Where Do You Stand on Ceremony?

From time to time, I think that it is important for us to examine our traditions and to ask ourselves whether we repeatedly do things over and over because it is somehow important to do so or whether we simply repeat behaviors out of habit. The expression “to stand on ceremony” is Shakespearian, and it alludes to one’s determination to do things simply because they have always been done, and I don’t always think that is the best plan. For several years, I told stories to children in a library, and I can vehemently say that most librarians stand on ceremony. They want things done the way that they have always been done–hang progress and change. I would never be a good librarian, but I do see the importance of traditions.

For instance, I believe that holiday traditions are important. In my family, eating ham at Christmas time is a tradition. I have a copy of my great aunt’s memoir. She was a child at the end of the 19th century, ad if she were still alive, she would be well over 100 years old now. In her memoir, my aunt wrote about her family’s tradition of butchering a hog each year and of boiling a ham at Christmas time. I am also fortunate to have a copy of my mother’s memoir. My mother is almost 92-years-old now, and in her memoir, she speaks about her family’s tradition of eating ham at Christmas time. I am 68-years-old, and every time that I write or speak about my Christmas traditions, I always write about my family’s ceremonial eating of a ham on Christmas Eve. Eating ham at Christmas time is important to me. It is part of the mortar that holds me together. It is part of my DNA. Regardless of how many times I will examine the ceremonies of my life, I will say–again and again–that eating ham is a vital part of my celebration of Christmas. It is not a habit. It is not a rote behavior. It is a time-honored tradition.

Many of my ceremonial behaviors are connected to my religion. When I was a child, I would often hear someone singing, “Give Me that Old Time Religion,” but I rarely hear that song anymore.

Many of today’s people have given up on religion entirely, or they have shifted their interests to a newer, more modern way to worship and away from the old time religion. For most people, the old time religion went out with the wringer washers, and the old-time religious traditions went out with them. In most areas, I advocate modernity and change, but I am not sure that we are better situated now without our old religious traditions.

Several years ago, I visited Guatemala at Easter time and when I was in Guatemala, I was allowed to observe a beautiful Guatemalan tradition–one that I am sure is vital to the spirits of the people in Guatemala.


Guatemala is a natural paradise, but most of its citizens are very poor.

Chichicastenango_Market (1)

If I had visited Guatemala any time other than when I did–at Easter time–I would have had difficulty saying what I loved most about that country. But my visit was during Easter, and I was there to witness the annual Easter Pageant in Antigua. It was the most incredible display of devotion that I have ever seen in my life.

Many of the Guatemalans live in the hills outside of the towns, but a day or two before Easter, the people converge upon Antigua and begin to prepare to celebrate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. They honor the sacrifices made both by Jesus and by his mother, Mary.


To set the stage, allow me to point out that the people did not come into town and stay in Antigua’s hotels. These were impoverished people. They didn’t even have tents. They merely congregated along the streets of the town. They brought baskets of food with them, and they built fires along the streets to cook what they brought.


After they arrived for the Easter celebration, the Guatemalans built long wooden frames that stretched from one end of town to the other, and with precision, the Indians filled the frames with intricate designs made of colored sawdust and sand.


And the next day, the men, boys, women, and girls put on their black and purple mourning clothes and lined up for the honor of carrying massive floats THROUGH the incredible designs.


A small band formed and began to play some of the most cacophonous and yet, the most beautiful tweets, honks, thumps, and drones that I have ever heard. I remembered the scripture:

Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Psalm 150:4

As I watched the honest and plain people of Guatemala carrying statues of Jesus and Mary through the streets, I felt small and petty. No doubt, these people had saved their very best outfits for this day; yet, the beautiful thing about the ceremony was that there was no pretense at all. These people truly worshipped. They worshipped from their hearts.


The oldest men were allowed the privilege of standing closest to the statue of Jesus,

Semana_Santa_Antigua_Guatemala (1)

And the oldest women were allowed the privilege of standing closest to Mary.


When I was in Guatemala at Easter time, I watched the earnestness with which the Guatemalans worshiped and offered thanksgiving, and I was ashamed of the shallowness of my own devotion. On Easter Day in Antigua, I had seen a living example of the parable of the Widow’s Two Mites, and I was truly humbled.

The Widow’s Two Mites

21 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury,and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said,“Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God,[a] but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” Luke 21: 1-4

Allow me to return to my initial comment about the Old Time Religion. In my opinion, most people in America today have acquired too many things to see any need for an Old Time Religion. Things have become the religion of many of us Americans, and yet, I am convinced that it is somewhere deep within our most time-honored traditions that we are able to see beyond our possessions and are able to find ourselves. I often “find myself” in the movies that remind me of who I truly am and of my roots. Places in the Heart is one of those movies. Every time that I watch the ending of Places in the Heart, I remember my childhood, growing up in the rural South, and I remember the Lord’s Supper in my little Baptist Church. Don’t get me wrong. I am not the greatest church-goer, but the memories of my old time religion connect me to who I am.

I Stand on the Ceremonies that Bring Me Back to Who I Am.


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