Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Toastmasters: Toastmaster of the Meeting: Tradition

There are multiple roles to be fulfilled during a Toastmasters meeting, in addition to the actual speeches. They tend to assign new people roles for meetings in a way that eases them in: first you'll have an easy thing to do like word of the day or quote of the day, then lead table topics, and then move onto being an evaluator of a speech.

Eventually, though, they'll make you be Toastmaster. The Toastmaster (not to be confused with the title of "Distinguished Toastmaster", a title/certification earned through completing a series of speech and leadership projects) is essentially the host of the meeting. You obtain speech information and prepare an agenda, and introduce each speaker and the general evaluator, providing segues between sections and generally keeping things on track.

In our club that person also selects the theme for the meeting, and use that in your spiels between agenda items. Realizing that the meeting for next week (the last meeting before Christmas) would likely have a more specific holiday theme, I picked "tradition" and tried to subtly use my platform to no just discuss fun holiday traditions (though that happened, too), but push my agenda a little bit that not all traditions are benign (see: wedding crap series), but that as I've grown older I have nonetheless learned to savor some traditions that provide comfort in specific types of situations.

Traditions, especially those of the more ritual and ceremonial type, are something I'm often not a fan of. In fact, perhaps the most significant of my teenage rebellion (such as it was) (or at least the most hurtful to my mom) was refusing to participate in graduation ceremonies.

Traditions usually start for a reason - like my family has hot cider on Christmas Eve because it’s winter - but it’s now associated with Christmas Eve celebrations, and I’d continue to have hot cider even if I moved to Florida.

Especially for non-holiday traditions, there’s often a reason it starts that becomes irrelevant over time, like patriarchal expectations, that lead to the tradition becoming harmful down the road. For holiday traditions, they’re probably not harmful, but sometimes it’s fun to reevaluate them and the enjoyment they provide. As a newlywed, my husband and I have a bit of a free pass this year to think about which traditions each of our families of origin has, and choose which ones to incorporate into our own family.

Sometimes we might not agree with the origin of a tradition, yet still find meaning in them. The last funeral I went to was for a great aunt, about a month ago. She as Catholic, so the service was in her Catholic church, with many traditions that I was not particularly familiar with - there was a fabric draped over the coffing, a sprinkling of holy water in the service, before loading back into the hearse, and before lowering into the ground. Even though I don’t have my own connection to those traditions and necessarily believe in the reasons behind the rituals, it was nonetheless lovely to see the traditions that I knew meant something to her (and to her surviving daughter), in that transition of life.

As I mentioned before, my husband and I are starting our own family and thus our own traditions, coordinating with each of our own families to determine to spend the holiday. It’s been interesting to think about what stands out from my childhood - I realized that going to a Christmas Eve church service, since we’ll be here at home on that day rather than with my parents, is very important to me, even though I’m not a regular church-goer. But that’s simply how we spent the holiday growing up, and it provokes a feeling of ritual that I actually do want to continue.

Our table topics was facilitated by a different member, but of course based on the theme of traditions. She create some great questions about different types of traditions - such as a tradition you'd like to form, or a tradition you'd like to give up. My favorite response in table topics was about giving up a tradition - a member discussed how as a kid, her mom decided to make Swedish meatballs on Christmas Eve, which was quite an endeavor to make a huge pile of them. After a few years, the mom thought she might skip making them, since it was so much work, and asked the family if that was ok. Hesitantly, they each told her that they actually didn't really like them anyway!

The one thing I would hope you can take away from the theme today is to be particularly thoughtful about your traditions this holiday season, maybe doing away with one here or there that no longer holds meaning, but truly savoring the ones that are significant to you, and perhaps developing new ones to savor as well.

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