As I get older, there's one thing that becomes increasingly important to me: tradition. In general, I love traditions. Family traditions, cultural traditions, religious traditions, the list goes on. There's something great about many traditions that are handed down, or even ones that become traditions because, well, something was so fun once that we should do it over and over. Traditions also help establish a rhythm to life. There are traditions associated with seasons as well - apples and pumpkins in the fall, Christmas trees and decorations in the winter, and something or other has to be traditional in the spring and summer... I'm just not thinking very creatively about those seasons right now apparently. But the point is, tradition can be a very good thing.
But I've been thinking a little bit as well about tradition in the negative sense. How many times have you discovered that what is wrong with a certain situation is simply a tradition that someone can't seem to let go of? How many churches have split over "traditional vs. contemporary" styles of services, or at least had huge fallouts with letting the declining summer children's Vacation Bible School take a year off to regroup and get stronger? Tradition can become an obsession, and not just for old people. Often times it's little kids who have the hardest time letting go of something they've come to love (even if tradition to little kids is like two or three times).
So, how do we tell the difference between a healthy practice of tradition and an unhealthy dependence (worship, maybe?) of tradition?
There are a few things that come to mind:
First, ask yourself why you are so committed to the tradition. Is it because you thoroughly enjoy it or because you associate self-worth with the tradition?
Second, if the tradition seems to be declining in value for the participants, think about either replacing it or letting it go altogether. For example, if the children aren't as thrilled with the yearly trip to the zoo every first weekend of October, come up with a new family tradition. Or, make it a point to do something every year on that weekend but make it different each year.
Third, pay attention to the emotions that come up when the conversation about ceasing a tradition comes up. Are you defensive? Agitated? Cynical to that point that you swear nothing else could possibly be as good as what you've done for the last decade? If so, you've drifted into the realm of unhealthy dependence on tradition.
All in all, traditions are great. Every time of year brings new traditions for me. When we were in Northern CA, the tradition was to go to Apple Hill at least once in the fall and check out the orchards, wineries, and markets. Now that Fall has officially arrived and we're in Portland, it's time to find a new apple orchard... or perhaps abandon the orchard idea for an Oregonian's fall past time. Now I just have to figure out what that would be.