Of the Making of Traditions

Thanksgiving, Turkey Day, Food and Sleep Day… Most Americans will spend most of today in some variant of a ritual that’s not quite 400 years old and still evolving: the turkey and the idea of the feast of thanks are probably the only constants.

That the day echoes English harvest festivals from the 16th century is no coincidence, any more than the way those festivals have their roots in pre-Christian harvest festivals (and transferred more than a few practices pretty much intact although the origins of them is long-gone). And yes, it is a whole lot more complicated than that, but it makes a decent enough starting point.

The thing is, practically any society-wide tradition you can name is is likely to be either a direct descendant of something much older or a spiritual descendant of sorts with its roots in one or more much older traditions. Celebrating and giving thanks for a successful harvest by means of either a feast or sacrificing massive quantities of food to a deity (in the case of the US thanksgiving, you could argue it’s both and the sacrifice is going through our stomachs).

The same thing is going to apply when writing: any fictional festival will have roots in one or more older fictional festival, including practices that nobody now really understands but still have to happen because it’s “traditional” (The corn dolly in many English thanksgiving festivals comes to mind – it’s a relic of using the last sheaf to make a talisman that would be ritually sacrificed the following year (and the harvest in question wasn’t corn as we in the US understand it: the English use “corn” to mean any kind of grain) and was – at least for some cultures – thought to be the winter home of the grain spirit).

We do this ourselves – the tale of the woman who always cut the end off the leg of lamb to roast separately because her mother did it and her mother did it, never realizing that the grandmother cut the end off because her baking pan wasn’t large enough to take the whole leg resonates precisely because we all do exactly this kind of thing. How many of the women here arrange their kitchens more or less the way their mothers do? Until I wound up with a kitchen that didn’t have the right configuration for it, I certainly did (tea towels in the third drawer. Never shalt they reside in the second drawer for that is for cooking utensils).

How many of us even stop to think that we do something because that’s the way our parents did the same thing? Of such are traditions made, and traditions followed until the meaning is lost become rituals.

Thanksgiving in the US is certainly well on its way to that: with the year-round availability of practically everything, seasonal foods have lost their meaning to the point that many people couldn’t tell you that the traditional thanksgiving dishes are all seasonal and mostly late-harvest items – particularly in the northeast where the tradition got its more or less official start.

And yes, you can thank northeastern USA (specifically Philadelphia) for that other US thanksgiving tradition as well – Black Friday

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35 responses to “Of the Making of Traditions

  1. Christopher M. Chupik

    Or my personal example of how a tradition evolves: Canadian Thanksgiving. Because I guess we can’t feel thankful at the same time as the Americans, or something.

    • Kate Paulk

      The semi-official explanation I heard is that Canadian seasons are that much shorter. Which doesn’t work too well when you’re close to the border, but oh, well.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        Well, Winter is long here in Canada. It’s Summer that’s short.

      • Indeed. Thanksgiving is in October here in the Demented Dominion, as if it ain’t been gathered in by then it’ll shortly be buried in snow.

        This year I’ve been noticing all sorts of Black Friday sales events, as retailers try to gin up some hype to move the stuff that’s sitting on their shelves.

        I say good luck with that, the Liberals got elected again and everybody with a brain is battening their hatches for the coming tax increases.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          Don’t be silly! Trudeau won’t raise taxes! All he needs to do is harvest and refine unicorn sparkles and there’ll be unlimited money for everything!

          • Kate Paulk

            But isn’t that exploiting those poor unicorns?

            • Robin Munn

              No, no, no. Don’t you know ANYTHING about economics? It’s not the POOR unicorns who have all the money, it’s the RICH unicorns! All he needs to do is raise taxes on the 1% of unicorns and there will be all the sparkles you could want!

  2. The Black Friday Tradition, here? Go nowhere. Especially to a retail store or mall. The Crazy People have thrown off all constraints and are running wild.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Yep.

      • Kate Paulk

        Ditto here – but then this IS a gathering of Odds

      • Reality Observer

        Report from the SIL is that they are already lined up at the local Best Buy.

        Actually, we are having “dinner” at noon this year (normally at least a decent 2 PM). Daughter works at Target and SIL works at Macys for second jobs – and they’re both expecting they’ll be called in earlier than what they were already scheduled.

        Sigh. I dread Black Friday – and always hope the retailers have an extremely good one. Economic news is bad enough when you actually look beyond the “Happy Days” rhetoric.

        • Reality Observer

          Update from daughter, she had 200 in line already at Target when she went in in at 18:00…

          Said just that when she came in. We did not ask one single question, just handed her her jammies and made her some hot chocolate. Really didn’t want her to see us as more HUMANS.

    • Laura M

      We have that tradition, too!
      Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

    • It does rather sound as if some sort of massacre happened on that day, at least to somebody who is not American – half of the shoppers got trampled in some rush and needed emergency help, except for the ones who needed a mortician might qualify, I guess (has that happened yet?).

