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Treasures Old and New

Holding on to tradition in a world of endless innovation.

Our family custom is to fetch our Christmas tree from a local tree farm. It makes me feel hearty and daring, a modern-day Paul Bunyan, even though my role is confined to watching a man with a chain saw lop it down, and then vacuuming spruce needles out of the van's carpet afterward.

Since my three children are at an age where my primary value to them is my car and my wallet, I asked them last December, "Still want to go to the tree farm, or should we switch to a tree lot?"

All three were appalled.

"Father," Sarah said reproachful, "please don't be ridiculous. We must maintain our tradition."

I thought of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. He loved tradition. I do too.

A world without tradition, a world of endless novelty and innovation, would be bereft of meaning. We make sense of our lives by ritualizing them, establishing fixed patterns, touchstones. Life is thick with change, and traditions are a kind of bedrock, storerooms for memory, streams that return us to our spawning ground.

Yet a tradition ...

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