published Friday, November 18th, 2011

Courter: If it changes, is it still a tradition?

What exactly defines a tradition, and can a tradition be updated or altered?

This comes up for several reasons, the least of which is the time of year. We are heading full steam into the holiday season, a time that is all about traditions, rituals and cultural mores.

Way back in the day, even as recently as three or four decades ago, people moved around less, stayed married longer and generally did things as their parents and grandparents did them.

Families attended the Christmas pageants at their school or church just as they did the year before and the year before that. They loaded up the family station wagon on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning and headed to Grandma's house and joined the rest of the extended family for a traditional meal and a day of ritualistic celebration.

Now, the extended family tree can more resemble a wisteria bush than an oak. This isn't a call for going back to the good ol' days but an acknowledgment that things change and people adapt.

One of my favorite college football teams, Notre Dame, arguably the country's most tradition-rich program, is dealing with adapting or updating some of its traditions. The school has changed the helmets, for example, to make them more like the school's iconic golden dome.

There is even talk of changing the playing field to synthetic material and of adding a Jumbotron to Notre Dame Stadium, a place that for years only had a scoreboard that gave little more information than quarter, down, time remaining and score. Opponents of the trendy giant screens say fans are there to watch the action on the field and not advertisements on a big TV. Fans say no changes are needed.

Sometimes changes are needed. The Grand Illumination downtown will be different this year because of a lack of funding. The reality is, while the event itself has been a tradition for a long time, it has adapted over the years.

It started at Miller Plaza with some caroling, hot cider and a Santa Claus who magically triggered the illumination of decorative lights on the tops of downtown buildings. It then moved to Coolidge Park for a number of years to coincide with the annual Lighted Boat Parade, which had been going on for years.

A few years ago, to take advantage of the beautiful, new 21st Century Waterfront, the event was moved across the Tennessee River to the Ross's Landing area.

Waterfront developments there also caused Riverbend, a more than three-decades-old event, to adjust and move some stages around. It's possible that future developments could have a big impact on the festival and might affect the Head of the Hooch regatta. The Hooch has been here seven years and quickly has become a favorite annual event for boaters and fans here and across the country.

What to do? It's hard to argue that a hotel or apartment complex bringing revenue year-round is a bad thing.

Fortunately, Chattanooga also has a tradition of planning for the future, or at least it has recently. I'd like to believe it will adapt. Some traditions will continue, but they will be different.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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