|Rituals, Customs, Traditions and Celebrations
and Ceremonies of Life
|The Rhythms of Life:
Routine - Ritual - Custom - Tradition
- Repetitive behaviour - actions
Humans have held celebrations and engaged in ceremonies since before recorded time - and as time
went on they began to hold these in connection with certain things or events. These ceremonies evolved
into patterns - patterns which were easily recognizable to all the participants. Such patterns provided
points of reference, familiarity and thus comfort.
A ritual is an activity that is repeated over and over in the same way - “the way it is done”, is called a
"rite" – where every one, everywhere, does the same sort of thing regularly in the same way.
Ceremony - is the reason for the get-together or Ceremony
Ritual (Rite) - is the How, or Way, of doing the ceremony
However, rites evolve among peoples, groups or organizations, and thus each may go about a specific
procedure in slightly, or vastly, different ways. In that way ritual varies within the different rites.
Ritual and rite basically mean, “routine”, and thus is related to routine and habit (it is often a synonym): a
routine or ritual is a prescribed, detailed course of action to be followed regularly; a standard procedure.
It is a way of “going about things in a set of customary and often mechanically (so familiar that it's done
almost automatically like a reflex) performed procedures or activities”.
Many organized rituals, such as in religious organizations are connected to the past, and often have little
meaning left to many of the observers/paricipants, other than a degree of comfort due to the familiarity.
Truly effective ritual is meaningful to each observer/participant because it connects readily to life in all its
aspects in a very meaningful and instantly recognizable way: it is only then that it becomes truly powerful,
sustaining and comforting.
If it is also meant to be connected to the past, then those connections and their meaning and value
should be explained - and many cultures do so; it has also been done at tribal level around the world since
time immemorial. Without that introduction/explanation, otherwise would be a hollow, unfulfilling activity
and routine - simply going through meaningless actions for many of those present.
Ritual and routine are something we are very familiar with in our daily lives. In fact, we are so familiar with
them that we often no longer notice our routines or rituals (for example, brushing teeth after every meal –
automatically, like a reflex action).
Routine is comfortable - it is a standard procedure. We like knowing what we're going to do, when we're
going to do it, and what we'll be wearing while we do it, etc. It's nice, safe and predictable. There are no
surprises, no unforeseen contingencies: no upsets. It provides predictability, yet leaves room for variation
and spontaneity depending on circumstances.
Ritual and ceremony produce, access, and contain intense emotions – of connection: and a sense of
connection and continuity is deeply important to the human psyche, or soul.
"We need a deeper and more personal sense of connection - the kind that so far human beings have only found
through ritual and ceremony. Ritual is essential because it is truly the pattern that connects. It provides communication
at all levels - communication among all the systems within the individual human organism; between people within
groups; between one group and another in a city and throughout all these levels between the human and the non-
human in the natural environment."
Another major important element of ritual is that it also "tells a story", and in telling it, it uses symbols
that represent things people are familiar with. It is an enactment, so to speak, where each movement,
each participant relates to a part of their particular culture-story.
The "power" of ritual, however is only as good as the sense of connection and familiarity people have
with, and to, the story it is re-creating. When people no longer know the story, and can't connect with it,
ritual becomes simply a pageantry - pleasant, perhaps, but rendered meaningless.
Two things emerge from this: either people need to re-learn the story (about accept and "believe" it), or
else, a new story must be created: one to which people can relate and connect.
In many faith systems, this hasn't happened, and isn't happening.
Many people create their own story - and adapt and alter it to complement the dynamic reality of life -
which is always changing.
Every religion in the world has "rituals" - even though they don't always call them that. In some
cases, the word "format" is used. In other cases "order of service" may be the preferred word. Yet
they all refer to the same thing. This is true, and has been true, ever since people inhabited the earth:
from "primitive" people, right to the most "civilized", contemporary sophisticated member of the
developed world who engages in religious activities, uses, or follows a ritual/rite, regardless what
particular name they give it.
Ritual in the worship service is no "Mumbo-Jumbo". The ritual of the Mass in the Catholic Church is
there to ensure that there are/will be, no "surprises", no unforseen contingencies: no upsets. It too,
provides predictability, yet leaves room for variation and spontaneity depending on the occasion and
on circumstances (such as different church/liturgical seasons).
Ritual is also a "teaching tool" - each action has significance, or is a symbol of things.
The dance of the ritual
- The procession, therefore, is a capsule containing a teaching element. But it also is a regular
re-enactment or recreation of what it is all about. It is a "mini ritual" within the larger ritual of
the overall mass.
- Even the "vestments" (clothing) that each wears – as well as the decorations on the altar, and
other paraphernalia - have significance, as do candles, bells and incense.
Klaas Tuinman M.A.
Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Canada - Oct 2010
Ritual is one of those words in our daily language that is somewhat (or very) confusing, depending on the
context and circumstances, because among other things, it is also used as a synonym for "routine", and
"habitual". That often easily leads to misunderstanding, because of its several meanings, or shades of
meaning. Let's take a closer look to see what it's all about.
Definition: A RITUAL, in the context here, is a formalised, pre-established, or predetermined set of actions
generally performed in a particular environment at a regular, recurring interval. The interval and actions are
often (usually) connected to certain circumstances and/or occasions in people's lives.
symbolic actions generally performed in a particular environment at a regular, recurring interval: it is a
The set of actions that comprise a ritual often include, but are not limited to, such things as recitation,
singing, group processions, repetitive dance, manipulation of sacred objects, etc. Virtually everyone
engaged in a spiritual or religious activity follows some sort of familiar, comfortable pattern: that pattern is
We achieve the deep sense of connection, continuity and familiarity through such ceremonies as:
Weddings/Marriage, Divorce, Renewal of vows, Baptism, Confirmation, Commitment, Rites of Passage (e.g.
(for example, Transition into Adolescence, graduating from college, etc). Graduation Exercises, Exorcism,
Holy Orders, Funerals, Oriental tea Ceremonies, or such other ceremonial events as the ritual of saying
goodbye; and many others.
Routine is a detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed: for example, my household
chores have become a morning ritual, or a ritual glass of milk before bed. We all have behaviours and
habits in our lives. Each person has his/her routines (like brushing our teeth after meals, or upon getting
up in the morning. From the moment we are born we are exploring how we can do things so we can feel
some sense of satisfaction. The satisfaction comes from doing something fast, precise, and correct. You
try out different ways, and if you want things to be done as smoothly and efficiently as possible you have
to decide which way works best for you and you will start to adopt certain routines.
These routines have the purpose to structure your life and have you waste as little time as possible having
to figure out how best to do something time and time again.
In religious, spiritual settings there are routines and habits as well. Collectively, we call them "ritual": the
prescribed form of conducting a worship ceremony such as the Mass. For example: the ritual of the mass.
But beware - sometimes "liturgy" refers to the book of rites (order of worship) that are used - it is a
flexible word. There are, for example, the familiar "routines" of worship: the same building, the same seats,
the same decor, the same procedure and the same worship day, and a sense of ceremony - something
Summary: Speech, action, singing, and other activities which often contain a symbolic meaning, performed
in a specific order - typically during a religious service. Rite is often considered a synonym to ritual and
A RITUAL, in the context here, is a formalised, predetermined set of symbolic actions generally performed
in a particular environment at a regular, recurring interval: it is a ceremony. The set of actions that
comprise a ritual often include, but are not limited to, such things as recitation, singing, group processions,
repetitive dance, manipulation of sacred objects, etc. Virtually everyone engaged in a spiritual or religious
activity follows some sort of familiar, comfortable pattern: that pattern is a ritual - and the format of that
ritual is called a "rite".