Tradition. Every time I hear this word, the scene from Fiddler on the Roof pops into my head. “You may ask how did these traditions start? I’ll tell you, I don’t know, but it’s tradition!” There are so many traditions and yet many don’t know where they come from. Some start out as one thing, but lose their original meaning with time.
One of those traditions is that of luminarias or faralitos in New Mexico. Ask anyone in New Mexico and they will say that they are lit on Christmas Eve to light the way for Mary and Joseph. The little brown paper bags are filled with dirt and a candle and walkways are lined with them to light the way for Mary and Joseph who need a place to stay. This ties into the tradition of Las Posadas, which originated in Mexico: every night for nine nights, people go from house to house, reenacting the journey of Mary and Joseph. When the Spanish Inquisition began, crypto-Jews (secret Jews) came to New Mexico and they were able to easily fuse the traditions of Hanukkah with the traditions of Las Posadas and luminarias.
I’m always curious of other traditions and I love hearing stories of culture and history. So, when preparing for this post, I asked some of the lovely people at Access Innovations what their favorite traditions are.
Alice Redmond Neil said hers is “May Poles with lots of long ribbons from the top of a tall pole, which would be held by individual kids and braided as they walk around. I am not sure I even remember the braiding, but I do remember the basic concept happening in my neighborhood in Boston.” The Maypole dance is part of May Day, a European folk festival to welcome spring.
Gena San-Nicholas shared her favorite traditions from Guam. “On Guam, there is a tradition (which is sadly dying out) where the teenagers from a parish, along with a priest and a couple of altar boys, would walk from house to house singing Christmas hymns. When they came to your house the family would all come outside, the priest would say some prayers, and then bless the family. Then he would have a statue of the Baby Jesus that everyone would kiss; then the family would offer bunelos dagu (yam doughnuts) to the carolers. Another tradition is that each village would make a huge “belen” (Nativity scene) and everyone would gather every night for nine nights for a Christmas novena, and have snacks afterward. At the end of the novena, we would throw a party and usually we would ask one of the firemen to ride a fire truck dressed up like Santa and deliver candy to the kids. Everything on Guam involves a celebration with food.”
Win Hansen, who has traveled all over the world, said some of his favorite traditions are the Songkran water fight, Holi, and Diwali. The Songkran water fight is a three day water festival in Thailand celebrating the New Year. Water is splashed on people and shrines as a form of cleansing. Also in the spring is Holi, a Hindu festival celebrating the end of winter and beginning of spring. It involves being covered in bright colored powder. Finally, Diwali, one of Hindu’s most important holidays, is a festival of lights that signifies the end of the harvest season.
Historians and archivists are important in preserving cultural traditions and history. With accurate records of these, one can trace the origins of these traditions and see how they evolved over time. We can also preserve them so that the true meanings don’t get lost with commercialism, fake news, and other perils of changing times.
Sometimes, though, traditions need to change in order to progress and preserve those true meanings. In the library and information world, we pay homage to Henriette Davidson Avram, the creator of the MARC record. Along with the Dewey Decimal system and the Library of Congress Subject Headings, these are how materials are organized and found. However, with media becoming more and more mixed with books, journals, online content, DVDs, CDs, digital materials, and so on, the old systems are becoming more awkward to implement in cataloging.
Metadata makes cataloging easier and it helps change search to found. There always has been and always will be a tradition of cataloging objects, but the way that those objects are catalogued have and will continue to evolve over time. I look forward to being a part of establishing what will be tradition someday in the future.
Jennifer Crawford, MLIS
Marketing Librarian for Access Innovations, Inc.