“A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home… And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition.”*
Each year for the past eight years, I have spent most of my free time in December carefully tending to large and numerous batches of peppermint bark. I have adapted the recipe and changed the presentation, but the minty chocolate still provides the same comfort as it did when I was in eighth grade. As I see friends and family during the holiday season, I hand them a bar wrapped in red foil. I enjoy both the reactions of old friends who recognize it and the reaction of a new friend trying it for the first time. And so, traditions become a large part of who we are.
If habits form the character of an individual, traditions define the character of a community. From Athenian ostracism and the laconic language of Sparta to Medieval Yule celebrations and Midsummer’s Eve festivals, traditions show what and who people value.
Deviation from tradition shows us the wisdom or error in our ways. To Kill a Mockingbird and Hard Times reveal flaws in customs of their time. Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World and Frankenstein show the possible outcomes of breaking from tradition, or of following current trends to their logical conclusions. Maintaining or altering traditions determines the trajectory of society. These consistencies create stability, and, as Tevye pointed out: balance.
On a smaller scale, customs define families. Families retell and reread old stories not because they have forgotten them, but because they hold particular importance. Families celebrate holidays by spending time with each other, by doing particular activities and by enjoying certain foods. The consistency, like routine, gives us a sense of unity and provide us with a feeling of comfort.
Every tradition has a sense of precariously balancing history with innovation. Bittersweet changes accompany transitions in life, and as children grow, traditions change to be more age appropriate. The transition from having children to having adult children alters the dynamics of holidays and gatherings. Families grow out of traditions, make new traditions, and then change them again. Adapting allows growth for individuals and as well as the community. No individual ever reaches a point where community is no longer necessary.
So, as we go into the holiday season, I urge parents, alumni, teachers, young children, and grown children to make time for friends and family. If old traditions seem stale, make new ones. Do not settle for separate experiences when universal ones are possible. Joy, comfort and love add to the health of our families and our Ridgeview community.
*Tevye in Joseph Stein’s musical Fiddler on the Roof.