What Are The Differences Between Heritage, Culture, And Tradition?

A turkey dinner is an American Thanksgiving tradition.
A turkey dinner is an American Thanksgiving tradition.

Tradition, culture, and heritage are three terms that are often used interchangeably to mean the same thing. Although they refer to a similar state of being, there is a subtle difference between the three terms. As long as the person lives in a society/community of people, there will always be traditions, cultures, and sometimes heritage depending on the type of group. Traditions and cultures are mainly human habits and never physical objects as can be the case with heritage.

Tradition Definition

Traditions are statements, beliefs, customs, and information that has been handed down from one generation to the next. Oral traditions are an example of traditions that remain an essential part of human society today. These traditions include stories such as the legends and myths that have been passed down over the years to generations. Traditions could also include music and its styles as well as poetry and the different styles of the art. Traditions refer to the way of a particular group of people does things and the explanation behind it. The turkey is part of American tradition for the Thanksgiving dinner as is unleavened bread for the Jewish people during the Passover feast.

Culture Definition

Culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors of a particular group of people. This construct consists of the ways of living that are developed by a group of people, and it remains stable mainly from one generation to another. The merger of multiple cultures could potentially develop a new culture. A prime example of such a situation is an organizational culture which refers to the behaviors of employees within an organization or individuals of a particular institution. These people come from a different cultural background and their confluence results in some kind of a ‘new’ culture with elements of the original constituent cultures.

Heritage Definition

Heritage is an inherited legacy that consists of both physical items and intangible constructs of a group of people. Heritage is passed down from one generation to another and maintained in the present form and preserving them for the advantage of generations to come. Some examples of heritage include the Eiffel Tower for the French people and Christ the Redeemer statue, which can be seen as a heritage for Brazil and Christians in general across the world. Inherited traditions and cultures are also integral parts of a people’s heritage, and the behaviors, meanings, and practices that we draw from these traditions and cultures make up the heritage.

Changes in Traditions, Cultures, and Heritage

The mode of transmission of traditions could be either by word of mouth or through practices. This situation poses a considerable risk in the distortion of the information as it is handed down from one person to another. Practices and rituals are also likely to lose their meaning and the reason behind them with time. Cultures similarly lose their identity when a more dominant culture comes up. Social media is one of the agents of change in this regard. People from different traditional and cultural backgrounds are always in touch with each other and may adopt different cultural elements from each other. Heritage does not change as fast especially when they are physical elements. A national flag, for instance, is a heritage of a nation and changing it would take legal processes, parliamentary proceedings, and a lot of deliberation.


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