There are different ideas and understandings of what a ritual is. The most common description is that it is an act or a series of acts during a ceremony.
Geert and Gert Jan Hofstede define a ritual as collective activities that are social essential within a culture (Cultures & Organizations, 2010).
Rituals can be found in all kinds and forms within every culture. However, a lot of these rituals are transcultural. For example, in many different cultures it is common to have a ring ceremony during weddings.
There are a lot of traditional wedding rituals. Most of them descent from ancient times. ‘Giving away the bride’, for example, symbolizes transferring the ownership of the bride from father to husband. Nowadays it is no longer taken like that in modern, western cultures, but the ritual is still carried out. A white wedding dress traditionally symbolizes the bride’s virginity in western culture – in Turkish culture the bride’s virginity is usually symbolized by a red waistband. Both of these symbols are no longer taken seriously or literally by everyone; they have become part of wedding traditions and rituals but the meaning got lost.
There is a fine border between calling something a ritual and calling it just an everyday actions – if there even is a border at all. If we look back at the definition of a ritual, we see that a ritual is 1. An act and 2. Part of a ceremony or procedure. The question is though, how broadly a ceremony can be defined. Is a ceremony just part of a special event? Or are e.g. daily personal morning practices also considered as a ceremony; a personal ceremony to start the day?
A definition of rituals that I can closer relate to is Lukes’s: “a rule-governed activity of a symbolic character which draws the attention of its participants to objects of thought and feeling which they hold to be of special significance (Lukes, 1975, 291).
The authors of the book Curious Rituals (Nova et al, 2012) take it a step further even and define a ritual as “a series of actions regularly and invariably followed by someone.”
This book also shows how the quick developing technological possibilities of the last decade provided us with heaps of ‘new’ rituals, involving devices. These rituals are not only directed towards these devices, but also to other people. For example; pulling your phone out in the elevator to avoid awkward situations.
I believe that rituals cannot be defined in just one category. As above examples already show; some rituals are traditional, and some are dynamic and depended on nowadays society, trends and even on technology.
Therefore; rituals can arise and disappear – even within a short period of time. Rituals can even be designed. An (special) object can invite for a certain kind of interaction, creating a ritual when being used.
I think that when designing a ‘new’ ritual, it is important to look at traditional rituals and take values and patterns that people recognize.