Every nation and culture on earth has its traditions, that while maintained in the present have their origins in the past. They are all about long established or inherited ways of thinking or acting.
The personal emotion invested in any tradition is perhaps the biggest part of their value and that varies from person to person and culture to culture. Traditions are very often the glue that holds a community of people together.
If we take the time to celebrate traditions annually then we can as a nation allow ourselves to feel safe and secure, which ironically can also lead to us also becoming vulnerable.
It’s a balancing act all round.
A tradition might be about a display of respect, about good manners, which when employed ensures communities are pleasant places to live in.
Saying please and thank you, not only to friends but also to family, whose support we should never take for granted, is always important.
It is all about having a regard and respect for others. In Australia we have a tradition attached to informality that people coming here from other cultures, where rituals and the levels of status and authority are much more clearly defined, often find it difficult to adjust to and accept.
Others, on the other hand, go completely gaga, feeling as if they have been released from a prison and subsequently find themselves in all sorts of trouble.
So traditions can be either inhibiting or liberating. This is entirely dependent on your outlook or attitude.
If we do not establish ‘traditions’ of good behaviour in society, or provide examples of generously giving to others without expecting anything in return, then we are not really respecting ourselves.
There is no doubt we all need self-respect to be whole.
Many traditions revolve around religious rituals such as Christmas and Easter time. Then there are the countless food and wine festivals that celebrate life in general and music festivals that celebrate its sweet sounds.
A tradition can become attached to an individual event such as an autumn ‘Harvest’ festival, which assists country people to inform and showcase their produce, giving an insight into and about their life’s work to people in the city.
It is not the strongest that survive, or the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change”*
So when should traditions be preserved at all costs?
Just like all the other things we hold dear in both our culture and society from time to time, should traditions be regularly held up to examination and scrutiny?
If they are an informed decision can be made to either retain them as an integral aspect of a society and culture, to transform them for a new age or, to discard them completely?
Some traditions observed and honoured within our homes and communities by adults ensure our children have at all times good role models to emulate. It helps them know right from wrong and what is acceptable behaviour so that they will be ready when it’s time to take their place in the world.
Ugly scenes of drunken behaviour by teenagers at ‘schoolies’ week each year, especially on the Gold Coast of Queensland are distressing for many Australians. They are also, in so many ways, an indictment on the society we live in today.
This event has become a teenage ‘tradition’, or should we say addiction within a relatively short time in the scheme of things. So should it be re-visited and re-invented creatively for a new age?
No one wants to stop anyone young from having fun or enjoying a good time.
Most of them don’t realize that how they behave and are perceived by others at this point of their lives will have a major impact that may resound for many years to come in both their personal lives and careers.
In some cases it can and will leave a black mark on the rest of their own lives and the lives of others, especially if it goes horribly wrong and people are hurt or killed.
Rather than being self-destructive would it not be better if it became ‘fashionable’ to be constructive instead?
Many of the traditions we like to retain are those we enjoyed during childhood.
They are generally associated with pleasure and warm and fuzzy feelings, like those the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus generate, rather than those that cause pain.
Traditions that offer painful experiences can often be quickly discarded as society ‘progresses’, however in hindsight that may turn out not to have been a good thing for society collectively.
The lessons we learn in childhood are the ones that generally sustain us in times of trouble.
When I was a child it was a ‘tradition’ for children to be lifted up to kiss a relative who had died goodbye in their open coffin, which is hardly a happy thought or a pleasant experience.
However, when the ‘modern’ age of the 60’s arrived everyone wanted to just lie about with flowers in their hair waxing lyrical about love and life and this tradition, that had been in place for hundreds of years was quickly swept away.
We cannot expose children to such ‘trauma’ was the rationale of the all-new very ‘hip’ age to which I belonged. Now at the senior stage of my life I realize it was one of the most valuable experiences I had as a child. It gave me the ability to work through the many moments of grief I have lived through experienced as an adult. And, most importantly, it taught me that death is integral to life and our journey through it.
We never really get over the experience, but the finality of saying goodbye helps us to have some sort of closure and to move forward. It’s in direct contrast to a divorce, that often leaves the parties in a wilderness of sadness, where closure is never an option.
By nature I am a person that deals more than reasonably with sudden change than a lot of other people, as my family and friends will testify.
