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.'