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Tradition Must Make Sense
By Barrington H. Brennen, 2002


Question: Dear Sir: There are many traditions in our family. But they do not seem to make sense. Sometimes my family members are afraid to depart from these traditions. Shouldnít traditions make some sense?

Answer: Tradition, according to Random House Websterís College Dictionary is "the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, and customs, or, a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting." All the definitions I researched do not mention anything about the rightness or wrongness of tradition. Tradition is simply something you do because you were taught it. Now, that does not mean that there are no traditions based on solid reasoning and good Christian principles. There are many good traditions. However, tradition itself has been one of the main culprits for family discord. Especially when persons involved refuse to view something in a different way. The common response is "we have been doing it that way in our family for years, and no one is going to change it now."

There are people who get sick because they inherited a family traditional method of cooking. Many times, they do not realize that the diabetes that caused the death of their grandfather, uncle, and mother was not due to genetic inheritance, but rather a poor inherited cooking tradition.

On the other hand, tradition does provide a sense of security and safety. There should be family traditions and rituals, but as time changes, even good family traditions may need revision. Do not change for the sake of changing. Rather, have an open mind and heart. Some good family traditions are going to church together, praying, playing and eating together. Do you know why your families do the things they do? Do you know where society obtains some of its tradition and practices? Let us look at a few.

Did you know that about one hundred years ago when someone sent a letter to a friend, the friend paid the postage stamps when he or she received it? Many charitable organizations saved a lot of money with this system. However, soon postal offices were left with so many unwanted, unpaid-for-letters that the postal service accrued losses. Therefore, today everyone who sends a letter to someone must pay for the postage. This tradition makes a lot of good sense.

Why are wedding rings worn on the third finger? Many years ago people thought there was a separate vein, which connected the third finger of the left hand to the heart. So when a young woman promised a young man her heart, he slipped a wedding ring on the third finger of the left hand. We now know there is not connection between this one finger and the heart, but the tradition still remains. We do know that the wearing of the wedding band adds no value to the marriage. It does not guarantee couple togetherness. Married people who wear wedding bands get divorced too. The wedding band is only a symbolic token of the marriage.

It has become a custom for a man and a woman, when they become married to take a wedding trip, we call the "honeymoon." Where could such a strange word have come from? It was the practice of the ancients to drink a certain kind of wine made with honey for thirty days after they were married. The ancient referred to thirty days as a "moon." So they drank the wine for "moon days" (month) The moon has always been associated with lovers and their romances, and romance with a marriage; so the moon or month after marriage has come to be called the "honeymoon." So it is only a tradition. I know of couples who wasted thousands of dollars because of this tradition. If they only knew that they did not have to stay the entire four weeks. The honeymoon was an enduring episode of daily routines. What a painful experience! They used up all the honey and were only left with the moon.

Have you ever wondered why do people wear black when a loved one dies? This is certainly something that can be a sore point for many Bahamian families. Some people would make you believe that itís scriptural, or sacrilegious if you donít wear black when your spouse dies. Hundreds of years ago, when someone died, the relative feared that the ghost of the one who had died would return and do them harm. Hence, they tried to disguise themselves so the returning ghost would not know them. At first, they pasted their faces with mud, and later begun to wear a black veil. Then with this black veil came other garments. So wearing black at funerals is only a tradition. Maybe when an elderly person dies, we should feel free to celebrate the long life of the deceased by wearing happy, cheerful colors. Thatís a good tradition we can start in our country. Some families insist that when a close relative dies, they must wear black for a certain period of time. Perhaps, this is also a meaningless tradition.

In the olden days, girls who were planning to be married spent a great deal of their time spinning and weaving linen and cloth. From this cloth, they made their wedding gowns and other articles which they used in the wedding and their new home. Since all the girls were so busy "spinning" they were called "spinsters." Thus unmarried women are still called (at least by some people) "spinsters." Thatís one tradition that has changed.

Why do we always shake with our right hand? This custom comes down to us from the time when almost everyone carried a sword or knife. If a person met someone whom he thought might not be a friend, he immediately grasped his sword with his right hand, ready to protect himself. But when he met a friend, he extended the right hand to show that he did not have a knife or sword in that hand. So we still follow that tradition of shaking hands, though we have long ago ceased carrying swords. I wonder what did the left-handed people do in those days.

Perhaps the greatest tradition in many (Bahamian) families lies within the marriage bedroom. Couples would spend many years with the old traditional ways of making love, showing expressions of kindness and tenderness until the love pot runs dry. Many times the marriage needs a change of tradition. Maybe add a mirror in a strategic spot over or in front of the bed. Or, change the color of the light. Or in some cases, add some more light. I often say to couples that perhaps they need to move love making out of the bedroom in the living room. (Not when guests or children are around). The car parked under a dark tree in a no-manís territory certainly can be refreshing to a married coupleís love life. But if you are hooked on tradition, your love life may always remain dull and dry. Remember variety is the spice of life.

At wedding ceremonies, the tradition is for the man to respond to the question "Who gives this woman to be married to this man" in a proud, stuck-out-chess-fashion with the words "I do." That tradition is far becoming irrelevant in the world of equality and mutuality in marriage. It is often better when both parents of both the bride and groom respond to the question: "Who give these children to be married?" with the words in unison "We do." This concept displays the true picture of total involvement of both parents in the nurture and growth of their children.

Perhaps another foolish tradition in many Christian church weddings is the ceremonial standing of the bridal party during the service. I have witnessed many bridesmaids and groomsmen faint after standing so long. Thirty years, ago I attended a wedding where a groom fainted at the knees of his bride. They were standing for more than two hours. Once again, if a tradition cannot be changed, then it is not worth keeping.

Another tradition that burns a hole in our pocket is the giving of gifts during Christmas time. Families believed that the giving of gifts would bring them together. So they would borrow money from the bank each year just to supply their family members with a lavish Christmas. This is one tradition worth abrogating. When family members come for Christmas dinner, and you do not have the finances to provide a gift of all twenty of them, you can break the tradition and let them know before hand that this year you will be unable to buy gifts for everybody. This is far better than borrowing money and placing yourself in financial trouble.

To keep our (Bahamian) families alive, let us be willing to examine our traditions and hold on to those that will build our families and communities and relinquish those that can weaken or destroy.

Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to barringtonbrennen@gmail.com or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org  or call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002.






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April 26, 2000, TAGnet/NetAserve / Network Solutions

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