After working for an appliance manufacturer for three decades,
Martin was looking forward to retirement--and his retirement ceremony.
But the climax to his career left something to be desired. A
cookie-cutter speech from the boss, the usual gift, and everyone headed
for the buffet table. "Even the laughter sounded canned," Martin
All too many retirement parties follow this pattern. But such
halfhearted ceremonies strip the event of its meaning. And that deprives
retirees of a ritual that helps them negotiate their new identity,
laments Ithaca College anthropologist Joel Savishinsky, Ph.D, who has
studied retirement ceremonies.
"American culture has retained a lot of rituals, but they have
become extremely watered down," he notes. "The rituals that tend to be
most meaningful to people are the ones that family and friends create for
So what to do when a family member or coworker calls it quits?
Savishinsky offers the following tips for a truly meaningful
* Make gifts relevant to the guest of honor's future plans. One of
Savishinsky's subjects, who intended to concentrate on painting in her
golden years, received a hand-carved easel. Generic presents like gift
certificates or cash are a no-no.
* Let the retiree prepare the guest list. Sorting through the
candidates can be the interpersonal analog of cleaning out one's desk: It
lets retirees figure out who and what was meaningful in their
* Rituals should incorporate a degree of fantasy. Many retirees, in
the company of cherished friends, find it satisfying to reveal what
they'd always wanted to say to that overbearing (and uninvited) coworker.
Or they might want to share with a sympathetic audience their dreams for
their postwork life.