Explore the traditions found in your surroundings

Take time to explore the wealth of traditional living around you, in your family, community, school or place of work.

Teaching youth the value of tradition gives them an awareness of self, the people around them and how to understand themselves and others. They become tradition sleuths and gain skills in investigating, researching and using creativity to solve problems. Youth who take time to find out why they do the things they do, or why they react the way they do, will gain a strong sense of self in addition to the ability to set goals that are meaningful to them and their future.

Traditions are activities or objects that are passed from one generation to another. If we start a type of activity, perhaps around a holiday, it can be a tradition in the making. For instance, my family opens presents on Christmas Eve; Christmas Day is usually spent visiting friends and family. This is a family tradition that stems from the beginnings of Christianity in Poland. I also bake a special cookie whose recipe I found in a magazine – everyone expects that cookie on Christmas Day, and I have shared that recipe with family that now bakes it for their extended family and friends at Christmas as well.

My friend in Japan makes a special dish from his seaside village for his family and guests from other countries. In this way, he keeps the recipe he learned from his parents alive by passing it to his children and passing it on to friends to enjoy.

Sometimes what we are interested in becomes tradition. For instance, we may enjoy gardening and plant certain flowers, herbs or vegetables every year. We share that plan with our family, friends and neighbors. In my kitchen, I put things in my cupboards the way my mother had her kitchen laid out. It was not something I did consciously and it is not always convenient. It was only afterward that I realized I could get around my mother’s kitchen as well as I got around my own. I never asked her if that was something she did because of her mother’s kitchen. It may be a longer tradition that I can document.

Many traditions in the United States are based on the traditions brought here from other countries by our ancestors, such as the Polish Christmas tradition I spoke of earlier. Through the generations, those traditions may have been thinned or made to fit in the American culture or combined with other countries’ cultures as people married or moved into multinational neighborhoods and developed interests in folk music from South America, Japanese art, Hawaiian quilting, etc. that put them with people outside their family or neighborhoods, schools and work, making their lives richer.

Look around you and you will find traditions that may be related to cultural backgrounds, family or community.

For more information on learning more about traditions and ways of researching them find the Michigan 4-H publication "Folkpatterns."

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