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Passages and Transitions

Rites of passage such as weddings, funerals, baptisms, and graduations are another type of celebration that brings a community together. But unlike holidays, which commemorate a historic event, these community rituals mark the transformation of an individual. Communities everywhere turn to these ancient and universal celebrations to guide their members through potentially difficult and confusing times. Getting married, graduating from college, having a baby, facing the death of a loved one—these are all life-changing events, and it’s helpful to have customs and rituals that prepare us for the transformation and teach us something about how to play an unfamiliar social role.

Rites of passage are fundamentally social events, because they involve a change to not just our own role but the roles of those around us. When we have a child, for example, we become parents; but in addition, our parents become grandparents, and our siblings become aunts and uncles. That’s why we celebrate these events in a community setting—to announce an individual’s change in social status to the wider community and to give everyone who’s affected by these new roles a chance to acknowledge the changes that are taking place.


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