By James LaForest
Several years ago, while living abroad, childhood memories were frequently on my mind as I spent days wandering around foreign capitols. Thoughts of the home I left when I was 18, recollections of family gatherings, and my interest in genealogy often recurred. Genealogy was a pastime I first took an interest as a young boy, writing letters to relatives and interviewing elder family members for details of family members long past. Holidays and hunting, church, camping, and country walks crossed my mind as I crisscrossed the cities. These thoughts, along with the sale and later the sad destruction of the old family ‘farm’ all rekindled a yearning to reconnect with the days that had so richly informed my early life.
For those of us who, due the circumstances of life, will not have children to pass on family pictures, lore, and the treasure of culture, there may from time to time arise a sense of futility in taking part in the creation and diffusion of traditional culture. And there also seems to be a modern tendency for those who have raised children to eventually say about family gatherings and communal celebrations: “I’ve done it. I don’t really care any more. Let somebody else do it.” It is as if to say, I’m not only retiring from my career or the kitchen, I’m retiring from life, from culture, from tradition.
To some extent that is understandable. The events and rituals which we look forward to for excitement and meaning can be hard work. We want to meet the expectations of those who depend on us to create the right atmosphere, to bring the right gifts, as if it was just one person’s responsibility. Of course It is normal that older generations will give way and let the younger people tend the flame of tradition. But walking away entirely is abandonment. When we forget the traditions, like history, it is to say they don’t matter anymore. That leads me to wonder, is it that modern people just see tradition as a kind of tinsel, to be tossed in a box after Jan 1 until next year? Has our society, nay, our Western civilization, forgotten so much that we fail to intuit why we have tradition in the first place?
Our traditions, whether they be seasonal bonfires or special pastries, family recipes or particular clothing, are not just transactions or ornaments. They are opportunities for self-reflection. How we see ourselves in the world often comes into focus at just those moments when tradition takes over. They are also opportunities for strengthening the bonds of community. When residing in Luxembourg for a few months in the winter of 2010, Alex and I discovered a local Lenten tradition in which young men give a special almond-filled pastry to the young woman they fancy. If the attraction was mutual, later in the season the lady gives the gentleman an egg. It’s called Bretzelsonndeg. In this tradition, the communal reinforces the traditional bonds of family and faith. By encouraging a bit of fun, a larger community helps to maintain social order and perpetuates the natural order of life.
Why is this important, now more than ever? What does this have to do with French-Canadian and Metis culture? We see every day how simple traditions such as this Luxembourgish courtship tradition, are under attack by societal forces that are now, and have long been, antagonistic toward tradition in general, and to traditional European Judeo-Christian cultures specifically. Ethnic and religious traditions at the heart of the formation of our modern identities are now seen as threats. In Germany, young traditionalists who enjoy folk costumes and rural life, are suspected of far-right sympathies. European countries that try to maintain their own values are relentlessly attacked by globalist elites and international media. French-Canadian and Metis cultures can act as bulwarks against the meaningless, yet mean-spirited movements that would cancel anyone who resists deprogramming and reeducation, euphemisms for the imposition of radically secularist and “progressive” agendas.
For young people who see through the fog of our culture wars, I offer the hope of tradition. Carrying and tending the flame of tradition is a role now more important than ever. In a world in which misinformation, cultural relativism, disinformation, Marxism, atheism, and historical revisionism have become so prevalent, it is imperative to embrace what really matters. Tradition is our last line of defense. Rejecting modernity for tradition can be as simple as studying Greek and Latin instead of “Cultural Studies”; taking up forestry instead of social work; or deferring college entirely in favor of military service; joining a church group instead of a political party.
More deeply, it takes a conscious understanding of what we face in the 21st century and what we want our legacy to be. We must reembrace and make relevant again the traditions that sustained our European heritage communities for so long. Traditions are threads woven through our moral fabric and ethnic dress. Unravel them one by one and the fabric of society becomes weaker, less colorful. Unravel them all and you are left cold and naked in the storms of modern nihilistic culture.