A sacred ceremony is a formal honoring of an event occurring at a point in time. It has both physical and spiritual components. Ceremony promotes respect, unity, harmony and cooperation.
The prime ingredient of ceremony is intent. The intention, for example, of solstice and equinox ceremonies is to consciously connect with the Creator, Mother Earth, each other, all parts of self, as well as to honor and respect all aspects of Creation. The intent of an early morning ceremony is often to give thanks and respectfully greet the new day.
A ceremony begins with cleansing [by smudging with sage, cedar, etc., with water, or by visualizing the cleansing] of self, others participating, and the place. This is followed by expressing gratitude to/for all with which we share life; asking assistance from other benevolent beings; letting go of what no longer is useful, usually through a tobacco offering; and verbalizing our best wishes for the future.
Drumming and using rattles aligns our hearts with Mother Earth and singing raises our energy levels. Dancing grounds us.
Familiar rituals may be helpful in focusing our minds but are not necessary and can sometimes be an impediment. Rituals are done by rote and can be performed mindlessly [NOT recommended]. They are ceremonies which were developed at a specific point for a specific purpose and follow the intention of the originator. Spontaneous ceremony, on the other hand, follows the intentions of the participants. The best rituals are usually the ones you create for yourself, such as in daily meditation and private prayer practices, or ones used in teaching little children.
We unite our minds and hearts, and with each other when we celebrate with ceremony, whether physically present to each other or by our intention, helping to build and maintain a new world for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren to the 7th generation of the 7th generation.