Monthly Archives: May 2015

Do you know where your towel is?

Last post I touched on the importance of ritual and celebration, human beings being a species who gain life meaning from giving meaning to time.

From the resurrection of an old Mothering Sunday custom, I’m going to come right forward to something very modern. Today is the 14th annual International Towel Day. Instituted in 2001, fans of the late author Douglas Adams carry a towel (or at least post a towel on their social media status) on the 25th of May in honour of his wisdom and legacy.

How does this tie in with celebrancy? Some of the most important work we do as celebrants is helping people to mark the lives of those who have passed, in a way that honours them as they lived. For fans of a public figure, this may seem to be mourning on a much larger scale, but that does not mean it isn’t personal. Those who create art, or who speak in terms of ideal, or who live and contribute in a way that inspires people, have the power to change minds and lives.

Think for a moment of the writers who you absorbed growing up – how did their thoughts on paper influence yours? What did they inspire you to do? A handful of people decided to mark Douglas Adams’ passing by something as simple as carrying a towel, and 14 years later it is still a “thing” – a small celebration which helps to keep alive the memory of someone who has passed for a group of those on whom his life had an impact.

Many people, my husband included, consider the carrying of a towel every day (at least in the car) as having always been an essentially practical act. Douglas Adams, writing in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in 1978, made the carrying of a towel (originally a tip he picked up from reading travel guides himself) something more – a pop culture reference which influenced a generation. Either the extract in the video below (read by Douglas himself) is a cute little wordplay on a seemingly innocuous object, or a much deeper ideology on the essence of a human need to be prepared. It could be both.

The fact remains that if you tell someone of a certain age and background that they really know where their towel is, you’re paying them a compliment.


Repost of the first Rite of Way – originally posted 11/05/15

Human beings are creatures of habit. Actually, all living creatures are essentially habitual – animals just base most of their routine (especially in the wild) on external forces such as the seasons, their food sources and the basics of procreation. Humans started out that way, but as each new age of thought, invention and social development has come and gone we have become creatures who do more than respond – we create habit.

Why do we do this? I think we do perhaps because our questioning minds use the answers we find in the world to feel safe and productive. We search for that which gives us understanding of why things are, and why we are part of it, and what we should do about that conclusion today. This, without us directly realising it, is the basis of ceremony. Ceremony is vital to human interaction, with the world and with each other. It is a touchstone by which we mark the passages of life and time; and each of those touchstones, from the tiniest custom to the largest global commemoration, is a form of ceremony or ritual. Do you brush your teeth the same way every day, so you know it’s done properly? Do you call it part of your morning “ritual”, by which you ensure that you are ready to face the tasks of the day? You have just conducted your own personal ceremony, which you can either rush through half-asleep, or use to celebrate your willingness to be present in your life. No judgement either way, we’ve all done the same routine both ways! The point is the routine.

There are so many professions in which the marking of life is one of the central motivations – celebrants of course, but also clergy, those in the wider funeral and bridal industries, photographers and filmmakers, performers and artists, the medical professions that deal with birth and dying. Even teachers who see their students come, grow, and go year after year. As a celebrant, I’ve chosen a career which gives these markers centre stage. Everyone has moments that they want to stop in, however briefly, and take a deep living breath before moving on. These are moments to be remembered, no matter how big or small your wish to share may be. As this blog grows I intend to share some of the ways in which people all over the world remember their moments, and today I have for you an excerpt from a Mother’s Day which goes beyond the idea of breakfast in bed and the joyful presentation of childrens’ crafts.

Mother’s Day as most of us know it in Australia is a holiday created in America 101 years ago by Anna Jarvis, who started it as a way to honour her own mother – a prominent peace activist who nursed soldiers on both sides during the Civil War. In England, however, it coincides with an older holiday known as Mothering Sunday – a holiday within the period of Lent during which people visit not only their own mothers but congregate at their “mother church”. This video depicts a part of the traditional Mothering Sunday celebration, “clipping the church” – in which the congregation hold hands and embrace the church building. You may see some of the children carrying flowers – each child is given a bunch to present to their mum. For some churches it is also the only day in Lent when marriages can be conducted. Just one of life’s many celebrations!