The Necessity For Tradition To Transform

In the convention of bringing something new to discussion, I would like to bring up something as old as civilization itself. Tradition is generally thought of as a fixed set of cultural rites, actions and relationships that pass on from one generation to the next, with a fixed power dynamic on those who create the tradition, and those that follow it.

The very word of ‘tradition’ leads us to believe that its something that does not change, that it maintains itself though time and preserves the intents of our forefathers. In our family there is a number of traditions that are not necessarily religious in nature but nevertheless are still held “sacred”. That is, experiences that we share (or used to share) on a regular basis with strong adherence and with lasting emotional and psychological impact from the performance of them. One of these is pizza night on Fridays while watching a movie with my family. Arising shortly after my arrival to the US, It became an outlet whereby I could project the knowable aspects of culture I was acquainted with in Colombia when contrasted with the powerlessness I felt during the uniquely different American experience of living. By exploring this tradition, the emotions it brought forth and impact its had on my life, I would like to know what have been the core processes and desires that have kept this tradition so close to my heart and maintained its presence within my family even till today. Furthermore, I acknowledge that the way this tradition is celebrated has changed with the passing of time, while still providing the same familial connections, projection of joys, and anticipation of future celebrations. In this tradition, I have come to see how my current experiences and relationships with my family have become a living remembrance to the values and experiences that the original tradition sought to promote and the sense of comfort it brought in uncertain times. Though its outward appearance has changed, it has maintained its same emotional value in building relationship within the family, and therefore ensured that the tradition has relevance and gets successfully passed down forward into time.

A critical part of ensuring a lasting tradition is for those who engage in it to have a sense of fulfillment from performing it. In other terms, we’re not going to repeatedly do something on our own free will that we don’t like doing. In the case of our pizza night tradition, the satisfaction of performing this tradition came in different ways, both in the short-run and the long-run. The actual origin of this tradition grew very organically. Being new to school, having a shy personality and not having many friends, made the prospects of having delicious, homemade pizza while watching a movie seemed like a great time to have (and still does). The tradition of pizza on Fridays brought comfort to me in the form of a guaranteed pleasure: I was able to put any topping of my choosing to my pizza, watch a recent release that we’d get from pay-per-view, and pass this time in the company of my mother and sister instead of being my myself. During the course of preparing the pizza, my mother would share stories about how the family was doing back in Colombia, which I always found very entertaining. Other times my sister would relate about the strange behavior of her friends in school & tennis, which we joked heartily about. Serious talk was very rare. But the reason I was truly attracted to this event runs deeper: It was critical that my family were specifically involved in this tradition in order for me to find that happiness in the tradition. Having to live in a completely different country away from your own takes getting used to and brings discomfort along the way: It was not so much the different faces, places or even language, but the culture, that became the biggest obstacle to overcome. People behaved differently and reacted differently. They had different ideals from Colombia —the most popular kids were those who partied at clubs in south beach, not the ones who danced the best salsa or threw the best parties on family farms. The unfamiliar brought unknowability, which brought feelings of powerlessness when confronted with these unknowns.   Being with my family therefore, allowed me to reclaim some of that lost power of the knowable and recognition of the familiar, which, by the very word itself, connects the idea between the family, the recognizable and comfort with the knowable. By experiencing a familiar situation with knowable circumstance within my power to control, the pizza night tradition became a way for me to reclaim that satisfaction of knowability I used to have in Colombia and incentivized me to repeat this process the next week, month or year.

The other aspect of this tradition that gave it lasting emotional value was the fact that it was frequently recurring, and provided me the chance to look past my current realities to become emotionally involved in upcoming ones. Many traditions (such as thanksgiving) are held only once a year or far-in-between. Our pizza night tradition in contrast, was performed every week. It wasn’t a simple mark on the yearly calendar, it became a weekly goal, an event to look forward to and worth spending effort in the meantime in order to attain it. I could project the joys I experienced in this event during the school week, count the days or hours before this seemingly mundane event for a culmination of reclaiming the power of the knowable (as was previously discussed) and have the chance to reflect back on the week in a light-hearted way. The laughs and positive receptivity I got from my family that was missing from my acquaintances in school provided me something to look as I went through the week. As Victor E. Frankl wrote in his groundbreaking Man’s Search For Meaning, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” The pizza night tradition would sometimes become a “why” for me to work towards during the week. I have a vivid imagination, and can place myself out of my current place into a new situation with different sensations, pleasures; in doing so, I was able to project that future joy and expectation into the present, enabling me to forget for a while whatever strenuous work I was be performing at the time. This projection lifted up the upcoming pizza night into an especially important event aside from any regular event, such as a night out or just a mindless scrolling through Facebook in bed. My memory and imagination would embellish the good times I would have during this pizza night, and therefore take on an aura above its actual enjoyment, as fantasies and imagination usually do. The event therefore, could be held up as a tradition in the sense that it stood above any other average day, weighed with considerable emotional and psychological expectation to absorb temporary discomfort of adjusting to a new cultural situation which I had little to no power to control.

Now that I’m in college, the pizza night tradition is not performed as frequently (given that the family meets a couple of times a year), but the emotions of a an assured knowability in the place of the unknown that the tradition embodies has remained. The original intentions (probably intended by my mother) of this tradition was to unite my sister and I through these activities of socialization. As the popular saying goes, “repetition creates habit, habit creates character, character becomes who you are.” The frequency of these traditions became an expected occurrence, and thereafter a part of my identity. The discussions and trust that were established in those nights continue to be firmly present today in my habits, emotional attachments, and perhaps some nostalgia. These habits manifest in the way I call them everyday, in trusting them with personal matters, in resuming our tradition whenever we are together again. My sister in turn has reciprocated these same habits by passing on the Friday night pizza tradition to her roommates in college. I even sent her last week some plastic plates cut out like pizza slices, in hopes that she’ll use it for her pizza nights and continue on the tradition. As these examples show, the pizza nights continue to be alive, to be present in my family’s life through the emotions and connections it established at first and continue to create. Though not necessarily done in the same way as before, the core character of the tradition (namely, the building of comfort and familiarity over the unknowable) is still vibrant and has found new ways to be communicated in our daily lives.

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