Traditions help power the holiday season

Posted 11/28/18

As I’m writing this — in recovery from one sort of tradition — I am preparing to start in on another tradition, all as I’m looking forward to sitting down to another of my favorite traditions …

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Traditions help power the holiday season


As I’m writing this — in recovery from one sort of tradition — I am preparing to start in on another tradition, all as I’m looking forward to sitting down to another of my favorite traditions tomorrow.

‘Tis the season of traditions, those practices that we observe on a regular basis in a way that helps create certain structures in our lives. The first tradition, the one I’m recovering from, is, of course, the tradition of over eating on Thanksgiving Day and then passing out in a tryptocoma while watching football. The second tradition is the one of hanging up the Christmas lights the day after Thanksgiving, beginning the process of embracing the Season of Light.

These are the kinds of traditions that come to pass over time, and have no particular meaning, other than that the ritual is familiar and serves as guideposts along the road through the year. Thanksgiving happens, every year, the fourth Thursday of November, so the calendar does a pretty good job of marking that guidepost, but the routines of cooking, eating, passing out, and then decorating have a powerful psychological impact that sets the mood for the season ahead.

Sometimes, however, it’s hard to distinguish between a tradition and a overwrought habit. Let me give you an example. The year after I finished junior high school, O’Connell J.H.S. merged with nearby Alameda J.H.S which was closing down. And O’Connell was an old school with some very proud traditions (I know — it seems strange to think of junior high schools/ middle schools as anything other than a two-year holding ground for pre-teens, but once upon a time, Jeffco schools had thriving arts, music and interscholastic athletic programs at the middle level) which they wanted to preserve; Alameda also had some traditions.

So, in a typically half-a-loaf-mentality approach, O’Connell attempted to preserve all the traditions from both schools. It was, predictably, a mess. Trying to force-feed traditions to groups that didn’t share the history had opposite the intended effect. Neither group of students felt altogether home, neither set of traditions created the sense of community they were supposed to, and the spirit of togetherness failed altogether.

I think that situations often dictate the continuance or termination of traditions. It just doesn’t make any sense to force something to happen the way it always has when the situation around it isn’t the same as it always was. “Because that’s how we’ve always done it” is, quite possibly, the dumbest reason in the world to continue doing something once it’s meaning or utility has faltered.

Traditions, at their finest, are events and rituals that tie a community together over generations. They provide a structure and a link that is consistent from person to person, team to team, and generation to generation. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the best traditions are a way for people to “come home” to a place they are inextricably linked to, and give them the grounding to fly the nest and soar above their place. But force-feeding a tradition into a setting that is not longer meaningful diminishes the value of the tradition, and, if anything, alienates one generation from the next.

So, tomorrow, I will be planted on my couch at 9:52 a.m., looking forward to watching the third of the traditions I spoke of above: the beginning of the Ohio State-Michigan football game. And, not so much for the game, as for the traditional “dotting of the I” in the script Ohio by the OSU marching band. That is a tradition I remember from 40years ago: it will evoke in me memories of sitting on floor in my parents’ family room, watching that ritual, and then listening to my father rail against the evil that was Woody Hayes while sharing our mutual love of sport. Dad is gone now . . .

But the tradition remains, if only in my heart.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available now at, on Kindle, or through His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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