Traditions and Invented Traditions

  • David A. Gerber
  • Alan M. Kraut


Migrants never travel from one place to another without baggage. In addition to the material belongings they pack, they bring those dimensions of their culture that are most important to them. From the very first settlers in the Americas, those migrants from somewhere in central Asia who migrated across the land bridge where the Bering Straits are now, to the most recent arrivals from Latin America and Southeast Asia, newcomers have brought traditions that they practiced in their homelands. Such traditions are a part of their identity and remind them of who they are and of their most cherished values no matter how far they may be physically removed from their place of origin. However, traditions are sometimes forgotten or lost or prove inadequate to reflect changes that occur in a group’s identity. Then groups frequently engage in a process of inventing traditions. These invented traditions are inauthentic in that they are not transported from a homeland. But they are quite genuine reflections of a group’s aspirations and its desire to recall its past in a particular way. Repetition is quite important in legitimizing such invented traditions. Historian Eric Hobsbawm has characterized the process of tradition invention as “formalization and ritualization, characterized by reference to the past, if only by imposing repetition.”


Bell Tower Christmas Tree Patron Saint Italian Immigrant Lower East Side 
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Suggestions for Further Reading

  1. Alan M. Kraut, “Ethnic Foodways:The Significance of Food in the Designation of Cultural Boundaries Between Immigrant Groups in the U.S., 1840–1921” Journal of American Culture 2(Fall, 1979): 409–420.Google Scholar
  2. Andrew R. Heinze, Adapting to Abundance, Jewish Immigrants, Mass Consumption, and the Search for American Identity (New York: Columbia University, 1990).Google Scholar
  3. Elizabeth H. Pleck, Celebrating the Family, Ethnicity, Consumer Culture, and Family Rituals (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  4. Hasia R. Diner, Lower East Side Memories:A Jewish Place in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  5. Hasia R. Diner, Hungering for America: Italian, Irish and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  6. Kathleen Neils Conzen, “Ethnicity as Festive Culture: Nineteenth-Century German America on Parade,” in Werner Sollors, ed. The Invention of Ethnicity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 44–76.Google Scholar
  7. Victor Turner, ed. Celebrations: Studies in Festivity and Ritual (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David A. Gerber and Alan M. Kraut 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Gerber
  • Alan M. Kraut

There are no affiliations available

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