Seth Godin recently wrote that it is not so much science and DNA that determines who or what we become, but culture does. He notes that our DNA is basically the same as a Cro-Magnon’s and, “The reason you don’t act the way they did is completely the result of culture, not genes.” It’s an interesting thought, yes? It becomes even more interesting when we consider the relationship of culture and tradition. It becomes powerful when we realize we may not be able to change our DNA, but we can change our culture.
Our recent vacation to Canada included a significant amount of drive time enabling us to consider what we were seeing and experiencing. One of our goals for the trip was to experience as much Celtic Music as was practical. We accomplished that by attending a number of Ceilidhs—the one Gaelic word we mastered during our stay. It’s pronounced “Kay-lee” and we were truly amazed by what seemed an endless number of possible ones to attend. Wikipedia defines a Ceilidh as “a traditional Scottish or Irish social gathering. In its most basic form, it simply means a social visit. In contemporary usage, it usually involves playing Gaelic folk music and dancing, either at a house party or a larger concert at a social hall or other community gathering place.” We found that the best Ceilidhs including some story telling and jokes.
These Ceilidhs come in all sizes and shapes with enough diversity to keep one’s interest for a long time. They are held in various venues including restaurants, pubs, barns, and even street corners. Nova Scotia is also dotted with Parish Halls that might be best described as usually small “community centers.” But “center” is certainly relative. We were warned that one of the best Ceilidhs in the area is almost impossible to find. The best way for a non-local to go is to attend an earlier Ceilidh at a local restaurant, then follow the crowd when they leave and head towards Glencoe.
We couldn’t help making some comparisons to Grange Halls in the United States—at least the Grange Halls of days past where “social gatherings” included suppers, music, and dancing. Their purposes actually are historically quite similar.
I came to the conclusion our Granges should consider having some events resembling Ceilidhs while attending one at a small restaurant called “The Red Shoe.” I feared it would be a tourist trap. The line outside the door reinforced my fears but in short order I found myself having fun, visiting with other people in line. We could hear the music. We could smell the food. The anticipation was almost over-powering. Inside, it got even better. It might be a stretch to suggest that we were “one big happy family” but we were a community immersed in a culture and tradition.
When the lead musician asked each table to tell where they were from it was apparent we were a global community with more folks coming from far than near. We were sitting at a table with a couple from Montreal, but at the table next to us were some “locals” with a toddler who could barely walk, but when the music played, he did his best to “step dance.”
The words rang true. “we act the way we do as a result of culture.” While I haven’t had a DNA test, I’m reasonably certain there’s not much Irish or Scottish blood in my heritage. But that night it felt like there was! Just about everyone’s toes were tapping—there was much laughter and shouted conversation. (Two of the pub rules are “Don’t ask for the wifi password,” and “Drink lots of beer.”) But it’s not just the music and it’s certainly not just the beer—several of the Ceilidhs we attended served only tea and biscuits. It’s simply hard not to enjoy the Celtic Way of Life when you are sitting at a Ceilidh.
So there might be a question in all this for us. Remember: we can’t change our DNA, but we can change our culture. What is the Grange Way of Life? Why aren’t we dancing (literally and figuratively) more? Shouldn’t we at least be tapping our toes? It should be hard not to enjoy the Grange Way of Life when you’re sitting in a Grange Hall.
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual. The views and opinions expressed in “Exploring Traditions” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official doctrine and policy of the Grange.