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Why rituals?

You can tell a lot about a culture by what it celebrates. Cultures that are past-oriented have numerous rituals and ceremonies marking past events: births and deaths and martyrdoms of prophets and saints as well as observances of regional and national historic events.

The oldworld was awash in rituals. Religious and tribal and national ceremonies helped formalize and structure life. They also helped lend color to otherwise drab and uneventful existences.

Life in preagrarian and agrarian times was a relentless struggle for survival. People toiled hard—six or seven days a week—year after year. Holidays were therefore welcome respites. People wore their "Sunday suits" and went out to celebrate or attend ceremonies at places of worship.

As we grow more fluid our need for rituals diminishes. Birthdays and anniversaries—national and religious holidays lose their appeal. People are less impelled to repeat obligatory formulas year after year —Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. Happy birthday. Happy . . .

Modern people's celebrations are increasingly based on voluntarism and spontaneity rather than automatic adherence to repetitive abstrac­tions. They may for example celebrate the completion of a project— the start of a new endeavor—the joys of an ongoing romance or friendship—a new partnership—a new home.

To most modern people very nearly every day is a delight. They are out in the evenings having fun: parties—movies—shows—disco­theques—restaurants—rendezvous with friends and lovers. Weekends are often spent away—on trips or at runaway country houses.

We take all this for granted and forget that by standards of traditional societies we are astonishingly hedonistic.

In our postpuritan times there is nothing special about Christmas or New Year's or other traditional holidays. Every day is special.


Birthdays are narcissisms left over from our childhoods. Future-oriented people are born and reborn every day. Every day is a liftoff. Every day a new beginning.

Wedding ceremonies.

These are rituals that allow two people to announce to the world that they now "belong" to each other. Weddings would be more honest if the bride and bridegroom peed on each other to establish their territory. "Keep out everybody—this is now my property."

Date: 2015-02-28; view: 619

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