The Significance of Ceremonies

Regardless of geography, time, or culture throughout human history, mankind has marked certain activities of significance with a ceremony.  This three-syllable word can hardly convey the significance of what it represents, and it represents much.  It is important to make a distinction that while ceremonies are commonplace, they are not necessary.  They are in essence superfluous.  It seems like a contradiction I know.  Let us quickly examine three common ceremonies in human culture: weddings, graduations, and christening.

Wedding Ceremony

You need only suggest to a young woman that her wedding is superfluous (soon thereafter incurring her wrath) to understand the cultural significance of weddings.  If you were married and had a wedding, or participated as a groomsman of bride’s maid, or even an usher you can quickly attest to the stress that exists in the preparation for and participation in a wedding.  Picture for a moment the number of people involved in the average wedding.

If the bride has five bride’s maids, then she will often insist that the groom has an equal amount of groomsmen.  Right away we have twelve people in the wedding.  Then we have the ring bearer and the flower girl who are generally small children who are too young to even understand in what they are participating, so add two.  Do not forget the parents of both the bride and groom who are often given their own sixty seconds of significance as they are prominently sat in the front of the gathering.  Add four.

If the wedding is particularly large, you will have ushers.  They are not necessary, but they useful especially if you have a large guest list.  Throw in wedding singers, the officiant, and the guests and this gathering can easily grow to a gathering of more than one hundred people.  I could include the reception and the additional photographers, DJs, bartenders, servers, cooks, and additional people who are involved, but let us remain at the wedding.  This all seems standard and par for the course.  Why would I use the word superfluous to describe such a standard affair?

Who are the people that are necessary to have in attendance for the bride and groom to get married?  You might have missed it, but everything that we described above is a wedding.  A wedding is defined as a marriage ceremony.  Ah, there is that word again.  The marriage only requires the bride, groom, and the officiant.  So if those are the only people who are necessary for two people to get married then why the whole wedding ceremony that in 2019 according to CNBC costed an average of $33,900.00?

Graduation Ceremony

Graduations are just as grand in their pomp and preparation.  One individual who graduates often invites up to five people who usually are family members.  According to Public School Review the average graduating class size is 526 students. Thrown in the school officials and officiants who conduct the graduation and the individuals who are charged with caring for the facility where the graduation takes place, and you easily exceed 2500 people.

What happens if the night before you graduate you get into a car accident, and you are not able to attend the graduation.  Do you have to repeat you senior year?  You did not get to wear you cap and gown, and walk across the stage, and take a picture shaking the hand of the principal, and officially hear you name before you walk across the stage.  Did you graduate?


Finally, we arrive at christening.  The formal definition of christening is to give a baby a Christian name at baptism as a sign of admission to the Christian church.  This definition is how the Catholic church conducts christenings.  In the Protestant church, and specifically the Baptist church, this ceremony is one of consecration of a baby before God.  I am not going to go into the specifics of why each religion’s practices are different.  Sufficed to say that the ceremony marks the birth of the child.  What happens if the parents decide at the last moment not to go through with the ceremony?  Was the child still born without having gone through the ceremony?

I realized after I wrote this that I went in the opposite order that most people experience these events if at all.  The last question in each of these ceremonial examples is the point of this exploration.  You do not have to have a wedding to get married, you do not have to participate in a formal graduation to matriculate from school, and you do not have to be christened to affirm your birth.  So why do people concern themselves with the ceremony?

The ceremony is not for the participants, it is for the observers.  Think about that for a moment.  A wedding ceremony is for the guests who attend the wedding.  A wedding is a formal way to convey to the world that you are getting married.  You guests are the witnesses and the people who are celebrating the union with you.  The same can be said for graduation.  The ceremony is for the guests who are witnesses that observe this formal event that signifies your completion of your educational journey.  A christening ceremony is the same.  The church community to which you belong join you in celebration the birth of your new child.

Society celebrates milestones in each other’s lives and have formalized these celebrations as ceremonies of various significance.  Generally, you do not attend a wedding, graduation, or a christening for someone who you do not know.  These ceremonies are intimate and therefore the attendees usually have some proximity wedding party, student, or child’s family.

This brings us to the only national ceremony that we hold in this country.  The inauguration of the president of the United States.  On Wednesday, January 20 Joseph R. Biden will become the 47th president of this country.  On February 17, 2020 I wrote that the peaceful transfer of power was in danger, and I was correct.

Joe Biden swearing in ceremony as Vice President

Donald Trump is not attending the inauguration.  Given the events of the attack on the US Capitol that he instigated, some people agree with his decision.  However, you have to go back to 1869 and the presidency of Andrew Jackson to find the most recent example of a former president not attending the inauguration of his successor.  If we examine this event through the lens of weddings, graduations, and christenings, every citizen of America has proximity to this event.  The President is the leader of the country, whether you voted for him or not.

The inauguration ceremony is a signal to not only Americans, but to the world that our political system remains intact.  As I said earlier in the article, the ceremony is not necessary.  However, if two people can invest their time and money into having a formal ceremony of their marital union, and if several thousand people can gather to observe the matriculation of a few hundred students, and hundreds of people can gather to celebrate the birth of one baby, then certainly three hundred million people can observe the formal swearing in of their leader.

Donald Trump has spent the last four years destroying ceremonies and norms that have been staples in our society.  It seems appropriate that he would on his final day as president destroy another one.  My greater fear is what other norms will be destroyed by his undisciplined and selfish actions.  As a private citizen, and with over seventy million adoring followers, he might be more destructive once he leaves the White House.  I hope that I am wrong, but I suspect that I am not.

What is your greatest fear of what Donald Trump will do once he leaves the White House on Wednesday?

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