What It Takes To Evolve A Tradition

Tradition is the opposite of innovation.

When you want people to adopt a new idea or product, be ready to fight for change against deeply-ingrained beliefs.

To change the narrative and evolve a tradition, introduce new practices and new knowledge.


Thanksgiving was not a tradition until I decided to start a bi-cultural family, French and American.

So, I had my first thanksgiving dinner in my thirties. It was a giant traditional thanksgiving meal prepared by my mother-in-law and my wife. It was complex, costly, and it created a lot of drama. However, it was delicious, and it also drew me to the idea that you could benefit from taking a day off and be grateful.

In the first few years, I accepted the rules of the Thanksgiving tradition. But then, I started to challenge complexity. I suggested we simplify the gargantuan meal because it made our family gathering less and less meaningful, and it was frankly a pain to prepare.

But my new ideas immediately received strong push-backs because “it was how we had always done it,” and there was no way we were going to evolve the tradition.

New practices

Finally, a few years ago, I managed to improve our family time on Thanksgiving by taking everyone to a restaurant where they served the same meal, but we didn’t have to prepare it. All we had to do was to enjoy it and practice gratitude more.

It was a success, and we made progress.

In the last two years, and due to COVID, we returned to our kitchen, but we bought pre-made items. As a result, our work was minimal, and the quality of our time together was maximal.

New knowledge

As a family, the change in our Thanksgiving narrative over the years is also thanks to new knowledge and meaning about this holiday.

For instance, this morning’s New York Times article, A History of Unusual Thanksgivings, by David Leonardt continues to evolve our perspective on the significance of the day.

Here is an expert:

The origin story of Thanksgiving that’s often told in school — of a friendly meal between pilgrims and Native Americans — is inaccurate. (As far back as 1974, The Times ran an article describing the holiday as a “national day of mourning” for many Native people.)

The real origin of the national holiday dates to Abraham Lincoln. On Oct. 3, 1863, he called for the country, “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity,” to set aside the last Thursday in November as “a day of Thanksgiving.” The Times published his Thanksgiving proclamation on the front page, and several times subsequently.

While reciting the country’s many blessings — a productive economy, bountiful harvests, and a growing economy — Lincoln also recommended that Americans give thanks “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.”

Lincoln’s proclamation was in part a response to Sarah Josepha Hale, an editor who had spent decades campaigning for a national day of gratitude.

Hopefully, this adds meaning to this holiday and inspires you to create your own version, like “Gratitude Day”, celebrated annually on Sept. 21.

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