In a colloquial, broad sense, tradition is usually understood as everything that is related to a community's past. In the social sciences, however, tradition is more often described as elements of the past which have a direct impact on the present (Shils 1981). Central to this understanding is the process of inheritance from the past and the influence of handed-down cultural forms on contemporary activities. In a narrow sense, tradition can also be understood as elements from the past that are intentionally selected and singled out in a particular way by contemporary people (Sztompka 1994). 

Shils (1981) describes tradition as "a consensus through time", pointing up a temporal continuity between past and present views/actions based on their maintenance by successive generations. Shils emphasises that views or actions do not have to contain an openly expressed reference to the past in order to call them traditional. The essential element is the replication of how things were done in the past. In practice, however, it is usual for the content of traditional views or actions to include legitimations such as 'we should act as we did in the past', 'we have always done it this way and it is the right thing to do.' 

Tradition refers to the collective heritage of a particular people, community or group, and is an important element in building social consciousness and collective identity. Tradition is part of the culture of any family, group, organisation or nation. It includes various cultural forms, i.e. knowledge, beliefs, norms, practical routines, but it is also manifested in material objects. 

Traditions persist through processes of socialisation and enculturation, which enable intergenerational transmission of ideas, norms and practices rooted in the past. Members of a society learn cultural traditions through modelling and imitation, but also through deliberate oral and written transmission. Anthropologists draw attention to the special role played on the one hand by the social actors responsible for the transmission of traditions (e.g. family members, elders, teachers, etc.), and on the other hand by cultural performances or display events, such as rituals, festivals, contests, etc., in which traditions are confirmed and conveyed to new generations. 

Although traditions seem to be unchangeable, they are de facto subject to change and modification. Views and practices which members of a society recognise as centuries-old, meanwhile, may have quite a short history or be simply invented for specific purposes. As Hobsbawm (1983) points out: "invented traditions include traditions actually invented, constructed and formally instituted and those emerging in a less easily traceable manner within a brief or dateable period (e.g. few years)." Invented traditions can perform various functions, e.g. enhance social cohesion of nations and communities, legitimize an existing order, institutions, or authority or impose certain values and patterns of behaviour to the members of society. 

As regards sustainability, maintaining local traditions, which encompass among others: traditional know-how and specific narrations that embed it in the past, helps to preserve cultural diversity. As a result, it counterbalances the standardisation and homogenisation processes taking place in today's globalised world. Heritage conservation and upholding traditions contributes to cultural sustainability, which is, together with the economic, social and environmental dimensions, one of the pillars of sustainable development. 

Traditional food is defined with reference to four dimensions (Rocillo-Aquino et al. 2021): 

  • Place – traditional food has a defined place of origin (local, regional, national); many of traditional products are granted designations of origin or geographical indications 
  • Time – since tradition relies on intergenerational transition, the term ‘traditional food’ refers to products which are perceived to have at least a 25/50 years’ history, although as mentioned before, food traditions can also be invented 
  • Know-how – transmitted know-how refers to the processes and materials used in production of traditional food (e. g. origin of raw material, manual elaboration) 
  • Cultural meaning - ritual and symbolic character linked to the essence of the culture is associated with traditional food (e.g. traditional food associated with specific celebrations and/or seasons) 

Traditional clothing is usually defined as an ensemble of garments, jewellery and other accessories rooted in the past (or perceived as such) and ascribed to a certain group of people. The term is often used interchangeably with ethnic, folk or regional dress. 

a) Academic: 

Fan, K.-K.; Zhou, Y. The Influence of Traditional Cultural Resources (TCRs) on the Communication of Clothing Brands. Sustainability 2020, 12, 2379.  

Hobsbawm E. (1983), Introduction: Inventing traditions. In: Hobsbawm E., Ranger T. (eds.), The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–14.

Kirsten Loach, Jennifer Rowley & Jillian Griffiths (2017) Cultural sustainability as a strategy for the survival of museums and libraries, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 23:2, 186-198, DOI: 10.1080/10286632.2016.1184657  

Rocillo-Aquino, Z., Cervantes-Escoto, F., Leos-Rodríguez, J.A. et al. What is a traditional food? Conceptual evolution from four dimensions. Journal of Ethnic Food 8, 38 (2021). 

Shils E. (1981), Tradition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sztompka P. (1994), The Sociology of Social Change. Oxford: Blackwell.

b) Other sources:

UNESCO, Culture in the 2030 Agenda, 


Polish folk fashion: