Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – email@example.com
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Seeing news this week of the papal elections started me thinking about the rituals that surround the appointment of a new pope. Communication by smoke signals could be seen as somewhat archaic in this day and age. Why don’t they use twitter like the rest of the world?
Is it important to maintain traditions even when there are better ways of doing things? Or are they pointless, sentimental and unnecessary?
It seems that most of us like traditions, though perhaps we like them in different forms. Many events adopt traditional formats – not just the papal elections, but state events – jubilees and parliamentary procedures are steeped in tradition. So too are sporting events – the Olympic flame, the presentation of teams to dignitaries, the coin toss, trophies – and arts events such as the last night of the proms.
For most of us there are family traditions, as well. Families tend to have their own ways of doing Christmas or other festivals. A distant cousin of mine used to have a living Christmas tree every year and, after Christmas, would plant the tree in her garden, so that over the space of the any years she lived in the house, she had a pine hedge with memories from her whole time there.
Traditions do link us to the past, I think; like the pine hedge, they hold memories; like coronations and jubilees, they give us a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. I suppose that historically such celebrations were ways of “keeping the people happy”, giving them something to celebrate, helping to foster a sense of community that makes us feel more secure, more wanted, that gives us a sense of continuity and meaning beyond the humdrum, beyond the everyday.
But aren’t such feelings cosmetic? When the party’s over, life returns to normal, and for the most part, nothing will have changed – we’ve probably gained a few pounds in weight and lost a few pounds in money, that’s all. We might take the view that all the time and money spent on big celebrations might be better spent on helping the poor and needy – or that rather than wasting time parading in ermine robes, our politicians should concentrate on running the country.
We all need do need rituals in our lives, I think. We tend to follow patterns of behaviour. For instance when we get up in the morning, we will generally follow the same routine of washing, dressing, having breakfast. We don’t invent it for new every day – though sometimes it’s nice to break the routine and do something a bit different, most of the time we’ll eat the same thing for breakfast for example.
Rituals become traditions through repetition and through adoption by a bigger community – but tradition is more than that, I think. Traditions carry an emotional significance that rituals do not. If a tradition means something to us, if it holds memories or helps us to feel special in some way, it becomes a meaningful tradition, something we want to cling on to. If a tradition gives us nothing emotionally, it is someone else’s tradition, and then can seem to us like a waste of time, or money, a ridiculous nonsense.
My cousin eventually moved from her house with the pine hedge. When she passed by the house a few years later she found that the hedge was no more. The new residents hadn’t wanted a pine hedge, so they pulled the whole lot out. My cousin was most distressed, she said it was like a piece of her had been ripped out. To the new residents, of course, it was just an annoying line of trees that they were glad to see the back of.