this minimalist trend from my parents and grandparents, so none of us makes a lot of effort to formulate and sustain traditions. [The effects of this minimalism could relate to other areas of life too, but... one topic at a time GOSH.] Because we're all sort of nonchalant about it, traditions aren't formed and kept, and we go on about our days in and out without a lot of distinction. As long as the days are exciting and interesting as they come and go, I suppose that's all right. But if the days get bogged down in "just-the-same-as-the-last-200-days" syndrome, then we would be wise to set some days apart just to break up the monotony. Who's thinking about the Sabbath day right now?

Well, this has been a fun brain dump. Maybe you've followed it and it made some sense. I keep thinking one of these times I'll exquisitely capture everything that's in my mind and I'll be able to pinpoint just what my exact problem is in any particular area and be able to address it. But alas, more often I just seem to say what's floating through my brain at a particular instant, independent from what might be there in the next hour or day. Maybe I should have taken a psychology class in college.

[Generic Philosophy of Joe Time] I suppose I have this quest to truly understand what motivates the internal conversations I have with myself on any number of topics. What are the foundational truths of Joeism that motivate the rest of my conscious thinking? I waver on my observations of those foundational truths. Selfish? Selfless? Altruistic? Lonely? Scared? Doubting? Excited? And do those words even describe foundational ideas? Who knows? Sometimes I wonder if I really get closer to being aware of those foundational ideas, or if I just go round and round thinking my thoughts year after year. Even if I did discover the foundational issues, would that help me to be able to *transform* myself should I find my foundations to be out of balance? [I know, Jesus does the transforming.] Anyway, it's an introspective playground, and one day I'll either figure it all out or realize that I never will and just get over my little overanalyzing games.

So, to try to reclaim my topic again... traditions... if you have them, enjoy them. :-) If you don't have them, develop them if you can. And, have a Merry Christmas.