By Lourdes Fritts
It is always amusing to observe the looks of disbelief in a classroom when the topic of invented traditions is being discussed. Some look betrayed as if their whole life had been a lie, while others scratch their heads and ask “Well, weren’t all traditions invented at some point?”
Unfortunately, I must confess that I generally fall under the same category as the head scratchers. There are certain qualities of an invented tradition that don’t make sense to me. For example, the discussion in this case was about the Scottish kilt, Hugh Trevor-Roper (1983) argues that the Scottish kilt was not an ancient Highlander tradition, but rather workwear designed for Scots by an Englishman; the kilt was not even considered to be a cultural asset until the noblemen began to wear it and refer to it as such. While these two facts are not exactly difficult for me to grasp, it is the fact that the kilt can be considered an invented tradition when the version that we know today was created in 1745 (Trevor-Roper 1983). Hasn’t it been long enough for it just to be considered a tradition?
In 1745 my home country, the United States, hadn’t even been officially created yet. This lead me to ask myself if there are any genuine traditions present in modern America that cannot be classified as “invented”. It is common knowledge that many aspects of culture and tradition in America have derived from the cultures that immigrants brought with them. While all traditions were invented at some point, the term “invented tradition” refers to a pre-existing symbol, item, or ritual that has been repurposed to fit the new needs of society (Hobsbawn and Ranger 1983). But what about traditions that serve little to no purpose such as a food like apple pie?
Apple pie is considered to be a traditional American treat, in fact the phrase “as American as apple pie” describes something or someone that is archetypically American. However, the tasty treat is actually a blend of pastries that came from multiple European countries. Thus, it is not quite an American tradition (Ferroni 2012). This being said, can it then be considered invented? It is not an ancient dish nor is it original, but what could have possibly been accomplished by apple pie being viewed as an American tradition?
The same can be said for a number of traditions present in modern America, which leads me to believe that the definition of invented traditions needs to grow in order to include hybridity, creolization, and time progression. With cultures becoming more influenced by one and other, new traditions and meanings to old symbols are being formed. When will today’s new symbols become the next old tradition?
Ferroni, Nicholas. 2012. There Is Nothing More American Than Apple Pie, Right? Huffington Post, December 27. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicholas-ferroni/as-american-as-apple-pie_b_2369851.html
Hobsbawm, Eric and Terence Ranger. 1983. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Trevor-Roper, Hugh. 1983. The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland. Pp. 15-41 in The Invention of tradition, edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.