This time of the year is steeped in traditions for my family and me. As I began planning for my fall traditions, I began to ponder their importance. Traditions play a huge role in our families and should also be a part of any organization’s culture. By definition, a tradition is the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc. from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice. More than that, traditions become our roots and our anchors helping define and reminding us who we are.
The fall is probably my favorite season of the year. After a hot, humid summer, I welcome the cooler temperatures and seem to be always astounded by the beauty of the changing colors of the leaves on the trees. Fall is also the time in my family where traditions are anticipated and embraced. In late September, there is usually a trip to the North Georgia Mountains to visit Mercier Orchards to purchase apples, apple butter and various syrups and jellies. This trip is often accompanied with a hike on a trail that leads to a beautiful waterfall. When my children were teenagers, we would usually take off after church on Sunday and head north. Most years they went happily, other years they wondered why their mother couldn’t just buy apples at the grocery store like other mothers did. I remember that the first time I took my not-yet husband on this yearly activity, at the end of the day we had bought apples, had a picnic lunch, hiked several trails and put about three hundred miles on the car. Welcome to Susan’s awesome adventures! He paid me back later by taking me on a date that was one hundred and fifty miles away, we picnicked in the car, went to a concert and then traveled one hundred and fifty miles back home!
Soon October rolls around and it is time to head to the pumpkin patch. I know that there are many locations to get pumpkins, but we always head to Burt’s Pumpkin Farm. The grandchildren love walking around the hundreds of pumpkins and posing for photos as we load the wheelbarrow with pumpkins for all. Taking a hayride completes the day and we have memories galore. Our family relationships are rich because of the traditions and memories that we have built together.
Sometimes our circumstances cause our traditions to come to a halt and we don’t know what to do. After thirteen years of marriage, I found myself divorced. Some of the traditions that we had started as a family no longer existed. Thanksgiving night dinner with my in-laws became my alone time as my children went with their father. I then realized, sometimes you have to let some traditions go and start new ones. My current Thanksgiving looks very different from the ones I had during my first marriage. Our current tradition involves an early start on Thanksgiving morning so we can head to the town square for the Gobble Jog, which benefits MUST Ministries, an outreach program helping the homeless. We invite our adult children to join in the fun as we start our Thanksgiving Day helping provide for others. If you have had life changes, consider doing something totally different than you have in the past, especially on holidays and start a new set of traditions to build your new life upon.
What role do traditions play a working environment? I have had the opportunity to help open several new schools. The best part of opening anything is that you are working with a blank slate. The most difficult part of starting something new is that there are no traditions or ways of thinking established. All must be created. Traditions make us feel a part of the organization and create positive memories. The work environment is more enjoyable and identifiable when traditions are in place.
How are new employees welcomed into your organization? Is there a tradition of mentoring and/or training that occurs? How will the organization celebrate holidays and special events? What are the activities that can be set up so that all serving in the organization look forward to them? In the fall of 2006, we opened a brand new middle school. Sometime in the winter, my secretary came to me and said that she would like to start an Easter Egg Hunt for the teachers on the Friday before Easter. She offered to be in charge, make sure the eggs were hidden and solicit prizes for the teachers. Secretly, I had a hard time imagining adults holding baskets running around looking for eggs, but since it required not much from me but permission, I said yes. In less than a month, she had obtained over one hundred prizes, things such as a homemade cake baked by one of our staff members and a free lunch in the cafeteria. She took those Christmas gifts people received but did not want and re-gifted them. The school provided the “golden egg”, a half-day off from school. The morning of the egg hunt came and I was amazed to see over fifty percent of my staff show up before school with a basket or a bag prepared to search for Easter eggs! Needless to say, this highly competitive event has become a tradition at the school and something the staff looks forward to.
It’s a good time to look at your family life and your work environment and do a tradition check. What are the traditions that your employees or your families love? What traditions might they want to add or to change? What change has occurred requiring some traditions to be replaced? If you are low on traditions, take the steps to develop some. Traditions can be small (providing apples for your employees each fall in a large basket); traditions can be silly (my husband has a tradition of throwing the Christmas tree out of a window after Christmas – not sure why, but it’s a fun tradition); traditions can be based on events (a father/daughter trip to see the Nutcracker each year); traditions promote togetherness (baking sugar cookies together and watching a holiday movie on Christmas Eve). We’re all looking for good ideas for new and/or added traditions; I hope that you will share some of your traditions with us...those that are your anchors and that you look forward to each year!