That does not mean however that like everyone else, there are not some ‘traditions’ that have punctuated much of my life and still hold a special significance and place in my heart.
This conversation is a result of my visit to my hometown Sydney. As trivial as it might appear to some, the tradition attached to having a pianist playing beautiful music on the ground floor of David Jones (DJ’s) in Sydney has, at least over the past decade or so, become important to me.
Every time I arrive in the city of Sydney where I lived the majority of my life, I take time in my day to pause, listen and browse on the ground floor of D J’s. An aspect of ‘retail therapy’, hearing the pianist makes my spirit soar and leaves me in a good place.
It is as if their very presence means everything is all right in our world, despite all the dreadful stuff happening around us all the time.
This tradition of mine is also about feeling attached to being ‘at home’, in the city where I was born. It has that age of ‘comfort’ connotation.
The David Jones flagship building in Sydney was designed at time when the proportions attached to harmony and proportion in architecture was still important.
The building itself is an accessible size; unlike the mega palaces and plazas we have everywhere else that can be completely overwhelming.
With clever rearrangement of its interior spaces it has been brought up to date for the new age, at least visually and in the way the stock has been ordered.
When talking to the pianist, something I am always want to do, I discovered discarding this ongoing tradition often looms large. Up until now though public outcry has stopped it happening.
It made me think that sometimes it’s better to transform or to met morph some traditions into a new age gradually so that they can continue to be an important link from one generation to another. This way they will continue to enrich our society and the way we live in it and deal with each other.
There must be so many David Jones customers and visitors who still enjoy the piano playing tradition.
I am not opposed to change by any stretch of the imagination, so my thoughts were that they could just gradually value add to an already great experience.
They could create a different style of musical experience each day not by subtracting but by adding to the pianist.
As an integral part of contemporary Australian society we should also be respecting the many other musical traditions we have inherited.
After all we are a multicultural society now and there are so many wonderful sound making machines out there, including the human voice. By adding to the mix they might make the musical moments at David Jones something more people will want to be involved with first hand.
Then, as the story goes, the customers will be flocking through the door at the prospect of being seduced by the variety of sounds. The combination of the simple Chinese ehru for instance, and the David Jones Steinway baby grand piano would be marvellous.
Department Stores we know are having a devil of a time adjusting to this new modern age and Online shopping competition.
It can often seem, rightly or wrongly, that contemporary management may only believe it is all about keeping counters modern and gleaming, everything white and sparkling and having lots of stock on hand.
What they seem to have forgotten was that the early, and most central idea attached to the formation of a department store, was that it was to be a nurturing and pleasant place to be, one where all that mattered was the ‘experience’ for the customer.
Surely we need to woo people out of their homes to enjoy a ‘trip to town’ again. It needs to become an occasion, one to enjoy perhaps even dress up for.
The people sitting in the new divine French tea shop Ladurée in Westfield when I was there recently certainly looked as if they were enjoying the ‘occasion’ and I can see this place establishing its own traditions in Australia, as it has in its home city of Paris.
Visiting Sydney’s iconic department store David Jones as a child with my mother firmly holding my hand was all about the experience.
The doorman who tipped his hat to her as he opened the door and chatted pleasantly to us; the floorwalker who looked after us until a staff member was free to serve us; the choir that sang at Xmas on the steps; the piano player who made it a lovely environment to be in and above all, the surety of personal service – the staff always used your name.
Please don’t tell me learning people’s names is not practical today. It probably wasn’t back then either, however it was a technique of marketing extensively used. These days with everyone offering some form of credit card, that reveals his or her name, it’s even easier.
Nothing like saying ‘thank you Mr Smith, we hope the rest of your day goes well’ or “go well Mrs Brown, and be sure to let us know if we can help further in any way”.
Throughout my own professional life if I had forgotten the names of many connections made, or my own client’s names, then I wouldn’t have had a business at all.
It’s really no difference for department store staff members. The simple truth is that without clients coming to the store they won’t have a job.
Needs must, as they used to say, so if it’s important to learn something, we will.
While we should always respect and safeguard traditions, there are also times in history where we also need to take the initiative to ensure that the symbolism of contemporary times and contemporary issues are not overlooked as well.
We don’t want traditions to hold us captive, surely they should also be about setting us free.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2012-2014
The word ‘tradition’ derives from Latin, traditio: the noun from the verb tradere or traderer, which means to transmit, hand over or give for safekeeping