Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair

#14: Holiday Special - The Ethical Value of Traditions

December 14, 2023 Jarrod Blair Episode 14
Virtue Vibes with Jarrod Blair
#14: Holiday Special - The Ethical Value of Traditions
Show Notes Transcript

Christmas and New Year's Eve are just around the corner, so today, we're going to be doing a holiday special of sorts. In particular, we’re going to talk about the ways that holiday traditions can help us to become better people.

I’m going to try and flesh out why these traditions are so helpful, and to give some practical recommendations for how to get the most out of your holidays. This will be done in a cross-cultural way that doesn’t depend on any specific traditions or religious beliefs, so that it will be helpful and insightful to people from all walks of life.

Outro music: "Lofi Chrismas" by Melodigne on Pixabay

Audio excerpt taken from Fiddler On The Roof

Intro music: "Lofi Heavy Chill Bass & Keyboard" by Phill Dillow on Pixabay

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Yo-ho-ho-ho. Welcome back to Virtue Vibes, the podcast where we think hard about how to be good. Christmas is just around the corner, so today, we're gonna be doing a holiday special of sorts. In particular, we’re going to talk about the way that holiday traditions can help us to become better people.  

It’s easy to get caught up in the surface details of each holiday and to place all of your focus on that. Thanksgiving food is freaking delicious, Christmas decorations and ambience are mesmerizing, New Years firecrackers are thrilling, and Valentines Day chocolates satisfy your sweet tooth every time (unless you’re single, in which case they just look tasty from afar 😊). These are the things that children first recognize and appreciate about each holiday, and they're things that we can appreciate as adults as well. But as we get older, we can learn to reflect on the deeper symbolic meaning and significance of these traditions, and to wield them as a tool for becoming the kind of person we want to be. If you’re only focused on the surface features of various holidays, you could miss out on this really helpful opportunity.  

So in today’s episode, I’m going to try and flesh out why these traditions are so helpful, and to give some practical recommendations for how to get the most out of your holidays. I’m gonna try to do this in a cross-cultural way that doesn’t depend on any specific traditions or religious beliefs, so that it will be helpful and insightful to people from all walks of life.  

Alright, with that being said, let’s start to... unwrap... these insights! ...ha...ha... 

 

---interlude--- 

 

So I want to start this discussion by making a pretty sophisticated and complex point, so hopefully this doesn’t go over your head. Alright, here it is; we dumb! We dumb fool. In so many situations, and in so many ways, we are so stupid, dumb, forgetful, and dimwitted. There’s no getting around it. Sure, we have some of the most brilliant, intricate, and powerful objects in the known universe inside our skulls, but that doesn’t stop us from forgetting incredibly important things, from making the same mistakes over and over and over again, from running into easily avoidable pitfalls, and from continuing to behave in ways that we later regret.  

For some examples of the ways in which we are sooo dumb, let’s take a look at me, haha. I have done a bunch of schooling in my lifetime. In addition to the public education I received from kindergarten through high school, I also have 3 bachelor's degrees with one minor, and a master's degree, so I have learned all kinds of crap in a variety of fields, ranging from American history to physics to philosophy. But how many of those facts have I actually retained? Honestly, I've probably retained less than 0.1% of it. In other words, 99.9% of the facts I’ve learned have gone completely out the window. Woohoo, education rules! Now I’m not trying to imply that this time was completely useless, because I’ve picked up some valuable habits, principles, and patterns of thinking, but it’s still astonishing how much of what we know at one point just seeps out of our mind in due time.  

Now, it’s one thing to forget that Cristopher Colombus discovered the Americas in 1492. Life will be rough but I think you're gonna make it, even if you forget that fact. But once we realize that this same forgetful mind is in charge of remembering those values, relationships, and principles of living that are most important to us, then we have a problem on our hands. How are we gonna stop our mind from letting the most important things in life slowly seep away with the passing of time? Those relationships that we want to cherish, those ideals we want to be at the forefront, and those emotions we want to amplify, they all run the risk of being lost by our stupid, dumb brains. We’re not computers, and we're not guaranteed to retain this kind of data indefinitely. Things can slip away without us ever hitting the delete button, so we are in desperate need of a way to hold on to these things. If only our ancestors had left us with some kind of tool, perhaps we would have a better chance...  

