American Traditions That Are Gone Forever

asian chinese family and cousins having reunion dinner at home

Patrick Chu/istockphoto

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asian chinese family and cousins having reunion dinner at home
Patrick Chu/istockphoto

Flag Waiving

So much of what we grew up with has disappeared, from the tools we once relied on to the habits grown out of a slower pace to life. It’s progress, many say, but we might beg to differ on a few points. Read on for some of the ways life in America has changed over the years, including everyday traditions that have either disappeared completely or been dramatically altered. Are there other fading traditions on your mind? Tell us in the comments.

Related: Products You Never Thought Would be Obsolete

Blue Fox Drive-In Theater

Taking the Station Wagon to the Drive-in

Piling the kids and their friends into the wagon and heading to the drive-in theater on a summer night was a long-standing tradition for many families. These days, station wagons are relics of another era and drive-in theaters are rare and sometimes just hanging on — though some are reincarnated as “hipster” destinations. As reports, drive-in theaters hit their peak in the mid-1950s at some 4,000. Today, there are fewer than 400 nationwide.

Related: Classic Station Wagons We Miss From Childhood

College move-in
XiXinXing / iStock

Calling Home Weekly From College

Sunday evening was the time to call home from college halfway across the country. Long-distance calls were expensive, but you needed to check in. Today, with the prevalence of cellphones, long distance isn’t even a thing — and you’re probably texting your kids to see how they’re doing at their university anyway.

Related: Workplace Traditions That Are Gone Forever

Girl Scouts of the USA
Girl Scouts of the USA

Kids Selling Door-to-Door

You’d head down the street with a Girl Scout cookie pamphlet, asking neighbors to order a few boxes. Sometimes, you’d sell wrapping paper to raise funds for a school event. Today, sending kids out to hawk products has fallen out of favor. (Scouts now usually set up tables at events or stores, and they are usually under adult supervision.) Education World offers lists of how schools can raise money without selling door-to-door.

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Antique London's photographs: Exeter Hall Gymnasium

Having Hideous Gym Uniforms

Its image is burned in memory: a one-piece gym uniform of navy “shorts” attached to a navy-and-white striped top. A long zipper allowed entry, though everyone wanted to exit these ugly, ill-fitting uniforms. Today, students can most often wear their own clothes for PE class or opt to wear much more forgiving outfits, such as basic shorts and T-shirts.

Shoe Store
Shoe Store by liz west (CC BY)

Getting Fit for New Shoes

Your mom would take you to the shoe store on the town’s main drag. The owner would measure your foot and go to the storeroom for boxes of styles in your size to try on. Today, you’re pretty much on your own with stacks of boxes in a local department, chain store, or shoe warehouse — or buying online.

Vintage Cook Book

Publishing Community Cookbooks

From church groups to PTAs, community organizations have long published cookbooks of favorite recipes shared by members to fundraise or commemorate an event. Today, these homespun treasures are far less common — they more often show up at rummage sales or in vintage shops. Now you simply forward a link to your friends when you want to share a recipe.

Camera and Film

Waiting for Photographs

You’d have a birthday party or go on vacation, snap some photos, then take the roll of film out of the camera and drop it off (or mail it) to be developed. There was a real excitement to get that packet of pictures back; today, digital and phone cameras make that anticipation a thing of the past.

Family shopping in supermarket

Family Grocery Shopping in a Store

With the advent of curbside pickup, Instacart, and similar shopping services, the traditional family trip to the grocery store isn’t so traditional. You may swing by on the way home from an event to grab fixings for dinner — when not getting takeout or delivery — but the standard family ritual is pretty much over.

Couple Watching TV

‘Appointment’ Television

You’d hurry to eat dinner and get homework done so the whole family could sit down to watch “Happy Days,” or gather around the water cooler at work to talk about last night’s “Ally McBeal.” The heyday of watching a show as it’s broadcast is certainly over, thanks to streaming, binge watching, and on-demand services. Now, you can generally watch what you want, when you want, and a “hit” show is watched by many millions fewer than a hit of old.

Theater by GCinCT (CC BY-SA)

Going to a Theater for a Movie’s Opening Night

Going to see a predicted blockbuster on its opening night was an event once, too, and one you’d talk about for days, getting in line long before showtime to be sure you got in. Today, fewer people attend movies in person while others opt to see what they want on demand or via streaming.

