Traditions and Antiquity

Traditions, in my experience, are crafted. Which is to say that they do not arise spontaneously out of the thin air, though the specifics of the tradition probably are generated spontaneously from the creativity of those acting out the tradition. In the case of a family, there is little like a tradition to give a sense of history and enduring continuity to a collective experience that so rarely feels permanent or stable.

The most visible traditions are probably around holiday celebrations, if only because the family spends the most time together, away from other obligations. In other words, if your family “always” decorates the Christmas Tree on the 24th of December or “always” goes canoeing on Memorial Day, that is a strong statement of family identity with obligations extending into the future. Not only that, knowledge of these traditions and participation defines membership in the family. In deed, membership in a family is rarely binary, but rather a matter of degree or a sliding scale of involvement.

In the case of history at the national level, similar traditions seem to serve similar purposes, being crafted similarly, with similar results. Children especially offer the point of comparison, since they are both the most obvious members of families (through knowledge and participation in family traditions) and of nations (through knowledge and participation in national holidays). Here I would make it clear that I mean school-children specifically. The school is, for many people, the first public institution where one encounters the agenda, whims, and plans of the state. In the case of the United States, the Pledge of Allegiance is a good example.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Since its introduction in 1942, it has served many purposes, a common identity for US citizens not least of them. It has served to unify and unite disparate generations. When older citizens learn that a school has stopped reciting the pledge, the implication then is that a shared experience has been lost. The actual meaning of the words seems to be, if not secondary, than of less importance than many suspect.

In Kazakhstan, I saw many celebrations of tradition. While they may not have been direct analogs for the Pledge of Allegiance in the USA, I believe they produce similar results. The least surprising were Soviet or Soviet-inspired, usually variations on the theme of “Memory Eternal” to the hero-martyrs and surviving veterans of the war with Germany, WWII. More interesting to me were the pageants and shows involving students in costumes portraying heroes of the steppe. The picture that goes along with this post comes from the “Last Bell” ceremony at my school in Sayram in Southern Kazakhstan — somewhat analogous with graduation day in the United States, though it includes performances by the entire student body, with speeches, music, and the showcasing of student activities, arts, and crafts.