On Rituals

19 March 2021

Some days I leave the College with a full heart. Founders’ Day is one of them. A time when our community takes space to connect and think about the big picture – where we have come from and who we are. Philosopher Alain de Botton believes rituals play an essential role in our well-being, both as individuals and communities. He passionately proposes we should be doing all we can to bring traditions into a more secular world. I agree.

We celebrate many rituals and traditions at St Andrew’s, and I think they are vitally important in building a flourishing community.

Highland dancing at St Andrew's College Founders Day

What is a ritual?

A ritual is when people come together for an event that marks an occasion, often of an underlying psychological or spiritual nature.  

Rituals played a central role in traditional societies. These days, our lives have become more private and focused on work, and there is less time for ceremonies associated with community connection and celebration.

Why do rituals and traditions matter?

  • Rituals create a sense of connection

Community rituals provide an opportunity for us to connect and share emotional experiences. When we share positive emotions, we experience what Professor Barbara Fredrickson calls “positivity resonance.” Positivity resonance builds cohesion, a sense of belonging, and the resources needed to create a resilient community.

Each year, we wait in anticipation for our Prefects’ Assembly or House Competitions, knowing they are occasions that bring us together. It is a wonderful feeling when the assembly hall is full of the buzz of communal joy and laughter and when that experience becomes part of our collective mindset and memory.

House spirit
  • Rituals build connection through time

Last week, I bumped into an Old Collegian, and told him we were celebrating Founders’ Day that week. His face lit up when he remembered his experiences of the occasion. We spoke of the Address to the Haggis, the Highland Games, and his loyalty to Rutherford House. St Andrew’s has many traditions that connect us through the years. As time moves on, we make minor tweaks, but the essence stays the same. In an ever-changing and complex world, something is grounding about that. Some things change, but others remain, and connect us through the passage of time.

St Andrew's Founders Day tradition, Addressing the Haggis
  • Rituals connect us with big and important ideas

It’s a busy life. How do you get your head above the water to think about the big and beautiful questions? What does it mean to be a good and kind human being? What is there to be grateful for?  Rituals have the power to make us shift our thinking; they create space and remind us to look at important things. Our weekly visit to the Centennial Chapel is a ritual I treasure. Each week, we have the opportunity to sit in a beautiful space to think about the nature of life and the virtues, values, and character we can bring to it. Reflecting upon ancient Christian values ensures we have opportunities to hear human truths that transcend the nuts and bolts of a busy life.

students gathering outside of the centennial chapel
  • Rituals help us mark special occasions and transitions

Psychologist, Steve Biddulph, believes rites of passage are important because they encourage community to gather around and support children as they grow. Te Waka is a subject inspired by traditional Rite of Passage rituals. Each ceremony marks a significant milestone honouring the transition our adolescents are making from childhood to adulthood.

In ‘The Calling’, students participate in a ceremony providing space to metaphorically ‘let go’ of the aspects of childhood that no longer serve them. This year, students went to New Brighton Beach at 6.00am to witness a ‘new day dawning.’ Over the years, they have released balloons, blown bubbles, and written on shells to symbolise the letting go process.

The sunrises over Te Waka Calling Ceremony
  • Rituals help us transcend our everyday world

Music is central to rituals at St Andrew’s College. We feel it physically when we hear the Pipe Band launch into Land of Hope and Glory at the Prizegiving. Whether it is the call of the bagpipes, the spirit of a waiata, or the joy of singing our School Song together, music has transcendent powers that impact us physically, emotionally, spiritually, and collectively. Music is the art that, in years to come, will most powerfully evoke our memories of St Andrew’s.

StAC student playing violin

This power was not lost on the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.  

“God has given us music so that above all it can lead us upwards. Music unites all qualities: it can exalt us, divert us, cheer us up. But its principal task is to lead our thoughts to higher things, to elevate our being, and lead us to the good and the true.”

St Andrew's College Pipe Band members
  • Rituals make us see ourselves as part of something bigger

Whether it is singing a hymn, saying a prayer or showing our respect to an Old Collegian lost in the war, rituals make us feel we are part of something much larger than ourselves. They connect us with the big picture and shift our perspective.

It could be easy to think traditions and rituals are redundant in a modern world. In fact, the opposite is true. Rituals provide an opportunity for our young people to transcend their everyday lives and connect with the experience of being human in community with others. It is these moments we achieve what I believe is a central goal of an education – our students see themselves as a part of something bigger.  

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