There were only two occasions of release which were not punishments. Release of the elderly, which was a time of celebration for a life well and fully lived; and the release of a newchild, which always brought a sense of what-could-we-have-done. This was especially troubling for the Nurturers, like Father, who felt they had failed somehow. But it happened rarely. (1.52)
Tradition is used to mask what should be painful in the community. In this case, death is masked by a fictional "release."
There was talk about changing the rule and giving the bicycles at an earlier age. A committee was studying the idea. When something went to a committee for study, the people always joked about it. They said the committee members would become Elders by the time the rule change was made.
Rules were very hard to change. Sometimes, if it was a very important rule – unlike the one governing the age for bicycles – it would have to go, eventually, to The Receiver for a decision. The Receiver was the most important Elder. Jonas had never seen him, that he knew of; someone in a position of such importance lived and worked alone. But the committee would never bother The Receiver with a question about bicycles; they would simply fret and argue about it themselves for years, until the citizens forgot that it had ever gone to them for study. (2.18-19)
A sense of tradition certainly contributes to the Elders' hesitance to change, but there's also the fact that they have no knowledge of the past on which to base their decisions. It's an odd combination, isn't it?
Though Jonas had only become a Five the year that they acquired Lily and learned her name, he remembered the excitement, the conversations at home, wondering about her: how she would look, who she would be, how she would fit into their established family unit. He remembered climbing the steps to the stage with his parents, his father by his side that year instead of with the Nurturers, since it was the year that he would be given a newchild of his own. (2.13)
Adults are under the strict control of traditions and customs just as much as children in The Giver.
Larissa opened her eyes happily. "They told his whole life before they released him," she said. "They always do. But to be honest," She whispered with a mischievous look, "some of the tellings are a little boring. I've seen some of the Old fall asleep during tellings – when they released Edna recently. Did you know Edna?" (4.27)
This particular tradition—the "tellings"—resonates fairly closely with our own tradition of obituaries. It feels almost out of place in Jonas's world, though. Why celebrate the past in a world that refuses to remember anything?
The little girl nodded and looked down at herself, at the jacket with its row of large buttons that designated her as a Seven. Fours, Fives, and Sixes all wore jackets that fastened down the back so that they would have to help each other dress and would learn interdependence. (6.6)
Tradition is seemingly based on logic in The Giver. Everything is done for a reason, and all rituals have their purpose. It is this sort of control that eliminates freedom and choice.
This new Caleb was a replacement child. The couple had lost their first Caleb, a cheerful little Four. Loss of a child was very, very rare. The community was extraordinarily safe, each citizen watchful and protective of all children. But somehow the first Caleb had wandered away unnoticed, and had fallen into the river. The entire community had performed the Ceremony of Loss together, murmuring the name Caleb throughout an entire day, less and less frequently, softer in volume, as the long and somber day went on, so that the little Four seemed to fade away gradually from everyone's consciousness. (6.27)
Again, tradition is being used to mask pain. Rather than deal with suffering, recognize it, and work through it, the community just takes the easy way out: they choose to forget it ever happened.
His mother replied, "Her, not his. It was a female. But we are never to speak the name, or use it again for a newchild."
Jonas was shocked. A name designated Not-to-Be-Spoken indicated the highest degree of disgrace. (9.25-26)
Tradition works against memory in The Giver. By removing Rosemary's name from use, the community is trying to forget about her. (Fittingly, "Rosemary" is an herb that's supposed to help with memory. Awesome.)
"Climate Control. Snow made growing food difficult, limited the agricultural periods. And unpredictable weather made transportation almost impossible at times. It wasn't a practical thing, so it became obsolete when we went to Sameness." (11.33)
Through practicality and reasoning, the community has justified all of their customs, even those that destroy human freedom and choice.