The celebration itself changes from locality to locality, but certain features reoccur: music and poetry frame the ceremony and there are civic and cultural dignitaries taking part. A standard part of the ceremonial program is the speech of the day: a speech addressing those to be confirmed in encouraging words, maybe telling them they are important, addressing them about making choices, getting more responsibility and about engaging in more than the little family circle. Even on a day dominated by family gatherings this might be the focus of the speech.
Another standard part is the speech from one of the youths on behalf of them all, a speech often summing up what the course has been all about, what the time of coming together has been like, about the position of the young people today. Often one sings the classical freethought song “Your thoughts are free”, sang in the Norwegian language, though, and the audience joins in the singing. The Norwegian poet Nordahls Grieg’s poem “To Youth” is read or sung by an artist contributing to the ceremony from the stage. In some ceremonies an artist sings “Imagine” by John Lennon, there is classical music, choirs and orchestras or readings by local poets, depending on the availability of art and artists. When the youth being confirmed is presented with the diploma for having taken part and finished the course in lifestance and ethics, whe or she is probably on the tensest point in the ceremony. Every youth to be confirmed is called forward to get this. After all in the group have got their diplomas, and are lined up on stage, the audience warmly applauds them. When the ceremony starts and ends, the youth come in and leave in a procession accompanied by suitable music. Duration of the ceremony is about an hour.
Over the years many confirmed youth have made their mark on Norwegian society, ranging from the great jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek to former prime minster Gro Harlem Brundtland, leader of the first UN commission on Environment and Development and Secretary-General of World Health Organization. But it is a rite of passage reaching outside the intellectual middle class, even outside those with an ethnic Norwegian background, with each year a leaven of immigrant youths, children of political refugees or from families of mixed cultural background taking part, finding in it an institution supportive of their sense of being and becoming. 80% of those taking part in Humanist confirmation do not have a family background with membership in the association. This means it also serves as an annual outreach by our organization to the greater society, a way in which new people become aware of our existence and come in touch with out activities and ideas. More than 200,000 are taking part (including guests) in humanist ceremonies in Norway every year, celebrating or marking the child with a naming ceremony, confirmation, marriage and same sex marriages.
In the international humanist movement, these celebrations are a feature not only of our organizations with an historical background as a religious organization, but also among German free-thinkers, the Danes and the Belgian laïque/vrijzinnig organizations. Swedes, Danes, Finns and Icelanders have found inspiration in the Norwegian Humanist confirmation (former Civil confirmation) for their own coming-of-age ceremonies these last years.
To lead a group of teens: example sessions