Thoughts for the New Year
The turn to a new year is always an occasion to remember. We remember the events of the previous year as well as the generations that came before. In many cultures, the New Year is a time to offer words of reflection. In the Scottish folk tune, auld lang syne means “days of old” or “for the sake of old times,” a toast to days past. In French Canadian tradition, January 1 has traditionally been a time to offer blessings, the father or grandfather of the family blessing the younger generations in the benédiction paternelle du jour de l’an. It’s long since many families likely did this, especially in the United States. But there’s no reason it should not appear again, offered by a willing patriarch or matriarch.
2018 was quite eventful for me personally. I began volunteering at my parish bingo fundraiser and became a eucharistic minister. I reconnected with a job I had nearly 20 years ago and starting working again with old colleagues. French Canadian and Métis Heritage Week in Michigan saw its fifth year! Alex, my husband, and I travelled a great deal around Michigan and ended/began the year in Australia, Tasmania, and France. I came through a very serious health scare, my loving husband standing strong by my side. Births, illness, retirements, and the passing of the last two members of my grandmother’s siblings, one at 96 the other at 101, reminded our family of the passing generations.
Generations have been much on my mind this past year. As my interest in genealogy has waned my interest in the character of generations has increased. What major historical events helped shaped this generation? What poverty or riches marked another generation? In the past two or three decades, the identification of new generations has become an almost obsessive preoccupation, of interest to marketers and universities seeking data on new target markets.
It would be a mistake though to suggest that marketing is the only reason for studying the character of generations. In the late 1990s, two scholars theorized that in at least the last few hundred years an identifiable pattern of generations can be identified. They suggest that every four generations will, in essence, exhibit a predictable set of qualities. Generations 1 and 5 will be essentially similar, likewise generations 2 and 6, etc. Based on their characters, the generations will act/react to world events in similar ways. Moreover, within the era of any fourth generation, a major world event tends to precipitate massive cultural change. In this way, the authors use generational theory to predict future societal transitions.
Currently Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z make up the bulk of the American population. Generation X, my own generation, has long been identified as an apathetic generation longing for connection to community, but pessimistic about ever seeing it. Generation X is a generation of documentarians, observing as a way of being immersed in events; engaged with preservation while unlikely to see the fruits of their perseverance. Generation Z, born roughly from 1996-2013, are already being studied as a cohort. The youngest have only finished kindergarten.
Studies suggest though that the oldest of Generation Z are showing themselves to be the most conservative generation since the Greatest Generation, who were raised during the Depression, fought fascism and won, and built America into a superpower. Older members of Generation Z are abandoning social media and seem to be reembracing conservative mores and values, turning away from the ideological progressivism of urban/suburban Baby Boomers and Millennials. Time will tell, but this would be a dramatic shift from the ethos of both the stereotypical protesting/activist Baby Boomers and Millennials.
What does this necessarily mean for French Canadian and Métis cultures? In the United States these cultures suffer from a lack of communal infrastructure and recognition (at least in the Great Lakes region.) What becomes of micro-cultures when there is no place to turn for cultural affirmation or support? Cultural illiteracy and lack of affiliation will necessarily become the norm, particularly among those who are advancing agendas antithetical to tradition. Generally speaking, I’m not sure we can look to Millennials to push the reset button of tradition that was abandoned by their parents or grandparents.
But what of Generation Z? Does the conservatism currently attributed to them mean they will look to ancestral cultures to guide them when they begin to marry and grow families? Will they reverse the trends of decades of amoral progressivism in favor of rooted, faith-focused, community? Will they conceive of inclusivity as a means to allow the few to have a voice among the many, rather than silencing the many in favor of the few? Current social models founded in post-WWII democracies are failing. We are misguided if we do not look to the youngest generations among us for a glimpse of the future.
Leaders today who seek to preserve what is left of traditional French Canadian and Métis cultures in the United States need to be awake to the possibilities engendered by Generation Z. It would be a mistake to accept the notion that there is less and less interest in our heritage, just because a few generations were not tuned in to it on a massive scale. The Greatest Generation, raised during a long economic catastrophe, saved the world and went on to reinvent society while reinforcing the values that were passed down to them. Perhaps we are due for another such great generation.
My wish for you all is a healthy and happy new year, in which revitalized approaches to cultural practice and our understanding of a sound society can be considered. Let’s not be mired in the malaise of constant conflict, but rather advance time-honored traditions of faith, identity, community, and culture, looking to our great past to build the future.
Bonne année à tous. Happy New Year to All!