China vase I attended a wedding recently and, apart from thinking that I was getting very old, I was struck by how traditions that once meant something can be maintained over time, but still lose their meaning.

I'm not a fan of traditional weddings, but there is a bit of a familiar formula to them that makes some sense. At the wedding I went to - the elements were all there: bride wore white, bride changed her name to her husband's, lots and lots of photos, introducing the bride and groom to the reception, speeches, cutting the cake ... but it was all a bit odd. The speeches and dancing were held before the food was served, which meant that those of us not drinking ourselves silly were very hungry, the master of ceremonies was out of earshot of most of the guests, the main table for the bridal party was never used all night, and the cutting the cake occurred with the bride and groom facing the wall, with their backs to the guests. The band was great though!

It set me to thinking that if a tradition is to be retained, one needs to understand its origins and purpose, and why it is that a tradition deserves to be maintained from past to present to future. I call these traditions ming vases, the things we must take with us to the future at all costs. They are the things we take with us into the future that define us, that help us understand the world. We need to safeguard the integrity of those traditions. Mucking around with them because you can undervalues them, and defeats the purpose of observing them.

This wedding had lots of traditional elements, but they didn't mean anything. It was almost as though lots of wedding etiquette books had been read to define what elements needed to be included in the wedding but then, in an attempt to be modern, those elements were jumbled to the extent that they were meaningless. It's a good example of the litany of our society being accepted mindlessly without understanding the assumptions and underpinning reasons for their existence in the first place. The formula only matters is we understand why it exists in the first place. Of course, the opposite view might be that the collapse of a tradition like this means that it's past its use-by date and that's valid.

Part of understanding the future is understanding the past, which helps us understand why our present is like it is, and how both past and present will help shape our future. If we jumble up the past in an effort to live in the present, then I'm not sure that we give ourselves a solid enough foundation with which to begin to explore the future.