As a kid growing up in western Connecticut, there was no holiday tradition I more joyfully ridiculed than the WPIX (Channel 11) “Yule Log”. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, this was a NYC station that played a continuous loop shot of a yule log burning in a fireplace accompanied by Christmas carols as further ambient setting. A Google search tells me that this was such a big hit with viewers it ran Christmas Eve and Christmas morning from 1966 until 1989— meaning an entire generation of us got to relish in this stroke of programming genius, whether mockingly or not!
As the holiday season approaches this year, I have found myself unusually wistful about the “olde days” and “olde ways”, including that ubiquitous log. I told my son about it, knowing that he would laugh uproariously at the absurdity, which he gratifyingly did. Then he asked, “Who on earth would watch such a thing???”
He is a child who is growing up in a wooded New England suburb just as I did, where nearly every house has a fireplace and a stereo system (in my day) or streaming music (in his). So I explained to him that WPIX served the city, where most kids did not have a fireplace and the yule log might have been as important a part of their holiday tradition as building a fire is for ours. Those same kids, now adults, might be raising a family in a city somewhere and wistfully remembering those seemingly innocent days, just as I am.
Traditions are funny things; even something as cheesy as the yule log can become so entrenched and ingrained in our psyches that it almost becomes part of the soul of the family, the community, the nation. Like the President pardoning the turkey on Thanksgiving, like the ball dropping in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, traditions are not just “how things are done”, they are a little piece of who we actually are. That is why “breaking with tradition” can be an incredibly painful thing to do, even though it usually is the result of healthy growth.
For the most part, a tradition is a cozy thing, a warm blanket of nostalgia that ties the past to the present in comforting ways. Traditions tell a story we believe is worth sharing, worth keeping alive, worth passing down. Traditions help us maintain the illusion of sameness, while the world around us spins ever faster with change.
But some traditions, as wonderful as they are, are meant to be outgrown like Santa Claus; not discarded, necessarily, but incorporated into our psyches in a more mature way. Some traditions become hopelessly anachronistic and devolve into little more than charming ritual. Other traditions, like celebrating Columbus Day or building monuments to confederate soldiers, with time and new information become entirely inappropriate.
In order for our traditions to soulfully represent us, they must be capable of changing as we do. This can be a bitter pill to swallow for most; when life gets rocky or uncertain, we look to our traditions to ground us as a bed rock beneath our feet. But without change there is no growth…without growth, stagnation and eventually entropy.
This month we are talking about traditions, the ones that anchor us and the ones we are learning to leave behind. We are, as a nation, going through some incredibly painful growing pains as we challenge old traditions such as opposite-sex only marriage by allowing our hearts and minds to open to a more inclusive society. At the same time we are struggling to maintain our manifest traditions of religious freedom, freedom of speech and a culture once affectionately termed “The Great American Melting Pot”.
As we grapple with discerning which traditions serve us well, which need to be incorporated in a more mature way and which we need to discard altogether, Shareen and I encourage our readers and writers alike to be a part of this discussion on OTV and elsewhere. And we thank you for helping us create and maintain a fluid platform for ideas, sharing and growth. We hope to continue our tradition of speaking for open hearts and minds everywhere for many years to come.
Peaceful holidays to all, Kara