      Of course with Daesh and other current threats one rather hopes that massacre won’t happen for real one of these days. All you’d need is one or two suicide bombers getting in one of the more popular stores or malls when the doors open (if the youtube videos I have seen are accurate you might not get the shoppers to get out even if the police found out in time and told them to, not before something actually happens).

      • Mary

        Its root meaning is that the stores start to operate in the black, as opposed to the red, on it — they actually make money in the Christmas season.

        and yes, there has been at least one Black Friday related death.

    • I do take advantage of Black Friday sales to shop by mail-order and have gifts mailed directly to family, so there is that…
      But go anywhere near a mall or a big box store on the Friday after Thanksgiving — no way in hell.

    • The cops were right on this one. That’s why the name stuck.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      I’m dreaaammming of a Blaaack Friday . . .

  3. Black Friday – so called because you realize that despite a turkey hang-over, you really do have to get out and exercise, thus blackening your mood even before you get out of bed.

    Happy Thanksgiving and a quiet, uneventful rest of the week!

  4. Today, my tradition is fending off the cat while the turkey thaws. (A long and proud tradition, probably going back to the first felix domesticus who realized there was a bird bigger than her, lying helpless in the kitchen.)

    “Moooooowwwwrrrrrooooow” seems to translate to “Let me at it! As Bast is my witness, I shall never go hungry again!”

  5. Albert

    Black Friday, started in the 50s(given that there was an article about it in ’61). So, the fault belongs to the WWII generation for being too obsessed with finding the perfect geegaws for their spoiled brats who would go on to wreck the country through their self-absorbed narcissism.

    I am thoroughly unsurprised.

    • Thanksgiving as the start of the Christmas season goes back prior to WWII. There’s a reason Santa Claus is at the end of the Macy’s parade. FDR wanted Thanksgiving earlier to extend the Christmas buying season. Congress didn’t. When we celebrate Thanksgiving now was a compromise, all based on when to start the Christmas season.

      FWIW, the push to buy early dates to before WWI.

  6. First, Happy Thanksgiving. We have pizza, not turkey, but the idea works.

    Second, it was a BEEF roast then end of which needed to be cut off because the roasting pan was too small. Sheesh. Get your traditions straight (ie, identical to mine).

    And third, the tea towels AND the plastic bags go in the third drawer, well, because, but the cooking utensils in THIS household are separated into knives, forks (spatulas and turners and actual pronged things), and spoons (scoopy and stirry things), which of course go in separate top drawers. How else could you ever find anything?

    Traditions are silly sometimes, but they save a heck of a lot of time when you have more than two drawers.

    • No, no, no. Tea towels stay in the linen closet until needed. Plastic bags are in the utility/laundry/mud room, in the bag by the washer. Zip-top bags go on the bottom shelf next to the ‘fridge, unless they are used in which they go on the bottom shelf of the top cabinet across from the fridge, into the bundle with the rubber band and make sure you don’t get the little ones mixed in with the big ones. Cooking utensils go in the top drawer between the oven and the stove, serving pieces (for the table) are in the silverware drawer or the knife drawer (in-kitchen only) on the other side of the stove.
      Sheesh. *looks up at ceiling*

      Yeah, and to make things worse? Characters for two more books set on Colplat XI ambushed me this morning while I was taking a walk. Dang it, I did NOT want to do a 10 book series!!!! Arrrrrgh!!!

  7. Ironbear

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

  8. Chrismouse

    I don’t THINK I’ve laid out my kitchen the way my mother/Aunt/Grandmother do, but I think that’s just because I’ve lived in so many apartments on three continents that I basically just go with whatever the kitchen has available. In this one, the plastic bags go under the sink. The last time, they were in a laundry bag in the utility room. This place has a European-style washer/dryer combo model. I do not care for it.

    The family tradition of loud and boisterous family gatherings at Thanksgiving is alive and well, if the Skype call I was just on was any indication. At the same time, mine is clearly a family of odds, since some of that noise was certain people playing D&D, and a large group of other people discussing Discworld and the funny-pictures app my uncles was using. I already know I’m going to be deployed again during Thanksgiving next year, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it home for the one after that. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  9. Black Friday, official start to the month-and-a-half long ‘Festival of Mammon’, as I like to call it. The official ending is when the after-after-after Christmas sales finally sputter out and they turn off the carols at the mall.

    Otherwise known as the End Of Year Stress Extravaganza. Talk about taking a rasp to my already frayed nerves. Oh snappy snew!

    I ignore the whole affair as much as possible. This year I’m I actually fleeing the country (Canada) for the Great Southwest Desert. Hard to get bent out of shape about a White Christmas when there’s a palm tree in the back yard and a cactus in the front. Plus the change in scenery takes the bite out of the fond (and not-so-fond) childhood memories which never match present day conditions.

    God bless us, every one. See you by the pool!