I have been wondering about traditions the last few days. Until a few seconds ago, I really couldn’t work out why we have traditions, what is the point? I am going to try and forget my recent thoughts for a bit though. Now I feel the need to point out that I am only thinking from my point of view, I am not making any judgements against anybody else.
My birthday comes around and people seem to think it is special but it feels like just another day to me and I don’t like being the centre of attention so leave the present on the table please and disappear. I have come to the conclusion that this indifference is due to having no memory of the event and no follow up parties. Birthdays start out as being celebrations for the parents and I guess that joy needs to be transmitted to the child somehow. I do like getting presents it is just that most of them tend to be disappointing.
My liver transplant however is a different kettle of fish (how does that phrase mean what it does?). I can distinctly remember before and after the operation (thankfully not during). The operation saved my life and in a real sense to me, I was given a second chance at life. I have tonnes of respect for everybody involved (there is actually a scary number of people involved when I think about it) and there is a lot accessible emotion too. Even then at the years go on, I feel less and less inclined to celebrate my new life personally though three reasons tell me I should. First, a person died to allow me to live and I am always aware than if I am celebrating, then another family is mourning and whilst I know those things are opposite, I think that the life that sacrifice enabled, should be celebrated. Second there is the respect for the NHS and all who serve in her, who kept me alive up to, during, after the operation, and continue to support my life now. All I do is pay my taxes which full far short of the real cost of all the procedures. Finally the anniversary of my transplant allows those closest to me to acknowledge the hardship they went through and come to terms with it. In a sense my transplant anniversary is a celebratory commemoration.
When I think about celebrations that mean something to me, aside from personal ones, it is the ones that commemorate things that spring to mine. In the UK the Remembrance Sunday is the second Sunday in November which remembers the First World War Armistice which happened on the 11th November 1918. From its original focus on those who died in WW1, it now commemorate all those who have died in the service of their country in any war. Personally whether I believe in war or not, I think it is tremendously important to respect the sacrifice of these lives and all those prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country. I believe in learning from history, not repeating it, and if remembering the cost in human terms reduces the number of wars then it needs to be done. Personally I don’t have much sense of country, it a concept that is hard to grasp for me but perhaps that is best left for another time. There is a sense then that lives given in the cause of greater good (or perhaps a perceived greater good, for not everyone will agree) is the essence of remembrance.
So it would seem that focusing on death for me is a good reason for a tradition. That would explain why I don’t see the point of celebrating some famous composers birth, whereas the death does make sense. After all at the end of one’s life a person’s accomplishments can be see and judged (though I am uncomfortable with that world) and I can be sad that no more music, say, is going to be produced by them. Nobody knows what someone is going to accomplish when they are born. That suggests that accomplishments are important too then.
Living people too make accomplishments and indeed we do celebrate these things. The Nobel prizes springs to mind and I guess the awarding of the Nobels is a tradition I respect. I guess the Oscars is a tradition too but I am not convinced the way the Oscars are short-listed and awarded is something I respect (what happened to Arrival and Amy Adams this year?). Realistically any award given annually is probably limited through the practicality of coming to a decision.
Okay what about other traditions then? Here in the UK we have the Oxford and Cambridge Universities boat races (men and women) and I was going to criticise it for only being those two universities but I see it started in 1829 when of the seven universities that existed in the UK, all the others were in Scotland (not hard to understand why a disproportionate number of Scots made a mark on the world in the Nineteenth Century). I have no idea what made it so popular but sport has that effect on people (betting people?). I think the Olympics and Paralympics are great celebrations of achievements as I assume I would of all events open to a large number of people from all sorts of backgrounds. Horse racing is not something that I personally get, but obviously enough people do because of Royal Ascot, Goodwood, The Grand National, etc.
So on a large scale is seems that traditions are okay if they involve commemoration of death for the greater good and celebrating the achievements of the dead or a sufficiently diverse group of the living. Does this translate to the personal level?
What traditions do I have? I try to remember the day my Dad died and send my Mum flowers. Birthdays of my Mum, wife and kids are celebrated. Mother’s Day is celebrated because it is important to them. Christmas is celebrated by present given and a big meal though I would be more than happy to go somewhere a bit warmer, to enjoy good food and culture. A two family version of Passover to remind our kids of that part of their heritage.
If I look at things that I would do by myself then it would be whittled down to commemorating my Father’s death and my transplant. I wonder if I should find something to celebrate rather than commemorate. I quite like the idea of Degree Day, celebrating the academic pinnacle that build the foundation of my future. Perhaps I will call it Education Day instead. Passing my driving test was pretty momentous too from a freedom point of view. Or perhaps the day I went solo on a bike.
What traditions do you have?