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The significance of traditions

Christmas without a tree, no festive meal and, for my family, the absence of the novel decoration on the table each year, lovingly crafted by my aunt. Unimaginable. Family traditions bind us together and reassure us; the guarantee of everything retrieved from the attic and in its rightful place for the festivities brings memories of childhood flooding back and strengthens our sense of belonging.

As we progress through school and on to life as an adult, it is no accident that so many associations develop and so many of us are keen to belong. The strongest and oldest institutions have evolved their own, often esoteric, traditions: from the Labour Party singing The Red Flag at conferences to the intricacies of the Garter Service at Windsor, each serves to both include and exclude. Sometimes the origins of these traditions are lost in time, but their repetition strengthens our sense of belonging. 

As we begin the celebrations for Harrow’s 450th anniversary since its founding, we can look back not only with pride but also with a critical eye on the past four and a half centuries. There is no doubt that some of our traditions have stood us in very good stead. I have sung Songs with Harrovians in the Far East, in the Namibian desert and in Knightsbridge, and walked past Speech Room as the Houses have been practising this term, and nothing makes me feel more that time spent on the Hill has been worthwhile and that the bonds are strong, and strengthened by our traditions, our values, our uniform and our lexicon. Hats on the High Street, footer in the mud, Bill in Bill Yard, tolly up and toshes, flicks and Finds Dinners still serve us well but, most importantly, it is the traditions that we build now that matter: kindness and concern for those around us, tolerance and tact, and valuing diversity. Harrow is a great school and a great institution because we seek constantly to build on our long-established customs, move with the times and develop the traditions of the future.

Mr Peter Bieneman, Senior Master

Picture Caption: Churchill Songs at the Royal Albert Hall