The Power of Traditions: Balancing the Old and New

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.

Christmas Trees for 3 Cents Each!

The newly cut tree is a universal symbol of this season. The song O Tannenbaum, (O Christmas Tree) celebrates the evergreen as nature’s symbol for this special time of year.

Some families venture out to tree farms to chose their own  center piece for home decorations.

For most who want a live tree, the most common option is a local tree lot—a  temporary stand run by a church, scouting group, volunteer fire fighters as a fund raiser and community service.  Or  shop the  Home Depot or local nursery’s selections.

A common reaction to  this year’s tree buying  is price.   People are surprised at how much this four-week home decoration costs.

“It was $250, and I didn’t even pick the largest one,” observed one home-owner.  An NCUA board member has posted about the price of trees on social networks  to illustrate his awareness of inflation.

Consumerism and Christmas: “The trial by market everything must come to

This is not a new topic.  In 1916 Robert Frost wrote a poem in the form of a playlet, or dialogue between two characters.  One is a person from the city seeking to buy trees wholesale; the other is a country person who grows these on his property.

The  visitor wants the trees for resale in the city.  The country man doesn’t want to sell.  After walking the back slope and estimating the number of trees around 1,000, the visitor offers a price of $30, about 3 cents per tree.

Frost’s contrasts these two perspectives of the trees’ value, both fully present today.

Frost’s Christmas Card

For many decades Frost wrote poems as  his Christmas greeting.  At this poem’s end he refers to the practice by saying:  “I can’t help wishing I could send you one (a tree), in wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.”

Following the poem, I compare this offer for a tree crop with today’s prices. But is this  really about the cost of trees in 1916? Or, as he writes:  “To look for something it (city life) had left behind and could not do without and keep its Christmas.”

Christmas Trees


(A Christmas Circular Letter)

 The city had withdrawn into itself

And left at last the country to the country;

When between whirls of snow not come to lie

And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove

A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,

Yet did in country fashion in that there

He sat and waited till he drew us out

A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.

He proved to be the city come again

To look for something it had left behind

And could not do without and keep its Christmas.

He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;

My woods—the young fir balsams like a place

Where houses all are churches and have spires.

I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.

I doubt if I was tempted for a moment

To sell them off their feet to go in cars

And leave the slope behind the house all bare,

Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.

I’d hate to have them know it if I was.

Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except

As others hold theirs or refuse for them,

Beyond the time of profitable growth,

The trial by market everything must come to.

I dallied so much with the thought of selling.

Then whether from mistaken courtesy

And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether

From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,

“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”

“I could soon tell how many they would cut,

You let me look them over.”

“You could look.

But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”

Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close

That lop each other of boughs, but not a few

Quite solitary and having equal boughs

All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,

Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,

With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”

I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.

We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,

And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”


“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”


He felt some need of softening that to me:

“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”

Then I was certain I had never meant

To let him have them. Never show surprise!

But thirty dollars seemed so small beside

The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents

(For that was all they figured out apiece),

Three cents so small beside the dollar friends

I should be writing to within the hour

Would pay in cities for good trees like those,

Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools

Could hang enough on to pick off enough.

A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!

Worth three cents more to give away than sell,

As may be shown by a simple calculation.

Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.

I can’t help wishing I could send you one,

In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.


Three cents and Today’s Christmas Tree Purchase

A first class stamp for each of Frost’s Christmas cards would cost 2 cents to mail in 1916.  The buyer offered a penny more for each tree.  Today a first class stamp purchased  singly is 58 cents.

I doubt the wholesale price of trees is under a dollar anywhere as this simple inflation comparison might suggest.

But is price  Frost’s concern? As he can’t “lay a tree” in each card,  is the poem his gift for each reader?

Might this greeting be an example of how he wishes all would appreciate this season?

It is not about the price of trees.


A Special Week of the Year

This last week before Christmas feels different.

Whether activities are secular or sacred, the sense of time becomes more acute.  For some this holiday creates stress; for others, heightened anticipation.

Whether it is Santa or the Three Wisemen bearing gifts (or Amazon or FedEx), there is a  belief bigger than the presents themselves.

In this time of awakening, my posts will be more reflective.  Why does this annual holiday season seem to matter so much, year after year?

Robert Frost’a poem, The Aim Was Song,  is about our effort to understand nature and ourselves.  Poetry is the “song” which he composes.

Before man came to blow it right
The wind once blew itself untaught,
And did its loudest day and night
In any rough place where it caught.

Man came to tell it what was wrong:
It hadn’t found the place to blow;
It blew too hard—the aim was song.
And listen—how it ought to go!

He took a little in his mouth,
And held it long enough for north
To be converted into south,
And then by measure blew it forth.

By measure. It was word and note,
The wind the wind had meant to be—
A little through the lips and throat.
The aim was song—the wind could see.

Thanksgiving Poem

Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

Elections. And Truth?

This poem published in 1901 is about the  legendary Muskogee orator and chief, Crazy Snake, who led resistance to federal allotment of Muskogee lands.

The author, DeWitt Clinton Duncan, was born in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia in 1829. A poet, short story writer, and essayist, he was an attorney for the Cherokee Nation and a translator of Cherokee law, as well as a teacher of Latin, English, and Greek.

The opening line is an allusion to line thirty-three of William Cullen Bryant’s poem “The Battle-Field,” which reads “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again”—an idea which this poem sharply contradicts.

Which “truth” will rise today?

“Truth crushed to earth will rise again,”
   ’Tis sometimes said. False! When it dies,
Like a tall tree felled on the plain,
   It never, never more, can rise.

Dead beauty’s buried out of sight;
   ’Tis gone beyond the eternal wave;
Another springs up into light,
   But not the one that’s in the grave.

I saw a ship once leave the shore;
   Its name was “Truth;” and on its board
It bore a thousand souls or more:
   Beneath its keel the ocean roared.

That ship went down with all its crew.
   True: other ships as proud as she,
Well built, and strong, and wholly new,
   Still ride upon that self-same sea.

But “Truth,” and all on her embarked
   Are lost in an eternal sleep,
(The fatal place itself unmarked)
   Far down in the abysmal deep.

Let fleeing Aguinaldo speak;
   And Oc̅eola from his cell;
And Sitting Bull, and Crazy Snake;
   Their story of experience tell.

There is no truth in all the earth
   But there’s a Calvary and a Cross;
We scarce have time to hail its birth,
   Ere we are called to mark its loss.

The truth that lives and laugh’s a sneak,
   That crouching licks the hand of power,
While that that’s worth the name is weak,
   And under foot dies every hour.

The Halloween Spirit

The Listeners (1912) by Walter de la Mare conjures the spirit of Halloween.   A seemingly empty house, night time, silent souls, the rider’s  horse eating grass,  and the Traveller, all alone, knocking loudly for a response.

The poem presents a mystery-I kept my word and the  one left awake.

It ,might be interpreted as a literal event, “does anybody care“; or metaphysical, spiritual metaphor- is there anybody there  who will answer?

The haunting atmosphere  evokes Halloween, the night of All Souls.

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said. But no one descended to the Traveller;
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
   Where he stood perplexed and still.But only a host of phantom listeners
   That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
   To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
   That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
   By the lonely Traveller’s call.And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
   Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
   ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
   That I kept my word,’ he said.Never the least stir made the listeners,
   Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
   From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
   And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
   When the plunging hoofs were gone.

A Poem for Autumn


“In the following Sonnet #73 Shakespeare begins with a simple observation that in gazing upon him his lover sees only the remnants of age (“yellow leaves”) hanging upon the withered skeleton of his aging self (“bare ruined choirs” = leave-less trees).

“That Shakespeare was only 30 (probably younger) at the time he wrote the poem speaks to his ability to imaginatively command a scene he had not yet experienced. From that he expands to a meditation on death (“after the sunset fadeth in the west”) and in the third quatrain expands even that metaphor by likening his aging body/self as the last ashes of his burning youth.

