A number of years ago I went to see a production of Fiddler on the Roof at a local theatre. Since then, every so often I catch the movie, usually at some point after the beginning or midway thru, on television. In fact, it has become somewhat of a regular occurrence for me to see or listen to at least part, if not all, of Fiddler on the Roof once or twice a year…Ah, tradition!
As this past year wound down and we moved from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, tradition has been very much in the air. I guess it is every year though. However, as I live and breathe, and think about tradition, I cannot help but “feel” tradition.
Tradition is so much more than the same thing over and over, and over. The heart and soul of it is the spirit of it…the sentiment, memories and feelings that accompany tradition. It is not all about keeping everything the same as it was before, but rather about coming together in the same spirit as before.
Continuing to ponder tradition, I envision the lighting of the torch at the Olympic Games. While the games always start with the lighting of the torch and end with the extinguishing of the flame, these two events and pretty much everything in between are never really the same from one Olympic Games to another. The location, costumes, and uniforms change. Sometimes variations are made to the rules or scoring rubrics and events are added or dropped.
As I sit with this image, it seems to me that one surefire way to kill a tradition is to keep it unchanged, year after year, after year. As time goes by, the focus may shift from the spirit of the tradition to the material of the tradition (the things and steps involved in making it all happen the same way). When that happens, the Spirit is shutout and the decline begins. Then tradition cannot help but lose what makes it special, becoming rote and more of a chore than something to which one looks forward or wants to embrace and celebrate.
Simply put, without substance and without room for change or growth, anything, even the most cherished tradition, will eventually become extinct. All things evolve.
“Tradition, which is always old, is at the same time ever new because it is always reviving – born again in each new generation, to be lived and applied in a new and particular way…Tradition nourishes the life of the spirit; convention merely disguises its interior decay.” – Thomas Merton