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Inaugural Balls: For the Birds?

The upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama allows us to have a quick lesson in Roman history. Though its precise etymology is disputed, "inauguration" is generally believed to come from the Latin for "directing the birds."

Birds were very important to the Romans for foretelling the future and discerning the moods of the gods: the way birds flew, what they ate, how they ate. (It was considered a good sign if food dropped from the beaks of the sacred chickens as they were fed. Yes, there were sacred chickens.) You still might say, after some mishap, "This doesn't augur well." Or, you might say that if you were, like me, kind of pretentious. To inaugurate means to prophesy about the future, something the Sunday morning pundits love doing.

Frankly, I know more about Roman augury than I do about American inaugurations. I think that's because inaugurations aren't really the province of the non-political native Washingtonian. They're for the party faithful, the monied supporter, the hopeful office-seeker.

Or are they? The balls might be tough to get into but anyone can watch the inaugural parade, right? Won't this particular inauguration draw all sorts of interest among natives and outlanders alike? And you better believe The Post will be printing a special keepsake inaugural edition. Please share your past inaugural experiences, starting with this simple survey:

And now a question about the future:

I haven't decided yet what I'm doing. I'll keep my eyes on the sky--and on the sacred chickens. What about you?

By John Kelly  |  November 7, 2008; 9:28 AM ET
 | Tags: Barack Obama, inauguration, polls  
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I had a friend who did a lot of work with the Motor Voter law and as a result was invited to the first (and only?) MTV Inaugural Ball in 1992. I received a call from him the afternoon of the ball inviting me along. I went and had a decent enough time (pretty cool to see Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson walk right past you) but it's not something I think I'd ever want to do again. Just not my bag.

Posted by: staxowax | November 7, 2008 9:43 AM | Report abuse

About divination by the flight birds or the entrails of an animal, a Roman historian observed that philosphers tended to be skeptical of these and other manifestations of religion (still, Cicero devoted a volume to the subject), political leaders used them for their own purposes, and the populace alone believed in them.

Posted by: cktirumalai | November 7, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

I went to one of the inauguration balls the year Clinton was re-elected mostly because someone had an extra ticket and because I thought it was kind of a Washington thing to do. As a native Washingtonian, I enjoy following politics. But the social side of it is not really my scene. I suspect my participation this January will be limited to watching the events on TV.

Posted by: f-street | November 7, 2008 10:20 AM | Report abuse

I don't want to do anything subject to the whims of "Homeland Security" unless The President declares Pennsylvania Avenue open, White House and Capitol tours to resume, and concrete barriers come down to allow We The People access to our government. Washington DC should not be an armed camp anymore.

Sen. Obama, you have your mandate. Call off the dogs and the cameras.

Posted by: bs2004 | November 7, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Sure, he has his mandate, but he also is getting death threats. I understand if the security measures stay in place.

On the other hand, does Penn Ave around the White house STILL need to be shut down? It's a temporary measure that has now been in place for years!! surely there is an alternative?

I'd love a ticket to an inaugural ball, but I have no idea how to get it!

Posted by: captiolhillmom | November 7, 2008 11:17 AM | Report abuse

I hate cold weather, so I would never even try to see the parade - plus it would be too crowded, with too many security restrictions.

I understand the balls are jammed with people, noisy, and little if any food.

But I will enjoy watching it on TV.

Posted by: swissmiss150 | November 7, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Hey, it'll be a four-day weekend in January. That means it's time to either get out of town or get work done on home projects. Either way, it's a way to jumpstart the economy. I'll choose that rather than pile downtown for a parade in honor of a bunch of politicians any day.

Posted by: blankspace | November 7, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

We've got our first born due in early-mid January and the first question my wife asked our pediatrician when we met him Wednesday was if he thought it would be OK to take the baby to watch the inauguration. He said yes and our little one will get to see history in the making in person (even if she won't remember it!).

Posted by: Southwester | November 7, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I went to one ball...George H. W. Bush. Think expensive. Think mobscene. Think something like the big bridal dress sale at Filene's Basement. It was fun, but never again will I spend that much money to take part in anyone's mobscene.
I went to one pre-election gala at the old Capital Center...for the first Reagan... and that was great. Also watched that inaugural parade. The weather was unseasonably warm, and it was great also. We took Metro, had no traffic hassles, and if the weather cooperates, I'd do it again.

Posted by: helat | November 7, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Better late than never. I went to one of Carter's Inaugural Parties, as they were called,then. Its a long story, but it was extremely cool.

Posted by: mfromalexva | November 8, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

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