Slavka Eberhart-Garah

On Creating (New) Traditions

The end of the calendar year is marked by the biggest, most widely celebrated holidays in the Western world and the list of staple traditions is endless: Christmas trees, photos with Santa, strings of adorning lights, fabulously wrapped presents, milk and cookies, ugly sweaters, and the annual abundance of greeting cards, to mention a few.

Keeping up with all of the festive rituals fills our December calendars (and our hearts) to the brim. They are comforting and empowering, they build assurance, and they help generations relate to one another — all things that we really need.

The best part about traditions is the way that they evolve with time, the way we make them our own. Not the notion of using them to hold on to the past, but rather paying a tribute to the past and building the future. In fact, many traditions have survived for hundreds of years because they’ve adapted and evolved. 

With the rapid advancements in technology and new channels for propagating ideas that have been introduced during recent decades, however, widespread traditions are now often started by creative teams and put to the test by consumers. 

Take, for example, REI’s famous #OptOutside slogan, created in 2015 to counter the shopping madness of Black Friday. Today, the #OptOutside hashtag boasts 6,484,646 posts on Instagram, trending ahead of #HappyThanksgiving with 4,441,508. The serene and simple appeal to choose the outdoors over the mall captured the hearts and minds of folks all over the country.

REI's started a movement and a brand new tradition with its #OptOutside campaign. Photo: Slavka Eberhart-Garah/Drawn

And then there’s Starbucks — the veteran trendsetter — with its seasonal flavors and Starbucks holiday cups. Not one, but two new traditions that millions around the world look forward to every year. The pumpkin spice latte (“PSL”) has become a pop culture icon, while the holiday cup has riled people up in new and unexpected ways every year since the poppy-cranberry ombré design was unveiled in November 2015.

The 2017 Starbucks holiday cup. Photo: Slavka Eberhart-Garah/Drawn

Spotify, a fairly new player to the game dominated by established giants like REI and Starbucks, also started its own year-end tradition in 2015: “Wrapped” (originally called “Your Year in Music”). The music and podcast streaming service takes analytics on users’ listening behavior and turns them into summaries of genres, artists, and total listening minutes, wrapped in a beautifully designed infographic for your viewing pleasure, ready-made to share with your friends (and the world) via the hashtag #2017wrapped. Spotify even goes so far as to predict your next year’s listening habits via carefully calibrated algorithms and, I have to admit, they seem to be pretty spot on.

Instagram and integrated apps have also turned user data into a fun, year-end tradition with its trending Best Nine, particularly popular among artists and users with neatly curated content.

Reflecting upon the past year is a personal ritual in which many people like to partake, so any app that helps us do that — to tell our version of the past 365 days — in a fun and lighthearted way is an instant hit.

The Instagram #bestnine. Photo: @amystoneart

So, what does it take to create a new tradition amongst the heaps of beautiful and well-loved ones that have remained alive for centuries? A well-balanced recipe that includes timing, a bit of mass exposure, and relevance. There must be just a pinch of newness while the rest must remain familiar, as to evoke a recognizable sentiment: nostalgia, excitement, belonging.

We like traditions because they connect us with others. The world wide web and its social media platforms have made this connection easier, faster, and more expansive than it has ever been. No wonder shiny, new traditions are popping up and catching on all over the world. And while they may not all survive the test of time, they still contribute cheer, warmth, and a sense of belonging to this season of celebration.