What If We Had No Traditions?

Food for Thought

New Years Day is a big deal in Japan. It’s an intimate family affair. You are not supposed to work for three days. On New Year’s Eve, you cook enough food to last three days. You visit temples and wish a happy new year to your neighbors. In December, you mail out postcards to your friends and families to be delivered on New Years Day, which means you would receive a thick stack of postcards on that day.

I suppose some Japanese families here in the US carry on these traditions. Still, I would imagine that it would be somewhat depressing without everyone around them celebrating the same things. Firstly, your employer would not appreciate you taking three days off. As you step outside on the 2nd and 3rd of January, you’d notice everyone going to work or school as usual.

The problem with traditions is that there are always some people who do not observe them and feel oppressed, excluded, or pressured. Thanksgiving, for instance, is a secular holiday, but there are many vegans who use the occasion to fight for their cause. In the ‘90, I witnessed “Merry Christmas” become politically incorrect. Now, I rarely hear it.

At this rate, no traditions would be allowed in the future. Take Hanukkah, for instance. I’m sure there are Jewish people who do not believe in it, and therefore feel oppressed, excluded, or pressured by it. Just because someone is Jewish doesn’t mean we should wish him a Happy Hanukkah. “Happy holidays” would be a safe bet, but what if someone doesn’t believe in any holidays at all? In fact, I know some people for whom both Christmas and New Years Day pass like any other days. Wishing them happy holidays might be presumptuous and insulting.

But should we eliminate all traditions just to be fair to everyone? Do we want to live in a country where there are no events that bring many people together?

Inclusion is not possible without exclusion. All attempts to unite, organize, or group will always necessarily exclude some people. If we prohibited exclusion, there would be no possibility for inclusion either. If we want to maintain our traditions, we need to be more accepting and understanding of being excluded.