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From Habit to Tradition

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There is a lot of multiculturalism in the world. Each ethnic group has its own history and culture. Being so, there is also a big diversity of habits and traditions. Habit and tradition share a common characteristic: both involve repetitive actions that a person feels compelled to take, whether it’s a conscious decision or not. But there’s also a decided difference between the two. For instance, you may eat every day the same breakfast but you probably wouldn’t call it a tradition.

So, where does the distinction between a habit and a tradition lie? To answer that question you have to examine who is taking the action, what they’re motivated by and the period of time over which the action is repeated. The ‘who’ part is easy. A habit applies to an individual or small group, while a tradition typically applies to a larger body of people. The word ‘family’, for example, is often paired with ‘tradition’, but family and habit are not linked together in common language. A habit begins the process of evolving into a tradition when it extends beyond the individual and affects an expanding group. But that’s only part of the change that must take place. Motivation is a core component of tradition. The repeated actions of a group of people don’t rise to the level of tradition without having an element of honor, respect or at least acknowledgment of the past. Once a habit has grown beyond an individual to a group and has been repeated with the intention of commemorating something or someone, it needs just one other component to become a full-fledged tradition – time.

Understand that this is not a hard science – the exact amount of time that must pass is open for debate – but traditions (think carving the Thanksgiving Day turkey or coloring eggs on Easter) are often measured in years, not days or weeks. In fact, if you consider one of the formal definitions of tradition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary, you could make a strong case that it takes a significant number of years before an activity can rightfully be called a tradition. Merriam-Webster notes that it must be handed down “from one generation to another” to be defined as such. Another definition of tradition from Merriam-Webster, however, simply says the activity must be part of an “established or customary pattern”, which could, conceivably, be a much shorter amount of time. Habits can, certainly, turn into traditions but not until they broaden in their scope of participants, deepen in terms of their motivations and stand up to the test of time.

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Portuguese traditions are part of our culture. And lots of them are about gastronomy. For example, codfish and sardines. Some centuries ago, the Portuguese spent a lot of time in the sea, where they didn’t have access to fresh food. The codfish came as a solution to this problem since this fish lasted longer when preserved in salt. As most of the population didn’t have money to buy fresh food, cod began to make its way in Portugal. And now there are so many ways to cook it. Codfish got so important that it is our tradition to eat it every Christmas. Sardines are part of our tradition since they are really consumed in festivals and holidays, especially in summer.

The Portuguese traditions are also marked by music. One of the most characteristic musical genres is Fado. There is also the tradition of couples marrying in Santo António. In São João everyone walks with a plastic hammer in Porto. Christmas festivities are seen as traditions, just as throwing rice at a wedding is considered a tradition. Traditions are just one of the many things that allow people from all over to interrelate and have a common bond.

We must respect traditions as long as they’re not harmful and inhumane. However, traditions aren’t always fun and games.

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From Habit to Tradition. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 10, 2023, from
“From Habit to Tradition.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
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