According to the Merriam Webster, tradition is defined as “the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction,” or “cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions.”
Why Do We Celebrate
For most of my life, I have held onto other traditions from different places, different people, or different eras that had no meaning to me. I practiced many traditions for no other reason except they were socially acceptable or associated with food and gathering for fun. They were annual rituals I could do at any time, anywhere, with anyone.
As I got older though, I decided to explore my personal feelings about most holidays, religion, and other traditions that seem to have a stranglehold on the masses, especially in the South.
When I was younger, I enjoyed Thanksgiving. I had no clue about the amount of time it took to prepare a meal that’s “traditionally” served. I was too young to understand how the force-fed, whitewashed history lesson of Thanksgiving and the traditions associated with the holiday was wrong. Now I know better, so I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving.
I use the day now to reflect on life, truth, humanity, Mother Nature and the suffering our ancestors endured to make the nation so many are thankful for. No longer do I worship a fairy tale. I learned family is important all the time and that I don’t need a holiday to get together to eat good food.
Free from another holiday tradition.
The same applied to the Fourth of July. I was celebrating my freedom with ribs at the lake or beach with Pepsi Cola, potato salad, and the old red, white and blue flag, clothing, hair bows etc.. As I got older (and wiser), I learned it was a long, long time after Congress actually voted to declare independence from the British Crown that my ancestors gained independence. I didn’t feel happy about that, and so I stopped celebrating the 4th of July.
I learned though I could celebrate the same way all the time. I just needed to make time to do it, even if I took my paid vacation days.
Free from another holiday tradition.
A few years ago I examined how religion, particularly Christianity went hand in hand with the slave trade. Understanding how the Bible has been used by Europeans and today Blacks to support particular views, I disliked clergy trying to Whitewash and Blackout idea of being a ‘good slave and Christian’ and support of slaves obeying their masters. I would sit in my church under our White pastor and just stew with anger because his truth (to me) was subjective. It’s the same at all churches, but this was my situation. His righteousness came with lots of arrogance and a side of racism. I resented that.
I felt the same way sitting under my Black pastor, finding it hard to understand how a people could continue to participate in a tradition that had the power to change the trajectory of their lives of their ancestors, which in turn changed their lives. To me, proselytizing had been used as a form mind control and I was too conflicted week after week to continue this tradition.
I also questioned all the bad God allowed to happen and I wasn’t so sure He was real. Why are the poor getting poorer? Why are systems unfair? Why are children being raped, and why don’t people believe them? Why are clergy allowed to continue practicing faith after abusing so many young people, ruining their lives? Where is He when all this stuff is happening? Why are people led so blindly by faith, willing to deny the bad in people to preserve their faith in a God they can’t see? Why does he allow the same things to keep happening? Why does he keep telling me to wait on my rewards and heaven?
There were no good answers for these questions., so I let it all go to the displeasure of my friends and former congregants.
They tried to make me feel like I was a traitor for not spending my excess time doing church stuff, singing praise and worship, listening to certain music, or reading a Bible. I didn’t need to go to church because Christianity influences so much of the American way of life. I cut all ties and I never looked back.
I took great practical lessons from the Bible, like how to treat people, how to treat and care for children, how to wait, patience, the importance of valuing widows, orphans, and elders and the principles of reaping and sowing. I still apply those lessons to my life.
I’m free from the tradition of practicing Christianity.
I did the same with all the religious holiday observations and national holidays on the calendar, and I determined I wanted to be free of celebrating things other people cared about. I didn’t want to be committed to traditions anymore where I was expected to buy things I really couldn’t afford, or fellowship with people I that didn’t bring me joy. I broke free.
Free from nearly all traditions. Except one, and that was Christmas.
Christmas was never a big deal for me. My mom ruined the illusion of Christmas for me. Once I had kids of my own, I participated in the illusions and tradition of Christmas. When the kids got to middle school, we decided that Christmas was about giving, not receiving, so we decided to give to others.
Eventually though, Christmas became a custom I no longer wanted to be a part of. It was commercialized and had nothing to do with the birth of a Savior.
I talked to my kids about the true meaning of Christmas and decided to do away with that tradition altogether. Eventually, I left the faith all together. I didn’t grow up worshiping any religion as a child or in my early 20’s. But pressure from people in my community shamed me and my children for not participating in it, so like most people affected by peer pressure, we joined church.
It was a roller coaster ride. From freaky and frisky pastors to mean, jealous and gossiping churchgoers, I felt like the streets were safer and much more predictable. Eventually my kids and I decided we didn’t like how the religious world treated people, in particular, us. Christians were bad for our mental and emotional health. Let’s not talk about the hypocrisy. We bounced and none of us have looked back.
It was real while it lasted, but just some relationships and seasons, they must end. We are no longer bound by someone else's traditions, unattainable godliness and unachievable goals of perfection and rules. We were free.
I learned to give gifts when I feel led to, and the gift of love and respect is more valuable than anything that could be purchased from a store.
We were free from the biggest tradition.
I spent an evening with my adult son (the troublesome one) this week and we talked about Christmas and I was quite surprised he had not picked the tradition back up now that he had kids. He told me that he gives his kids things throughout the year. He celebrates one day, and that’s his kids’ birthdays. Christmas traditions are still off the table. I was happy to hear he did not bow to the pressures of his friends, family, and my old community.
There is something freeing about saying you beat to your own drum, that you don’t feel the need to do what other people do and that you don’t care what they think about it.
The social pressures to comply with traditions are real. It’s a pleasure and a joy to have the freedom to think freely. To not worship, freely. No longer do I feel uncomfortable breaking tradition.
I wear white after labor day. I eat what I want to, I’m going to die anyway. I explore my sexuality on my own terms. I meditate when I feel like it. And I don’t try to please people. I am no longer other people to saddle me with their traditions. I travel to unsafe places, eat from dive mom and pop restaurants, and I no longer fear foods, people or places different from the ones I’m accustomed to. I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m busy being.
Upholding traditions was a lot of work on me. Shopping, cooking, cleaning, prepping food, and all the brain drain from planning and accommodating. Breaking with tradition allows me time for me, something women, mothers, and grandmothers don’t get enough of. A few workers make traditions happen for many to enjoy and remember. I’m free now.
Sometimes, traditions and beliefs stifle personal growth and development. Living life by my own rules, without traditions feels good.
Freedom from the traditions is liberty indeed.
Marley K., 2018