Sunday, April 20, 2014

Family Tradition: Pass It On

Whether you are celebrating Easter today—Resurrection Day, as many prefer to call it—or have been celebrating Passover this past week, you have been participating in a vital force that preserves culture in such a way that permits it to be passed on to future generations. “Culture is religion externalized and made explicit,” claimed Henry van Til, author and nephew of the famed Dutch theologian Cornelius van Til, and the traditions we re-enact today make visible to our children the beliefs we hold as essential to sustaining our philosophy of life.

How do we pass down our beliefs and traditions? It is not solely through the words we say, I’d like to maintain, but through the actions we take and the stories they tell.

My daughter, now a junior in college, has been serving as tutor in the home of a conservative Jewish family. It has been a cultural education for her as she observes the manner in which the adherents to a religion very different from her own apply the quote I mentioned above, from a theologian and adherent of a Calvinist Christian perspective. While these two belief systems are quite divergent from each other, we can still see the concept in operation in the traditions this Jewish family upholds in daily life.

Think about it: the culture of the Hebrew (Jewish) people has been passed down for thousands of years now. How did it preserve itself through such a long span of time? Those beliefs were not mere litanies weariedly recited by generation after generation. They were kept alive by story and by re-enactment. Their traditions included retelling the story of Passover in a family setting, with even the food they were eating serving as symbols of a pivotal moment in their people’s saga. The actions, the drama of the episodes, the sharing via family, all helped to bond these people to their history—to their story.

The Christian observances of this past Holy Week also serve to pass our heritage to the next generation. The meaningful ways we transpose concepts into actions we can absorb through our five senses find their way into the hearts of our children—a place where they may be safely harbored, cherished, and preserved.

In some ways, our culture’s viability is fragile—only as certain as the tenuous link between one generation and the next. It is not that we pass down our beliefs from one generation to the next, but how we do it that will count. The childlike eyes that brighten at candlelight stories told by a beloved grandfather, or the participatory factor of the re-enactment of a historic event: these are the highlights that, for a new generation, bind meaning to the memories of bygone years.

In a much humbler way, we who are careful to preserve our own families’ stories can take our cue from this lesson on how the Hebrew line preserved their culture for millennia. We, too, are pivotal: only one generation away from seeing our families’ stories forever forgotten. It is when we create that spark, not only of excitement but of personal identification with the experiences of our ancestors, that we equip that next generation to carry our stories forward.

Above: Painting, "Easter," by Russian artist Mikhail Andreyevich Mokhov (1819-1903, also identified as Mihail Mohov); in the public domain; courtesy Wikipedia.


  1. I have had a couple close friends that were of "other" religions and their culture was fascinating to me - it wasn't the least bit off-putting. Tolerance is the key -

    This is an other one of your superbly written entries, Jaqci. I fear sometimes, that the "awe" that was once had, has faded - and I feel a profound loss.

    1. Sometimes, Iggy, it is no less than vital to regain that sense of awe...


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