“He pivots from these tokens of gloom to end on a positive affirmation of love, for as he tells his beloved he recognizes that it only makes his lover’s love stronger that he loves one who must soon leave (die).” (by Dr. Andrew Roth, Book Notes # 116)

Sonnet #73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west;

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the deathbed whereon it must expire,

Consumed with that which it was nourished by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Reflections on Life from an Ocean Beach

Cape Cod

by George Santayana in 1894

The low sandy beach and the thin scrub pine,
The wide reach of bay and the long sky line,—
O, I am sick for home!
The salt, salt smell of the thick sea air,
And the smooth round stones that the ebbtides wear,—
When will the good ship come?
The wretched stumps all charred and burned,
And the deep soft rut where the cartwheel turned,—
Why is the world so old?
The lapping wave, and the broad gray sky
Where the cawing crows and the slow gulls fly,
Where are the dead untold?
The thin, slant willows by the flooded bog,
The huge stranded hulk and the floating log,
Sorrow with life began!
And among the dark pines, and along the flat shore,
O the wind, and the wind, for evermore!
What will become of man?

Two Experiences of Being Black in America

These two poems by African Americans were written over 100 years ago.  Their messages of hope endure.   Even today, their words are timely and timeless.


Paul Laurence Dunbar

September  1890

Fling out your banners, your honors be bringing,
Raise to the ether your paeans of praise.
Strike every chord and let music be ringing!
Celebrate freely this day of all days.

Few are the years since that notable blessing,
Raised you from slaves to the powers of men.
Each year has seen you my brothers progressing,
Never to sink to that level again.

Perched on your shoulders sits Liberty smiling,
Perched where the eyes of the nations can see.
Keep from her pinions all contact defiling;
Show by your deeds what you’re destined to be.

Press boldly forward nor waver, nor falter.
Blood has been freely poured out in your cause,
Lives sacrificed upon Liberty’s alter.
Press to the front, it were craven to pause.

Look to the heights that are worth your attaining
Keep your feet firm in the path to the goal.
Toward noble deeds every effort be straining.
Worthy ambition is food for the soul!

Up! Men and brothers, be noble, be earnest!
Ripe is the time and success is assured;
Know that your fate was the hardest and sternest
When through those lash-ringing days you endured.

Never again shall the manacles gall you
Never again shall the whip stroke defame!
Nobles and Freemen, your destinies call you
Onward to honor, to glory and fame.


We Are Marching

Carrie Law Morgan Figgs


  1. We are marching, truly marching
    Can’t you hear the sound of feet?
    We are fearing no impediment
    We have never known defeat.
  2. Like Job of old we have had patience,
    Like Joshua, dangerous roads we’ve trod
    Like Solomon we have built out temples.
    Like Abraham we’ve had faith in God.
  3. Up the streets of wealth and commerce,
    We are marching one by one
    We are marching, making history,
    For ourselves and those to come.
  4. We have planted schools and churches,
    We have answered duty’s call.
    We have marched from slavery’s cabin
    To the legislative hall.
  5. Brethren can’t you catch the spirit?
    You who are out just get in line
    Because we are marching, yes we are marching
    To the music of the time.
  6. We are marching, steady marching
    Bridging chasms, crossing streams
    Marching up the hill of progress
    Realizing our fondest dreams.
  7. We are marching, truly marching
    Can’t you hear the sound of feet?
    We are fearing no impediment
    We shall never know defeat.


Love in the Time of War

By Joesph McLaughlin, Jr on  his 51st wedding anniversary.  (April 4, 2022)

Just as spring is putting on its mask,

The one that Edna* said, though beautiful,

Is not enough, except for April fools,

And just as we are throwing ours away,

The ones we hope to never wear again,

That kept us safe from coughs but not from war,

We cannot hide our eyes from suffering,


Reminded by the mask that’s on the screen

The greatest evils come not from without

But from within the hearts of men.  And yet,

By night we cleave together and by day

You do small things for me and I for you.

Yoshino blooms reach skyward like a prayer,

And April has made fools of us again.

Philadelphia, 2022


* Notes: “…The one that Edna said…” 

                            To what purpose, April, do you return again? 

                            Beauty is not enough;;;. 

                            Not only underground are the brains of men 

                            Eaten by maggots. 

                            Life in itself 

                            Is nothing…

                            It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, .  


                            Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

                                    From “Spring”, by Edna St. Vincent Millay