Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pomp and Circumstance

"I don't go to the graduation ceremonies," said a colleague of mine in the school district. "I didn't even go to my own. I just don't do pomp and circumstance."

I thought about his words. Is he enlightened or impoverished?

Ceremony is part of human culture. We celebrate birthdays, comings-of-age, graduations, weddings. We honor the departing soldier, the returning veteran and the dearly departed. Some people pay close attention to the changing of the seasons. In Japan, there is a day set aside to honor boys; another to honor Girls.

The ceremonies we cherish, change over time. Christmas as we know it, is a very modern Western idea -- it would be unrecognizable to our forefathers, even the most devout Christians of them. Halloween is completely different today than when it began .... and at least where I live, trick-or-treating door to door is nearly dead -- certainly, dead is the idea of people offering apples, warm cookies and cider to the costumed pixies at their doorstep.

As the Western world continues to cut loose from the moorings of religion, will the time come when its sacred holidays fade completely away? If so, what will remain? Some people kneel at the altar of the Superbowl; the Wave becomes today's genuflection; and the grid-iron athletes are the new apostles.

Others offer their devotions to celebrities as fervently as a former generation did to the canonized saints. They don't burn candles but they devour People magazine.

Is this progress or retrogression? Praiseworthy or pathetic?

A thousand years from now, what ceremonies do you suppose we will cherish and what will be utterly forgotten? Remember that the whole idea of high school and even college is a novelty in world history; consider that marriage in the Western world is an endangered species; and that, even though Og the Caveman probably tossed a ball of animal hide or maybe his neighbor's severed head for fun, the sports we know today -- football, basketball, etc -- are babes in the nursery, basically fads.

Will we come full circle? There are devoted groups now attempting to resurrect ancient Greek paganism. There are people who fervently wish to reclaim the idea of "good witches" from its exile in fairy tale literature. Will they succeed or will the law of diminishing returns exact its toll?

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