As Inauguration Day 2021 begins, the ceremony installing a new president will be very different from any in history. The pandemic means no crowds, few in-person attendees and lots of video presentations. The Capitol will also be locked down as never before, surrounded by tall fences and defended by more than 20,000 National Guard troops. The outgoing president is not expected to attend, which hasn’t happened in more than a century. So why have an inauguration at all?

Anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas from the University of Connecticut explains that even though Joe Biden would become president without a ceremony, rituals are how humans since time immemorial have signaled that events are important. The inauguration confers legitimacy and historical continuity on the new president and signals to the country and the world that the United States officially has a new leader, he explains.

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Jeff Inglis

Politics + Society Editor

An important ceremony: the U.S. Capitol during President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Why do presidential inaugurations matter?

Dimitris Xygalatas, University of Connecticut

Formal ceremonies and rituals can trigger psychological signals that command people's attention and strengthen the perceived importance of those moments.

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