Tradition within change
Holidays are a time to reflect on old traditions and start new ones

Tradition within change
Doug Gonzalez - 11/30/2023

Tradition within change

The snow storm from this past weekend ushered in quite a few changes for me – the switch to heavier jackets and sweaters, utilizing four-wheel drive in my vehicle and updating my space with Christmas decor pulled from storage. I celebrate Christmas for more of the basic reasons: the food, the lights, the nostalgia. It might even be one of my favorite times of year. When I was 4 years old, I recall decorating a medium-sized house plant to look like a Christmas tree – in July. Yoyo string acted as a garland, and my dinosaur figures were the ornaments. If this didn’t tip my parents off that I would grow up to become a gay man with a penchant for decorating, I’m not sure what else would.

When my dad passed in December 2021, I unexpectedly found myself decorating for the holiday season. Two days before Christmas, I stumbled upon a large and pre-lit tree from Kroegers Hardware for 40% off. As a lover of deals, I thought, “Why not?” It was the first time I purchased a fake tree of my own. I completed decorating in one night, fueled by the mourning of my late father. Looking at the completed tree through the faint tears in my eyes, the lights glowed hauntingly beautiful. I felt really proud that night. 

This year, as I started to unpack the tree and the ornament boxes, I looked around my apartment. The furniture looked more mismatched than ever. The dust on the wooden floors showed more than usual. The lights on the tree started to look too yellow. “What is happening here?” I thought. Trimming the tree, which felt so magical just two years prior, now felt lackluster and overwhelmingly tedious.

Have you found yourself with a similar feeling? Frustrated by the things that surround you? Not because they’re broken or not serving their purpose, but frustrating because you feel like they misrepresent you? Like you’ve changed too much?

I know that change is an important law of nature, bringing about life as we know it today. However, has change become too familiar a concept in modern society? How often did early humans experience fluctuations in their world? Anatomically modern humans have existed for more than 150,000 years, with the cognitive capabilities of people today starting 50,000 years ago. And yet, there have been frighteningly exponential strides in industrialization in the past 250 years. In comparison, the Ice Age spanned a period of 2.4 million years, ending only 11,500 years ago.

I also think about the social changes of the last century and how they compare to what was experienced by early civilizations. I find myself feeling both thankful and frustrated. I would not want to be a queer person of color in any other time or place, but I also know there are still attitudes in this country that are dangerous for people like myself. It feels like we are in a constant ebb and flow with social justice, with systems like the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality in 2015, while also reversing protections for vulnerable people just this year. The political pendulum seems to be swinging faster than ever – and we the people seem to be strapped to the table beneath it. If humans were given “perfectly balanced change,” what might that look like? And how would the changes we’re going through compare?

For you, what stands the test of time? Is it an item? A core value or tradition? Maybe tradition fights the laws of nature by being something that does not change.

When I was younger, the word “tradition” made me feel squeamish. “Why not change and try something new?” I always thought. Not only that, I knew the person I would become existed beyond the borders of tradition. I needed to make room for myself, so tradition became something I resisted. But as I’ve grown older and have become more secure in myself, I find myself redefining what tradition means to me.

I’ve begun to see tradition as the tree trunk from which the branches and leaves of change in our lives grow. It provides the stability that allows us to navigate a world that changes like the seasons, and oftentimes quicker than that. It provides a safe space to return to, where we don’t have to navigate something new.

Perhaps tradition and knowing oneself is one and the same. And like the tree trunk, tradition must change and grow, but slowly. Even if it temporarily lost its sparkle and shine, I’ve come to feel that decorating a tree has become one of my traditions. It is a tradition where I can feel joy and authenticity, as well as where I can be vulnerable, cry and mourn.

 

– Doug Gonzalez

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