Family Traditions: A Recipe For Realization

Nearing Christmas, we are usually getting ready for family traditions. Perhaps you have a religious ritual you perform or a meal you prepare. These traditions add to the ambiance of the experience. Sometimes, though, they create a sense of sacredness, which can be harmful if it limits our ability to adapt, change, and grow.

At a family gathering, a young woman was asked why she cut the ends off the ham she had brought to the meal. “My mom always cut the ends off,” she replied. The young lady asked her mother later why she cut the ends off the ham. “I’m not sure, but my mother used to cut the ends off too,” her mother said.

The young woman called her grandmother and asked why she had cut the ends off the ham, thinking it had something to do with soaking in more flavor or allowing it to cook better.

Her grandmother replied, “I don’t know why you all cut the ends off, but I always did because I didn’t have a pan large enough to fit the whole thing.”

How often do we fall prey to doing things a certain way simply because that’s how we were taught or because that’s “the way it has always been done”?

In life, we must ever be the student. This means learning from our teachers, but also seeking new information and applications.

Seneca wrote in his Moral Letters, “the truth will never be discovered if we rest contented with discoveries already made. Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing, but is not even investigating.”

There is a difference between following traditions and using them to create your own.

Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” He certainly didn’t stop with what those giants saw. He sought a farther view.

We’ve seen that in the martial arts world with Bruce Lee taking the teaching of Ip Man and building his own system that encompassed other arts and techniques.

Lee’s students fall into two categories: those who only teach the techniques Lee taught during his lifetime; and those who took his philosophy of using what is useful and discarding the rest to create an ever-growing catalog of applications.

Seneca followed his earlier assertion with, “What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road.”

Pave your own way.

Teachers and coaches should strive to provide students with the tools they need to create their own interpretation of the system. Give them the lumber and nails, but let them build the house.

Seneca implored us to keep in mind, “Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.”

Take the principles and foundations laid before us and build new structures. Standing on the shoulders of giants is great, but we should always strive to see farther than they did.

Don’t show up to the family dinner with half a ham without a reason and always seek the “why” behind the “how.”

Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash


A version of this article was originally posted on my personal blog,

Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments and perspectives.

19 thoughts on “Family Traditions: A Recipe For Realization

    1. That’s a solid and useful outlook, one which I have tried to embrace myself. Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts.

  1. Great post. Loved the story about the Christmas ham. I wonder how many of us engage in certain habits adopted from others without knowing why or even realising that we are? Keep a learners mind for life. 🙏

  2. Delightful! Especially this: “Standing on the shoulders of giants is great, but we should always strive to see farther than they did.” Weaving that in with the family story about odd food-prep traditions has my wheels turning…there are a few things we do with holiday dishes that make no sense, other than “we’ve always done it that way”. 😉 Hmmm….

  3. Fantastic post! We’re likely all guilty of “cutting the ends off of a ham” at times. So, your story not only resonates, but will help us remember to ask those ‘why’ questions. Also, loved the Seneca wisdom! Thank you for sharing this!

  4. Love this post.
    I like how succinctly you have summarized, “Take the principles and foundations laid before us and build new structures. Standing on the shoulders of giants is great, but we should always strive to see farther than they did.”
    Best wishes

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