What Is the Difference Between Culture and Tradition?

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Tradition is passing beliefs from one generation to the next. Culture includes features that describe a society at any time. Tradition often remains the same over time. Culture changes continuously, even within the same society.

Basic Differences Culture often includes the celebration of culture-specific holidays by a group or society. Culture is often partially defined by these celebrations such as Christmas and Easter.

Traditions often include the passing down of a hereditary customs that can range from cooking recipes to family hierarchies, family legends and vacation destinations. These customs are rarely in written form and are most often passed down the generations by word of mouth.

The Five Aspects of Culture Culture is comprised of five fundamental aspects: language, beliefs, values, symbols and norms. Language, whether spoken or written, is the form of communication. Between different cultures, the language used may be similar but each culture has its own distinct language differences. This includes the use of different terminology and even different meanings by altered inflections. A culture’s spiritual needs are reflected in its beliefs. While a single set of beliefs can define a culture, several sets of beliefs can be followed by a large cultural group.

The type of behavior followed within a culture is defined by its values. This includes what’s acceptable and what’s not. Within a culture there may be smaller groups and within these groups some values may differ slightly. Symbols are actions, words or objects, either non-physical or physical, which are used within a specific culture. This could be a symbolic dance or a printed sign. Norms include the rules that the culture follows and actually incorporate the traditions too. Norms change as times change. As society progresses and its regulations or practices shift pattern, so the norms change.

The Essence of Tradition Tradition is defined as the “handing down of information, beliefs and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Originating from the Latin word tradere, tradition means “to hand over,” as in to hand over beliefs to a new generation. Doing so, generation by generation, ensures the continuance of the behavior or belief. Due to this nature, traditions are generally rooted in the past, although new traditions can begin at any time, such as a family deciding to visit a certain location at the same time each year to celebrate a special event.

How Tradition and Culture Work Together A particular society is identified by its culture and traditions. Traditions keep people connected with their past and the culture keeps them rooted in their current way of life. While both change as modernization develops, societies need both traditions and culture to retain their identities. Some are not preserved as much as others and, in some cases, steps are taken to ensure they are retained and not dispensed with in a modern age.

Thus, culture and tradition complement each other while having many differences. Behaviors and beliefs are handed down from one person to another, from one generation to the next. This forms a tradition within society or a small sector of that society. Whereas the distinctions between different societies, in their language, clothing, laws, behaviors and beliefs, is considered to be the culture of that society.