When we are asked about our culture, we often describe it through the traditions we keep. Culture is encompassed by the whole of a group or a society. It is a combination of knowledge, laws, values, and beliefs shared by a group. Culture can dictate what you eat, play, worship, where you work, the language you speak, how you celebrate, how you manage your health, your social status, and so much more.
Entrenched in history, culture is developed and passed on for generations until it becomes the norm for that society. Often its roots come from a belief, value, or even necessity for health or safety. Those needs or beliefs might not continue to exist today but are so woven into a society’s identity that it becomes who, what, how, and why of its people and how they are connected.
Traditions, on the other hand, are the events and customs that honor the culture of the group. These events or behaviors become deeply ingrained in culture as they are practiced repeatedly through history. Traditions help keep customs alive and help the people of a society feel connected to their culture and each other.
I often share with my clients that human beings are herd animals. We survive through highly coordinated groups. As individuals we pick up social cues and work together to align our behavior with those around us. That said, nonconformity triggers a primal sense of danger. Culture allows us to feel safe and connected to the herd. Because of this aspect we can feel securely attached to a group, and that can allow us to grow within that safe space.
There are many ways traditions are kept. Holidays, for one, can be steeped in culture and traditions. It can be a time of gatherings, specific décor, special food, songs, dance, and even sacrifice and atonement. Religion binds people together with a common spiritual belief through ways to worship, a moral code, how to cook and eat, pilgrimages, and much more.
Many cultures also set traditions around the celebration of a person or a pivotal event, such as birthdays, anniversaries, professions, leaders, and ends of conflict. There may be parades, parties, barbeques, galas, and rallies with particular focus on cultural beliefs and values of that society.
There are also darker sides to custom, culture, and tradition, such as female genital mutilation in Africa, honor killings, or early child marriages that despite illegality, shunning, and education are so ingrained in culture they continue even today.
Social media has given us a lens to view other cultures; we can review literature on culture and traditions, watch movies, and observe, but the best way to learn about culture and tradition is to be curious. Listen to stories, learn about the origins, and ask questions when appropriate without judgment. Learning about your own or other people’s cultures demystifies, reduces fear, and allows us to embrace those differences. It opens our minds to diverse experiences and therefore allows us to move to a higher self-actualization.
My family is a mix of British and European descent but is mostly American. We are Catholic and mostly follow those values. We celebrate both American holidays of Memorial, Veterans’, and Labor Day with picnics and parades, in addition to holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter.
We also love to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. These celebrations include specific types of food, including traditional holiday food as well as Italian food. We listen to holiday music, and decorate the house to fit the occasion, i.e., a Christmas tree, Thanksgiving turkey, Easter egg hunts, and birthday parties. Family, friends and even our pets are central to these celebrations. We keep these traditions as our parents did, and we added new ones as our children grew like game and movie nights.
Think about this more on your own… What is your culture? How do you practice it? How does it make you feel? What are your traditions that keep that culture alive?
5 WAYS TO DISCOVER MORE ABOUT YOUR CULTURE (OR EVEN ANOTHER CULTURE YOU MAY BE CURIOUS ABOUT)
- Visit your homeland virtually or in person. Go to museums, visit relatives, dine in local restaurants, and interview family. Or if virtual, Google your homeland and see what comes up.
- Make a traditional meal. Ask family members for treasured recipes or find a cookbook with traditional meal preparations. Share the meal with family or friends.
- Celebrate a traditional holiday. Decorate, listen to music, dance, and gather with others who also celebrate the holiday. You can find some of these events by joining social media groups sponsored by members of your culture.
- Learn a craft or the language of your culture. You can take a class or join a club specific to your culture.
- Discover your genealogy by signing up for a genealogy search website. Popular sites like Ancestry.com help you to sift through historical records that you can then read more about. You can even take this a step further and take a DNA test.
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