Tradition often gets a bad rap. Some say that it leads people to stay stagnant, that it binds them to a past time, and keeps remnants of that time that wasn't perfect. I agree with them — I think tradition can be dangerous -- but it also serves as the only thing that truly connects us to the past. Mementos, memories, land, all these physical things can somewhat connect us to our ancestors but nothing quite like tradition. There’s something about doing something that you know your predecessors did, exactly like they did it, that meshes the two spirits together.
Spirit is the best word I can use, so if you’re not an innately spiritual person then just imagine. Because that’s what it is. It’s the spirit of your people before you, in these ritualistic motions and dances and sayings coming into you. Sharing a space with you, sharing a moment.
I’m a deeply spiritual person, when I see a dead dog on the road I ask the earth to accept it. If I see a raven then I take it as a sign of a good day. Little things, stupid things to most people, but yet I do them. Why? Because it connects me. It connects me to those who did it before, in one way more than just blood. I’m saying all of this, but don’t just take my word for it. According to Psychologist Marshal Duke, kids that know their family’s history are more confident than those who don’t. Just knowing their family history can give a child confidence, let alone knowing the history of their culture, their people, their entire extended family.
Tradition can give you a sense of purpose, a signpost to look forward to and to look back on. It grounds you and at the same time establishes a timeline for your life. The cyclical nature of people is sometimes dangerous, but also can be rewarding. That’s what Mardi Gras is. It’s just a marker in the road.
We get so busy, so caught up in the present and day to day activities of work or school or sleep or TV, that we tend to forget about these traditions. We forget about the meaning of them, or we attack them for taking away time from our precious schedule. This Mardi Gras, try to think about that for more than a few seconds. That years and years ago, you were a child catching beads on your grandpa’s back. Now you’re catching the ones too high for the young girl on the side of you, and then you give them to her. It’s that cycle I was talking about.
For the rest of you and her’s life, or you and your grandpa, you have something always in common. Catching colored balls that are tied together with a string. It sounds useless, it really does, but it means something. It connects generation to generation, and Mardi Gras is just the perfect example of how important that is. We have many traditions in my family; every Christmas we get together the eve of and play board games. Sometimes simple ones, sometimes crazy ones, but we do it every year. I’ll do the same thing with my kids and they hopefully will do the same thing with theirs.
All I can do is set them up with the understanding that tradition is not something to be feared. It can be radicalized, but so can everything else. Have fun this Mardi Gras. Catch some beads and cups and coins and everything you can. Show pride in that you’re doing something that has been done by your people, and your people’s people. Tradition can be something that marginalizes people, or it can be the gift that brings people together. No matter your race, creed, gender, background or orientation, we can all catch some beads. So let’s do that. See you for Mardi Gras, I’ll be on the float in the Youngsville parade if you want to catch some beads from the champion of tradition himself. Or Jell-O shots.