Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Traditions

It's not the gifts and goodies that people look forward to during the holiday's as much as it is the traditions. It would seem that rituals is one of the things that truly unites us as a species. 

Scientists thought that human intelligence had not evolved the capacity to perform group rituals until 40,000 years ago - boy were they wrong (what's new?). 

In 2006, in the remote hills in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana, archaeologists found a 70,000 year old python carved into a rock. According to Sheila Coulson of the University of Oslo, "At night, the firelight gave one the feeling that the snake was actually moving." 

Next to the stone figure, Coulson's team found spearheads that had been brought from hundreds of miles away. According to scientists, the spearheads were burned in some sort of ritual.  Coulson said that the "Stone age people took these colorful spearheads, brought them to the cave, and finished carving them there. Only the red spearheads were burned. It was a ritual destruction of artifacts."  

In the movie, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, the other reindeers laughed at Rudolph's bright red nose. Looks like frustration with the color red is a tradition that goes way back in our history. 

Apparently, our capacity for abstract, symbolic thinking dates back to pre-historic times. In modern times, we go outside, cut down a tree, bring it in the house, decorate it (often times in the name of Jesus), hang our socks over the fireplace, then take all our store-bought Christmas lights and decorations, and put them outside in some sort of ritualistic swap. Nature for nurture, so to speak. 

While some human traditions haven't yielded the greatest returns, others, like holiday gatherings, are events that people eagerly anticipate and celebrate together. Meaningful rituals contribute to our psychological health and emotional well-being. Children raised in families that hold onto holiday rituals tend to feel less anxiety, a greater sense of belonging (to a group), and a stronger sense of identity. 

Posting holiday messages on Facebook is fast becoming a shared holiday ritual between friends. Sharing inspiring messages and stories elevates "friends" to the status of surrogate family, and gives people a sense of belonging to a place and people that they care about. Despite the virtual aspect of Facebook, these interactions bring people together, who might otherwise be spending the holidays alone. 

Whatever your holiday tradition, be it shopping and bonding, trimming the tree, kicking it to the curb after New Year's, or seasonal sing alongs, tradition is a long-standing custom that we've all embraced since ancient times. Every culture has their own rich customs and traditions. 
Holiday traditions serve as a bridge to connect us to our past. They connect older generations to younger ones. They bring people together, build identity, and create a stronger sense of stability. In our quickly changing world, it is nice to whip up a special meal from an old family recipe. Traditions are not merely ritualistic, they are the common thread that binds us no matter what traditions we embrace. 

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