We usually think of ceremonies as a way to honor the traditional list of major life events: marriage, birth, baptism, communion, graduation, retirement, and death. But there are a lot of special times in between. I recently turned sixty, it felt like a really big deal, and I wanted a ceremony!
I began by searching for words and images online and sifting through things I had already collected. I knew that if I wanted a ceremony, chances were that other people had wanted one, too. It’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel, just adjust it to suit your needs. Once you have a collection of ideas, begin the organizing process with these questions in mind: who, what, when, where, why & how?
Who is the ceremony for? You! Don’t be shy. You deserve to celebrate yourself! Putting together an event program helps to clarify what the milestone means to you. Besides yourself, enlist a friend to assist with planning, maybe even participating. In my case, if a friend hadn’t also wanted a ceremony, my collection of ideas would never have been more than just that.
Who will be your celebrant, officiant, or mistress of ceremonies? We chose women we valued as older, wiser role models. Who is invited? Women need the company of other women, and it is good to come together in community to celebrate each other. Make your guest list and think of invitations. We put our own together, had them printed, and then mailed them one month before. You might choose to make your own and hand-deliver them.
What makes this day special and what name would best reflect that? When will it be held and where? We gave ourselves plenty of time to avoid the stress of a deadline and decided any day within the same year would work. Home is a good location. It is free and comfortable.
Why are you having a ceremony? Something in you is asking to be affirmed or validated. Take the hint and honor that request. Like yoga, meditation, and breath-work; ritual is a form of self-therapy and is comforting and healing. Little daily rituals, weekly, monthly, seasonally, annually—the more the better!
How will you bring it all together? Think about the most beautiful ceremony you’ve ever attended. Somebody, somewhere at some time created it. Maybe your ceremony will become a tradition, too! Here are some ideas you might want to consider including:
• A cleansing – It could be a ritual bath before the ceremony. It could be a sprinkling, a dipping, or wading in water during the ceremony. We chose sprinkling water with a rosemary branch. We enjoyed it so much that each woman in the circle took turns. It was a fun impromptu addition. It took some time to work around the circle so we also added an impromptu song. Have a plan and also be open to changes.
• A reading or guided meditation to set the mood. This was my favorite part: finding the words that expressed what I was feeling and including them throughout the ceremony. Choose words from any traditions that suit your needs, and decide who will say them.
• Singing, chanting, poetry, music, drumming. Lifting our voices together to read or sing in unison is a powerful unifying force and a form of prayer. We printed a program as a reference for the words when it was time for group participation, and it also served as a memento to take home.
• An altar with incense, candles, photos, etc. We chose to keep it simple and used a little table to hold the props. Consider having a designated photographer to help you capture the memories.
• A symbol of passage – Pass through a doorway, step into (or out) of a circle made on the floor, or receive a special article of clothing. We chose to have a mantle draped over our shoulders as a symbol of our new status—and as a reminder we’d enjoy wearing for years to come.
• An exchange of gifts or blessings. We chose to give simple, symbolic gifts to the guests who came to celebrate with us as tokens of our appreciation. Our blessings were incorporated throughout the ceremony. It was so nice to bless each other out-loud. How often do we do that in daily life? We asked for nothing from the guests but their loving presence and a signature on our guest page.
• A celebratory meal. We broke bread, shared a toast together, and had some light snacks afterward. Will you cater the food, make it, or invite everyone to bring something to share? It depends on the time of day. We chose to provide the food ourselves as to thank our guests for coming to share our special afternoon.
Anything done with our full attention becomes spiritual. Whether you invite friends to share the occasion or savor the moment in solitude, the whole point is to enjoy this special time (designed by you, for you) as a joyous affirmation of life.
Kristie Abel is an artist and freelance editor.