How Important Is Ceremony?

In some ways, we exalt the ceremonies in our lives. Between following a prescribed set of actions and repeating certain words, a ritual can make us feel grounded in reality or soaring among the stars. A ceremony, whether it is religious or secular in nature, cements our place in a community.

However, our word choices sometimes suggest that they are not so important. For example, if a role is “largely ceremonial” it means it has few if any actual duties or responsibilities.

It seems that we often treat ritual as a sacred event, but one that is divorced from everyday relevance. And yet, everyone is surrounded by ceremonial activities, often in many different walks of life.

So which is it? Do we live our lives according to the rituals set forth from those who have come before? Or do the ceremonies we attend have at most some symbolic place in our lives, but no real significance?

How important is ceremony?

Related questions: What makes a tradition? What does it mean to be thankful? Why do we feel the need to belong? What do we have in common? What makes a community?


3 thoughts on “How Important Is Ceremony?”

  1. Ceremonies are often meant to convey reverence (e.g. reciting a religious creed to demonstrate your faith) or celebration (e.g. singing “Happy Birthday” to recognize someone’s annual travel around the sun). And, if that ritual truly moves someone to properly observe an object, event, or belief, I guess that’s fine — as long as it respects others who have different respectful viewpoints.

    I can especially see the value of ceremony/ritual in a group setting. Joining others in an action, like singing or praying, can bring people together and have them all focus on and observe meaning in one important thing.

    But truth be told, many ceremonies/rituals rankle me. It seems that for some the action itself becomes the thing of importance, rather than what the ritual was actually meant to observe.

  2. I believe ceremony is important. Where we lose ceremony, we lose something of what makes us human. One example: in cultures where there is still a ritual or ceremony welcoming young people into adulthood, such as bar/bat mitzvah or quinçañera, culture can be more cohesive, and young people can develop a stronger sense of responsibility to and connection with their community. On the other hand, cultures that don’t have this ceremony can end up with disaffected, disconnected young people with a diminished sense of community and belonging, which in turn can lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety, as well as other mental challenges that can lead to crime and violence.

    However, a culture can also struggle when ceremonies that have become irrelevant are artificially cling to. For example, rituals of submission become irrelevant in a culture that has rejected slavery or misogyny. However, many of those rituals are clung to, often by religious or political organizations that are not keeping up with cultural shifts.

    Here’s an interesting example from a couple years ago, regarding using traditional ceremonies and rituals to help reintegrate child soldiers in places like Sierra Leone into their cultures while dealing with their emotional trauma.

    I personally love and regularly participate in ceremony. But on top of that, psychologists seem mostly to agree that it is beneficial on a psychosocial level. For me, that makes it important.

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