The moments of silence. The musical interludes. The honour guards of policemen and firefighters, colleagues of those who died rescuing others on September 11, 2001. And the reading of names, whether to honour the three victims from Nutley, New Jersey, or the nearly 3,000 others from around the world who died in the attacks.
Across the country, the elements of a September 11 anniversary commemoration have become familiar, from the World Trade Centre site in Manhattan to the Pennsylvania field where United Flight 93 crashed to the dozens of New Jersey towns with neighbours to mourn. After the commemorations reached a peak of sorts for last year's 10th anniversary, a sprinkling of communities have decided to scale back - prompted, they say, by a growing feeling that it may be time to move on.
Nearly every ceremony will be smaller this year, even at the epicentre of the attacks. In a move that has drawn some controversy, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has stripped the New York ceremony of its presidents, governors and other politicians, who have in the past read literary or religious passages. Instead of Yo-Yo Ma, James Taylor and Paul Simon, bagpipers and a youth chorus will provide the music.
The National Cathedral in Washington hosted President George W. Bush, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama for prayer services in the two years after the attacks and in 2011 held a three-day commemoration featuring President Obama. This year, it will simply offer prayers during regularly scheduled services on Tuesday.
"The cathedral's mission is to serve a spiritual role for the nation, and part of that role is to help the country heal and move past the tragedy," said Richard M. Weinberg, a cathedral spokesman, echoing a statement from the Rev. Dr. Francis Wade, the cathedral's interim dean. "I think it's fair to say that 11 years later, we all felt that it was important still to commemorate it, but to do so in perhaps a less overt, a less somber way - to do so maturely and look forward."
In New Jersey, which lost nearly 700 residents, at least two communities have decided not to hold their annual memorial programs this year. Both have carefully presented the decisions to the community, recognizing that the anniversary is still a sensitive topic for many.
Montclair residents have gathered at Watchung Plaza every September after 2001 to hear officials and relatives of the town's nine victims speak. This year, officials decided to hold a smaller, indoor ceremony at Town Hall, featuring the traditional reading of the names and a bagpiper. "It's sad, because you want everybody to remember, but I understand that life goes on," said Kate Pruim, a Montclair resident whose husband, David L. Pruim, a senior vice president for the Aon Corporation, died in the World Trade Centre.
For the first time since 2002, Glen Rock, N.J., where 11 residents died, will not hold a formal ceremony. Instead, members of the Glen Rock Assistance Council and Endowment, which built the town's Sept. 11 memorial and organizes the annual ceremony, have declared Tuesday a day for personal, private reflection - a "day of remembrance," Diane Hirschberg, a trustee of the council, said.
With last year's swirl of memorials and news media coverage, trustees said, the 10th anniversary gave rise to an emotional fatigue - even among the families of the dead, who agreed with the council that a more personal observance was in order.
"We brought it to kind of an emotional crescendo last year," said Brad Jordan, the council chair, who said he and other trustees agonized over the decision. "We were getting a distinct sense that they were moving past the need to continue to institutionalize that commemoration of loss," Mr. Jordan said. He said that after taking a barometer of the community, the shift to a more personal commemoration was necessary.
Even where the annual ceremonies are continuing largely unchanged, organizers are anticipating the day when the anniversary may be marked more quietly.
In Boston, where the mayor and governor sponsor an annual commemoration to honor the 206 victims with Massachusetts ties, planners have considered trimming anniversary events in future years. The ceremony has attracted relatives of about 50 of the 206 victims the past few years, and organizers are waiting to see whether families will continue to participate, said John H. Curtis, the vice president of the board of directors at the Massachusetts 9/11 Fund, which organizes the ceremony.
"That's a good question and one we've discussed more than once," Mr. Curtis said. "But if family members continue to show up and continue to find it valuable, we'll continue to do it."
"Certainly 50 years from now," he added, "I bet there isn't going to be the types of events we have now."
© 2012, The New York Times News Service