Every human culture on earth has developed festivities and ceremonies associated with different stages of life. The anthropological term for this is “rites of passage”. This refers to the fact that they mark periods in a person’s life when they move from one stage to the next. Ceremonies include naming ceremonies (like baptisms in Christian societies), ceremonies that mark the arrival of puberty and growing up (for example, the bar mitzvah in Jewish tradition), and ceremonies around other important life stages, such as getting married, becoming a parent, death, and so forth.
Throughout most of the history of human existence, rites of passage have tended to be celebrated in a way that is embedded in, or makes reference to, the religious traditions of the given society. Hence, these traditions tend to involve activities that take place in churches, mosques, temples, and so on, and are often connected to religious observance in a variety of ways.
Today, more and more people are secular and don’t subscribe to any particular set of religious beliefs. However, we still have the psychological need to mark important stages in life. So, how can secular families celebrate rites of passage? Some do so by engaging with whatever religious tradition seems most familiar to them. Plenty of non-practising parents nonetheless have their children baptised or get married in church. That’s entirely up to them and the minister or priest who is involved in the ceremony. Others feel uncomfortable getting a religious official involved but like to have an event that gives the family something to celebrate. Organisations such as the Humanists have stepped into the gap and can provide ceremonies that are broadly similar to religious ceremonies, but entirely secular.
Other families simply devise rites of passage that are personally meaningful to them. These could be as simple as having the family round to celebrate the arrival of a new baby or making up their own ritual. Some families plant a tree to commemorate major life events, recite poetry, or invite friends and family to share memories and thoughts.
Whether or not you are religious, it’s likely that you will feel the need to celebrate the important moments in your life, and in the lives of your loved ones. As our modern societies become more complex and multi-cultural, the shape these ceremonies take is becoming less predictable, and it can sometimes be challenging to be invited to take part in a rite or event that seems unfamiliar. The most important thing is to respect the wishes and needs of the person at the heart of it, and to understand their desire to be surrounded by the people they love at this important time in their lives.
WHO CAN I SPEAK TO FURTHER ABOUT THE ISSUES IN THIS ARTICLE?
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