Traditions are a part of life. We all take part in them—whether we realize it or not—and sometimes we don’t even know the origin. Depending on the tradition, you may perform it daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly. Cultural and religious traditions come to mind, but your family may have other traditions that could include food, sports, holidays, or almost anything.
When I think of traditions, I am reminded of a story I’ve heard about a woman who was having her family over for Christmas dinner. While in the kitchen preparing the meal, she cut the end of the ham off before putting it in the pan. With a funny look, her 12-year-old daughter asked, “Mom, why do you cut off the end of the ham?” The mother replied, “I don’t know. That’s what my mother always did. Let’s go ask Grandma.” They went into the dining room where Grandma was setting the table. They asked, “Grandma, why do you cut the end of the ham off before putting it in the pan?” Grandma replied, “I don’t know. My mother always did it. Let’s go ask Great Grandma.” The three women went into the living room where Great Grandma was watching the Packers. Speaking over the loud TV, they asked, “Great Grandma, why do you cut the end of the ham off before putting it in the pan?” Glued to the tube, wearing her number 12 jersey and cheesehead hat, Great Grandma replied, “The ham wouldn’t fit in my pan.”
Like a family, the construction industry has many of its own traditions. One that comes to mind is the groundbreaking ceremony at which politicians, developers, and dignitaries plant their chrome shovels in the ground, representing the first day of construction. Another is the corner stone or foundation stone ceremony, which determines the position of the entire building with its engraving image and date. The ribbon cutting ceremony, which is often performed at the end of a project to inaugurate a new building or business, is another common industry tradition. Even the orientation of the main entrance can be traced back to a construction tradition. But there is one industry tradition that seems to draw a lot of public attention—the Christmas tree perched atop a building.
The tradition of hoisting an evergreen tree to the top of a newly constructed building comes from an old Scandinavian custom of placing a tree atop a newly constructed building to indicate that it still has connection to the forest. This tradition came to America and developed into the “topping off” ceremony. As the last beam was being hoisted into place at the highest point of the structure, a small evergreen tree was attached to the beam. This would signify that this construction milestone was reached safely and without serious injury or loss of life. This practice has been replaced today by hoisting an evergreen tree to a newly completed structure. The meaning of the tree today can include birth, life, growth of the building, a job well done, or seeing the inhabitants of the building as a true gift.
We can all find something to be grateful and thankful for this holiday season. Whatever your take is, when you see a tree on a building this season let’s honor all the men and women who work in the construction industry, as well as behind-the-scenes industry members, such as architects and engineers, whose designs make the construction possible.