Holidays remind us of past practices, events and stories that have made us who we are as individuals and a country.
But they can be confusing. For some may view these breaks from the working calendar as simply nostalgia, irrelevant to the present, without the correct lessons to carry us into the future.
Traditions are hard to maintain. That’s why holidays can help. People and cultures change. The song Tradition from Fiddler on the Roof presents this challenge “keeping balance” between past and present mores within a family and in society.
Credit unions were constructed around tradition. The founding stories tell of the sponsor group of employees, in a community, or with members of church drawing upon their existing “common bond” to create a novel way to improve their collective lives. In the process they evolve their separate institution, forming a culture of service and a reputation of trust. They develop their own traditions.
Holidays Recall Stories that Matter
The current holiday season is always special. We rewatch movies that capture the Christmas spirit. The Inn on 34th Street, Holiday Inn (introducing the song White Christmas), the movie White Christmas, and Frank Capra’s classic, It’s a Wonderful Life have a staying power sometimes missing in contemporary Hallmark channel versions.
Whatever a film’s lasting artistic expression they all still share the same human story of redemption.
Literature classes in school recite Twas the night before Christmas, or Christina Rosettee’s poem in The Bleak Midwinter (set to music and now widely sung anthem by Gustaf Holst), or other works such as Ring Out Wild Bells from Tennyson and Old Christmas by Washington Irving.
Dickens story of Scrooge is staged again in cities large and small throughout the US. Its themes of personal hardship and insensitive wealth accumulation still speak to us.
Christian religious services begin with Advent. These four consecutive Sundays’ candle lightings celebrate love, hope, joy and light all in preparation for Christmas day.
Commerce rebounds. It starts with Black Friday. Retailers from department stores to car dealers all offer specials to draw in consumers. The holiday is filled with special sales offers. Giving Tuesday reminds that life is more than just getting.
The Power of Traditions
The faiths celebrated at Christmas and Hannukah from which these literary and secular manifestations emerge, are stories of ancestors defining their beliefs in actions that inspire current generations.
These faith practices and commercial activities create traditions repeated over generations. From the lighting of the National Christmas tree to attending midnight mass, people remember. Whatever their circumstances they honor the values, spirit and sacrifices that are meaningful in their lives now.
These holiday traditions, sometimes with public parades and spectacles, reinforce meaning and renew hope. Or they can become a neglected past unrelated to current purpose.
Credit Unions Coping with Traditions
The story of who the credit union is, is communicated by its culture and in the marketplace via a brand. The founding story is summarized on web sites showing the pioneers who began with no capital, only a desk drawer with founder’s shares, and the desire to serve members with loans.
Every organization must innovate and move away from prior practices to refresh or sometimes “start over” to remain relevant. New churches are founded outside current denominational structures to offer a different expression of faith practice, or recover what some feel is a faith lost. In movies this commercial effort is called a sequel. Even Scrooge’s stage story has been adapted to 21st century business settings with contemporary casting.
When Traditions Are Discarded
Both religious practice and commercial organizations must grapple with the reality of remaining relevant and potentially losing the power of their story.
Credit unions compete in open markets. No more protected FOM’s. Members change, so do their needs. Markets go through cycles.
In most coops the majority of funds are held by older generations, long standing members, many of whom do not borrow. Management seeks new members often with no previous connection to the credit union and its distinction versus other financial options. Just another consumer choice, perhaps attracted by price.
Examples are “indirect” lending for autos, student loans, and commercial participations where the business borrower may not even be in the credit union’s geographic market. No local advantage needed, just price.
Sometimes this balance of change and tradition is political. Some wish to conserve the best of the past versus progressives who believe that success was built on limits and concepts that no longer reflect current needs and market realities.
Choices and Beliefs
There is still one commonality whatever the balance between past and present circumstance. The choices each of us make in our professional or personal lives express our values, the beliefs we hold about life’s purpose.
Whether religious, commercial or just lifestyle driven, traditions are efforts to connect within oneself and externally, with others, through shared experience.
Whatever business strategy or “innovations” are introduced, and prior efforts ended, the results are presented as the new rituals for success.
The biggest error is erasing past connections. It is becoming more common today upon merger or the launch of a market expansion effort to rebrand and to reject past names, associations, and even partnerships in the search for growth.
To dismiss the past as no longer relevant to present circumstance negates shared purpose. Past experience no longer lights the future. It is stepping off a cliff not knowing how far down is; or taking Christ out of mas. This may appear a necessary and innovative relaunch for future success; but more likely not. Without a past, there can be no future.
Rebuking tradition without principles is a dead end. For values are the core of cooperative design. With no past, the future becomes a shot in the dark. Survival becomes nothing more than a financial contest attempting just to stay up with overall trends.
Washington Irving’s Old Christmas stories from 1876 remind us of the binding power of tradition.
“Of all the old festivals,” Irving wrote, “that of Christmas awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment.”
This “solemn and sacred tone” is accessible all year round to those who respect the legacy of prior generations that established their current opportunities.
It also adds to life’s enjoyment.