 

---interlude--- 

 

Wait, wait a second. They did leave us some kind of tool! {TRADITION song?} In addition to providing all kinds of joy and pleasures, our holiday traditions, and various other traditions as well, can give us an opportunity to reflect on those important values, relationships, ideals, and emotions that we want in our lives. It’s like a scheduled reminder where we communally bring these things back to the forefront of our mind, which can help stave off the forces of atrophy that take their toll in the process of living.  

For example, instead of just being another opportunity to eat delicious food with family and friends, Thanksgiving can also serve as a time to remember the importance of gratitude. It’s easy to take for granted our luxurious lifestyles, or our health, or our relationships, and to forget all the ways in which we are incredibly blessed. This forgetting can breed all kinds of discontent and envy, which really hurts our moral character. But Thanksgiving, when done right, can help us to resist this forgetfulness, and to recalibrate ourselves towards feeling a sense of gratitude and having a healthier sense of perspective. 

Other holidays might do something similar while addressing different parts of our lives. If you’re a Christian, then Christmas can serve as a reminder of the importance of the life of Jesus Christ, and your commitment to follow in his footsteps, or a reminder of your love for God that might have become obscured in the day to day grind. If you’re not a Christian, you might still use Christmas as an opportunity to remind your family and loved ones just how much they mean to you, which is something that they might easily forget when it’s just left as an assumption that doesn’t often get expressed.  

In Japan, on New Year’s Eve, a large bell is rung 108 times to symbolize 108 worldly desires and temptations being released from your body that may have accrued throughout the year. In all honesty, this number is probably underestimating our shortcomings, but you get the idea. This tradition can be an opportunity to reflect on our various shortcomings, and to start the new year with a resolve to lay those aside.  

There are so many traditions like these all around the world, and when done right, they can be a powerful tool for helping us to become the people we want to be.  

 

---interlude--- 

 

I want to end on a really practical note, and think about how to make sure that we’re actually getting the benefits I’ve been talking about from our holiday traditions? And how can we make sure the deeper meaning of these traditions isn’t lost while enjoying those surface level pleasures? 

The main way to highlight these deeper meanings is by opening up your mouth and speaking them into existence. This could be in the form of prayer, speeches, singing meaningful songs together, or simply talking about those values, principles, relationships, and ways of living that you are hoping to highlight during your holiday ritual. During thanksgiving dinner, you could invite everyone to talk about something they’re thankful for. This not only gives your family and friends a chance to reflect on what they themselves are thankful for, but also provides them with a chance to hear what others are thankful for, which could very well remind them of something they too have that’s being taken for granted.  

On Christmas day, or any other religious holiday, you could have someone initiate a meaningful group prayer before dinner, so that your god doesn’t get lost behind the honey ham. 

You could also talk to your friends about their New Year's resolutions, and brainstorm together ways that you might be able to aid them on their journey.  

Sing songs together, write on tapestries, tell meaningful and related stories, or whatever! What’s important here is that you actually open your mouth in one way or another and start speaking up about the underlying meaning of your chosen traditions. Only then will you be able to get the most out of each holiday tradition for you and everyone else involved.  

In addition to speaking up, you can also use numerous other habits to help bring out the meaning of your traditions. On New Years, you could have a communal moment of silence to reflect on how the previous year went, and to think about your goals for this coming year. On Christmas, you could make sure your kids don’t just rip through each present and immediately start playing with their toys, but instead take a moment to look the gift giver in the eyes, give them a big hug, and say thank you. This will help them to begin to understand that the gift is an expression of someone’s deep care and concern for them, rather than a mere transaction.  

In general, for any holiday traditions, ones that are a part of your culture, or even ones you and your loved ones have developed yourselves, take some time to think about the meaning of that tradition, and also think about how you can make this meaning more tangible and apparent to everyone involved.  

If done right, these holiday traditions can be used to help our dumb, forgetful, and dimwitted brain to hold onto those values, relationships, and principles of living that are so crucial for leading a good and virtuous life.  

So open your mouth this holiday season, and speak life and meaning into your holiday traditions. And don’t forget to enjoy that homemade apple pie, those radiant decorations, and those fun conversations with loved ones while you're at it.