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The importance of rituals

Published:Wednesday | April 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dennie Quill, Contributor

It's graduation season once again and despite all the ashes in the air over the United Kingdom, adoring relatives and doting parents are currently in the process of planning for graduations here, there and everywhere.

I have been invited to two such ceremonies this season and it got me thinking that the impulse to attend and record rituals associated with events such as birthdays, marriages, christenings, graduations, anniver-saries and funerals is powerful and universal. People are known to beg for invitations to such events. They are important to our lives because they help us mark transitions - from being single to married life, from puberty to maturity, from being a plain citizen to becoming a senior citizen, from student to graduate and from living to dead.

For instance, few brides would ever forgo the well-known tradition of something old, new, borrowed or blue or being 'given away' by their fathers (these days mothers who fathered them) and, even though modern couples have tweaked it a bit, there are well-worn aspects of the wedding ceremony that remain.

Changes taking place

As far as funerals go, many changes are taking place. Cremation, once considered heathen, is gaining in popularity as more and more persons are being burnt in crematories instead of being buried in caskets. I remember attending the funeral of a prominent person and after the fifth tribute, the person sitting beside me whispered, "what else is there to say about ... ." Indeed, two hours later, we were still listening to anecdotes about the life and times of the dearly departed.

In one funeral for a delightfully community-spirited lady, there were 11 tributes. The son of the deceased who gave the eulogy felt the task was too great for just him, so he called three other persons to help him and they all spoke. At 1:30 when the parson took the mike, he complained that he was rather quite hungry, having driven a considerable distance to be there for an 11 o'clock funeral.

From death's perspective, there is no difference between people. Loved ones want their family member to be remembered for their good deeds, and often they will spend many hours to do this. Yes, funerals can be long drawn-out affairs. But even so people with crammed work schedules and punishing deadlines will sit them out and hopefully come away with warm, vivid memories that will stay with them forever.

Graduations, like weddings and funerals, can be very costly affairs. From custom-made announcements to cap-and-gown rentals, and loads of stuff in between, the bill could be many thousands of dollars.

Despite how we may feel pressured to put out for these occasions, the truth is that no one ever participates in one of these milestone events without reflecting on one's own cycle of development.

So what, you may ask, is the point of this article? I want to say let us continue to honour the living and the dead by being part of the time-honoured rituals which help to celebrate the end of one phase and the start of a new one. Next time you are invited to one of these events don't consider it a waste of time.

Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Send feedback to