Tradition: A Crystal Ball that shows the Past, Present and Future


We are all familiar with the concept of a tradition. It is traditional for many of us to sing happy birthday when our friends and family members become one year older. It is again traditional for us brought up in the UK to have a roast on a Sunday, or drink (too much) Guinness on the 17th March. Traditions can also be more localised. For example, it’s now become a tradition for me to bring home a shot glass souvenir from every new country I visit (of which there have been quite a few in the last year alone!).

Traditions define us as individuals and collectively. They also shift, mutate and sometimes disappear, perhaps more so in the modern world. My exposure to different customs through travel and living in quite a cosmopolitan city have meant that the traditional boundaries in my life are less clear cut and echo my experiences and the social milieu in which I live. Yet the traditions are still there.

 The fascinating thing about tradition is that it acts as a crystal ball in which we can see the past, the present and the future. Tradition mirrors the remains of a past set of practices that have been transmitted over time. This repertoire of past knowledge allows for and directs social practices in the present. If we think in terms of making a pot, often vessels are made traditionally according to the community in which a person is potting in. This practice is based on a combination of how we learn to pot and what is a socially acceptable vessel. But we also have the ability in the present to put our own spin on a tradition. In fact, it is our creativity that allows us to play with tradition and create or do something that adheres to the familiar but is also different. If we think again back to potting practice, it may be that we decide to decorate a vessel in a slightly different way, or add an extra handle. The finished product and the practices that created it becomes the mental mould of the present, but also becomes a template for future practices. In short, tradition is never static but is ever fluid, ever developing and full of social information that can not only give us clues about where we come from, but also about our future.


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