Tradition. The military practically groans under the weight of a rucksack full of decades of tradition. Marches-past like the PPCLI’s triple threat (“Mademoiselle from Armentieres,” “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” and “Has Anyone Seen the Colonel?”) link the regiment to its founding in WWI; the RCN’s “Heart of Oak” inherited from the Royal Navy recalls the battles of Minden, Quebec, and Quiberon Bay – all in 1759, “that wonderful year.”
We’ve restored some traditions – the Army went back to ‘pips and crowns’ a few years ago, the RCAF reverted to silver rank edging, and the Navy regained the executive curl – and jettisoned others – beards in the Navy, for instance. In fact, as hide-bound and traditional as the CAF is reputed to be, we’ve seen quite a few changes recently.
Even the chaplains have changed! When I joined, we had an overwhelmingly Christian branch with one Muslim chaplain. Now we’re a multi-faith branch with a dozen Muslim and Jewish chaplains, and a Humanist chaplain. And we have a Sikh, another Humanist, a Buddhist, and several more Jewish and Muslim chaplains in the training stream. The military is all about tradition, it’s said. But tradition can evolve.
You probably have traditions too, ones with which you were raised especially at this time of year. My mother wouldn’t allow the tree to go up until she’d done her twice-annual top-to-bottom, closet-purging, wash-the-walls-and-ceilings-and-scrub-and-wax-the-floors-and-kids-until-they-glowed house cleaning. When I got married and my wife and I, then our kids and us, made new traditions: the tree goes up at the beginning of Advent, and no one opens presents until Bing Crosby is crooning and – most importantly – I’ve got a coffee!
You probably have your own holiday traditions: it isn’t Hannukah unless you’re cramming sufganiyot (jam-filled donuts) down your gullet, or your little cousin has shoved a dreidel up his nose. It just isn’t Christmas if you haven’t watched A Christmas Carol (Alistair Sim’s 1951 version, or nothing!), or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, or – that Christmas movie to beat all Christmas movies – Die Hard! It just ain’t Christmas until Hans Gruber falls off the Nakatomi Tower!
Regardless, we enjoy traditions because they root us, and give us a sense of meaning and connectedness. But that doesn’t mean we can’t ever adjust, or change them, or indeed, make new ones. After a time, new traditions become … well, traditional and we can’t imagine ever doing things any other way.
Perhaps you’re finding yourself unable to observe your ‘traditional’ holidays this year because of changes to your family, travel issues, being posted too far from family, or other circumstances. So embrace this is an opportunity to make new traditions. Invite friends over for drinks and charcuterie (Lunchables for the Millennial generation), go cross-country skiing on Christmas Day dressed like the Grinch, volunteer a day with the community food bank, drive around town looking at the crazy amount of lights some people put up, or best of all – watch Die Hard and when Bruce Willis utters those famous words, raise a cheer and a glass. Hey, it’s traditional!