Neighbors by State Farm (CC BY)

Knowing Your Neighbors

Mrs. Smith always had freshly baked cookies on hand, but you better watch out for crabby old Mr. Jones. Yes, knowing your neighbors (and their quirks) was once a thing. Today, you’re lucky if you get a nod from a neighbor as you back out of the driveway to carry on your own life. Knowing the neighbors enhances your sense of community, though, and is important in times of crisis.

Bowling Team
Bowling Team by Wystan (CC BY-SA)

Participation in Organizations and Events

Dad was on the bowling team or headed out to the Elks Lodge, while mom volunteered with the Junior League or shared tips at the garden club. Membership in community organizations used to be commonplace, as were the expected events of a town’s calendar, from hometown parades to ceremonies honoring veterans to celebrations of historic milestones. These days, attendance is down, with fewer events offered in many locales due to waning interest or economic realities.

Retirement Party
Retirement Party by Edsel Little (CC BY-SA)

Having One Job for Your Adult Life

You got a job, you progressed up the ladder, you got your gold watch, and you retired. This was the reality for many of past generations: Parents used to work for decades for the school or utility company, the town, or the police department. Now, having multiple jobs over the course of your life is the norm.

Selection of greetings cards on display in the store

Sending Greeting Cards, Always

You used to be able to fill an entire mantel with cards received for a birthday or holiday. Today if you get a text or ecard, it’s often considered a victory, and many are reminded of an occasion by Facebook. The greeting card industry has taken a hit, though there are indications that younger consumers are returning to this “vintage” tradition.

Close up Business man counting the money spread of cash in wallet.
Nopphon Pattanasri/istockphoto

Carrying Cash

For many, money is spent wholly by debit or credit card, Apple Pay, or another form of electronic payment. The pandemic accelerated the trend, but things were already heading toward fewer people carrying cash and using it daily.

Baking cookies

Baking From Scratch, Always

Teaching kids to measure, mix, and bake still happens, but baking from scratch is not as common despite our addiction to cooking shows and surviving the pandemic by baking. There’s a difference between today’s many oven-prep shortcuts and actual baking from scratch.

Bride and Bridesmaid
Donation money jar filled with coins in front of holiday lights

Rolling Coins for Cash

You sit down with a stack of paper rolls and fill them with coins, such as 40 quarters. Then you go to the bank to turn it in for a $10 bill. Today, coin redemption machines — even though they take a cut of your money — are the way most people roll.

asian chinese family and cousins having reunion dinner at home
Patrick Chu/istockphoto

Family Dinners, Especially on Sundays

Families, whether fighting or getting along, used to eat dinner together most evenings, with extended family often gathering on Sundays. Today, with complicated schedules and more distance between relatives, what used to be commonplace is now often a rarity.

Little kids at a Halloween party

Carefree Trick or Treating

Trunk or treat? Having kids gather in a common area to“trick or treat” out of the back of cars has become a safe Halloween activity in many communities. Such an event was once unheard of; a generation ago, kids were still heading out together, often with an older relative, to hit house after house and score bags (or pillowcases) full of treats.

Girl climbing tree
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/istockphoto

Kids Just Going Out to Play

You’d head out with friends and end up at the corner store, the stream, or the playground. Your parents knew you were in the area; you knew to be home for dinner. In the age of play dates and overly scheduled activities — though also increased safety risks — such random “play” is no longer common.

Family on RV Road Trip

Annual Family Vacations

Families might wait all year for their trip to the beach or mountains, a summer tradition that was filled with excitement, an actual break from work … and not a little bickering. Today, families often opt to take long weekends, staycations, or longer trips when they can, not as a given.

Halloween Inflatable Decorations

Seasonal Celebrations, in Season

There was a time holidays were celebrated when they were imminent, not months in advance. Stores would wait for one to end before promoting the next. Today, it’s no longer shocking to see Halloween goods in late summer or Christmas decorations in September. Same goes for stores being open on Sundays or, gasp, holidays. Things were slower back in the day. In recent years, though, many stores are coming back around, closing on holidays to allow staff time to spend with family and friends.