Tradition, tradition! Tradition!
Tradition, tradition! Tradition!
(Tradition Chorus, Fiddle on the Roof)
In the beginning of the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Teyve provides a singing monologue about “tradition”. He speaks of “tradition” as the mortar that has kept the small village of Anatevka . . . that has given the village and the people “balance”. The musical story deals with the pressure of the outside world encroaching upon Teyve’s and the village’s “traditions” . . . three daughters who go against the customs and traditions of the faith and community to choose their own husbands . . . the Russian Tsar that evicts the people from the village that they call home as political unrest shakes Russia. The musical and the story begins with “tradition”.
Teyve preaches: “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything. How to sleep. How to eat. How to work. How to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do.” In the mind and heart of Teyve traditions provide the “roots” . . . the mortar . . . and the balance for life . . . and, as long as everything keeps its rightful place, life is good. Little does Teyve know at the start of the musical and story that life is about to throw him and everyone else in his world . . . in Anatevka . . . a curve ball that severely challenges the balance and understanding of “tradition”.
Fiddler on the Roof has been one of my favorite musicals since I was a kid. I love the music . . . I love the story. As I have grown older, I have loved the way it has made me stop and think about “tradition” . . . about being a parent . . . about being family . . . community . . . and, what God expects from me in the world that seems to be constantly changing and challenging that which brings “balance” in life. Fiddler on the Roof is a classic that reaches across the generations urging us to pause and consider the changing world in which we live . . . to consider our “traditions” . . . to consider whether or not they are “set in stone”.
On Facebook recently a friend posted that he needed tradition. He stated: “Why I need tradition: It makes me feel good. It is not a dirty word. How cold and dull the world would be without it. I do not equate tradition with absolute truth. I don't care if it's incorrect historically, ideologically or any other way. Give me a turkey and a Christmas tree.” Kind of reminded me of Teyve when trying to explain how “tradition” started . . . “I don’t know”, but you get the feeling that it sure made him feel good . . . to know that he had “roots” . . . that he had an anchor in the storms of life . . . that there was balance in the world and life was good. And, I don’t disagree with either Teyve or my friend . . . “tradition” is a central part of who we are as individuals, families, communities, and as the children of God.
But . . .
. . . what are we to do when the world around us begins to challenge our “traditions” . . . begins to encroach on our “traditions” . . . begins to upset our “balance” . . . our world as we have known it. When I read my friend’s statement about the need for tradition . . . in particular a turkey for Thanksgiving and a tree for Christmas . . . it got me to thinking . . . got me a little uncomfortable . . . made me stop and consider my own “traditions” in the shadow of change.
When it comes to Thanksgiving . . . well, I am not a big traditionalist. Thanks to the wife going on a health kick and pushing chicken and turkey as the food to keep us alive . . . I cannot tolerate either unless they are deep fat fried with the skin on and dripping with grease . . . or smothered in lots (and, I mean LOTS) of gravy. I shudder when I think about turkey for Thanksgiving. Give me a nice medium rare steak and I can think of a hundred reasons why I am thankful. Turkey . . . well, it’s for the birds. I whole-heartedly agree with the president’s annual pardon for the turkey. So, if turkey is a “tradition” that makes Thanksgiving . . . Thanksgiving . . . then I am not much of a traditionalist. Same goes for pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, yams, and corn bread dressing (or stuffing depending on which part of the country you are living in). Thank goodness . . . and, thank God . . . for wine. It makes the “traditional” Thanksgiving meal we will devour go down a whole lot smoother. In the Keener household, the non-traditionalist loses out year after year after year.
When I asked my wife and others, “Why?” I never receive an answer that really answers the question. At least Teyve is honest when he says, “I don’t know.” Usually what I get is . . . because. Because we have always done it that way. Remember the family that had the “tradition” of cutting the ends off the ham before cooking it. When the daughter hosting the feast asked her mother why they did it that way, the mother answered, “I don’t know, but that is what your grandmother always did. Ask her.” She then asks her grandmother, who basically says that is what her mother did . . . but, the great-grandmother is still alive—in a nursing home . . . ask her. And, so she does.
Great-grandmother goes on to explain: “When your great-grandfather and I first got married we did not have much. We bought a ham but it was too big for the pan . . . so we cut the ends off so that it would fit into the pan.” Tradition!
Makes you think.
Years ago . . . and, probably not even that long ago . . . the great political ploy during the elections was “family values”. It seemed that every politician was running on the platform of “family values” . . . they all promised that if they were elected they would bring back “family values”. It sounded wonderful and the people got excited . . . who doesn’t believe in “family values”? It sounded good, but no one was asking . . . whose “family values”? Looking at the lives of a lot of the politicians running for office, I sure did not want their “family values”. So, whose “family values”? Yours? Mine? Theirs? I think that it is the same when it comes to “traditions”.
Makes you think.
Makes me feel like Teyve in Fiddler on the Roof. I guess that is why I like the musical and story so much . . . I can identify with Teyve as he faces the changes and challenges to those things that give to him root and balance. Life is not stagnant . . . life is growing . . . growth means change. Who among us likes change? We are all Teyve when it comes to change in that which we believe to be the core essence of who we are . . . an essence often defined by our “traditions”.
Around the “traditions” that we observe in the celebrations and milestones of our lives we believe that there is a thread that runs through all of us and when pulled it brings us together . . . together as family, community, and even nation. Yet, I am not sure any more. I am not sure that it is the “tradition” that draws us together . . . none of us celebrates Thanksgiving in quite the same way . . . some eat turkey, some eat ham, some prefer steak, and others are vegetarians . . . some say grace as the family gathers around an elaborately decorated table, others sit in front of the television—meals on tv trays . . . no two celebrations are the same. Yet, we are all observing and celebrating the giving of thanks . . . Thanksgiving. If all of our “traditions” are different, then what is it that draws us together.
For a while the wife and I observed the “traditions” of our separate families . . . attempted to combine them in order to honor our heritage and families . . . and, eventually we gave up and started our own “traditions”. Our parents did the same thing . . . and, now our children are doing the same. They are creating their own “traditions” around the holidays and the way that they do things. And, it is okay. It is okay because it is not the “tradition” that brings us together . . . it is not the “tradition” that defines us as a family . . . it is not the “tradition” that brings to us our roots or balance. Towards the end of the musical and story, Teyve learns this . . . he learns that the thread that keeps it all together—despite the changes and challenges—is rooted in love. At the threat of losing his daughters for forever he lets “tradition” go out the window. He acknowledges that it is love that keeps them together.
As I gather with my family for Thanksgiving it will not be the dreaded turkey that brings me to the table or the presence of my wife and children . . . it will be the fact that I love each and every one of them. As we each give witness to that which we are thankful it will not be words of blessing for the food (though we are thankful for it) . . . but it will be love . . . true love that goes beyond the good and the bad within each of us . . . love that loves despite . . . For this love I am thankful.
I do not know or understand why I or anyone else celebrates the “traditions” that we do, but I do understand that it is in the gathering of those I love that I find the greatest joy . . . the greatest satisfaction . . . and, the root of all that makes me who I am . . . and, who you are. It is the people that makes the “tradition” . . . the foundation of all that Jesus taught came down to love . . . love the Lord . . . love your neighbor. For that I am thankful. That is one “tradition” I can wrap my heart and life around no matter how much the world wants me to change . . . love. For that I am thankful. TRADITION!