What actually happens on Inauguration Day?

It’s the final countdown to Donald Trump’s inauguration where he will officially become the 45th President of the United States.

But what actually happens on the big day to mark the start of his four-year term?

Well, quite a lot actually – nine events to be precise. Here’s everything you need to know about the events and the traditions behind them.

Morning worship service

Late Light.

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The tradition of attending a worship service in the morning, typically at St John’s Episcopal Church which is just across the street from the White House, dates back to 1933 when Franklin D Roosevelt did it.

He wasn’t actually the first to attend church on Inauguration Day – George Washington did it in 1789, though after being sworn in – but it stuck after Roosevelt did it before all four of his ceremonies and it goes some way to show how prominent the role of religion is in the day.

Procession to the Capitol

This could be a bit awks – it’s tradition for the outgoing president to accompany the president-elect to the swearing-in ceremony.

After a brief meeting at the White House, they’ll ride to the Capitol together, followed by outgoing and incoming VPs Joe Biden and Mike Pence, as well as family members, cabinet members and members of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC).

Vice President’s swearing-in ceremony

(Andrew Harnik/AP)

Pence will be the first to repeat the oath of office while stood on the Inaugural Platform, which is now on the west front terrace of the Capitol – it used to be the Senate chamber but this made the VP’s ceremony completely separate from POTUS’s.

And this is what he’ll have to say:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

President’s swearing-in ceremony

(Evan Vucci/AP)

And now, the main event which happens at noon local time, 5pm UK time. Weather permitting, it’ll be outside on the same Inauguration Platform – this was done for the first time for Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981 as a way of minimising costs and improving visibility for the huge number of spectators. Though if it’s particularly bad weather it might be brought indoors.

Luckily for Trump, he’s got a much shorter 35-word oath to repeat, and it goes as follows:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

It might be read with one hand on a Bible but it must be read word for word and in that exact order or he’ll be made to do it again. The Constitution is super strict.

Inaugural address

(Seth Wenig/AP)

For as long as inaugurations have existed (since 1789), every single president has delivered an inaugural address – but the length of that address has varied massively.

William Henry Harrison is the current holder of the longest address with 8,445 words in 1841, while at the other end of the spectrum is Washington’s measly 135 words in 1793.

Departure of outgoing president

(Susan Walsh/AP)

This is the point you’ll want to grab some tissues – swiftly after the ceremony, the Obamas will make their exit to head off into the post-presidential sunset.

There’ll be little ceremony or official fanfare but we’re sure there’ll be lots of love for the pair anyway.

And if that is the case, it wouldn’t actually be the first time onlookers paid more attention to the outgoing president than the new one – which is exactly what happened in 1797 with Washington and his successor John Adams.

Inaugural luncheon

Now the formalities are over and done with, it’s time for the fun stuff to begin – and what better place to start than with the food.

For the last eight inaugurations, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC) has thrown a fancy luncheon for the newly elected president in the Capitol’s grand Statuary Hall, featuring speeches, gifts and a big feast.

It tends to feature food reflecting the home states of the new administration as well as the theme of the inauguration – so we can probably expect bagels, pastrami and lots and lots of Make America Great Again (MAGA) slogans.

Inaugural parade

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Over the years this has evolved from a military march escorting the new president back to his new home of the White House, to an all-singing, all-dancing parade.

Trump and co will head down Pennsylvania Avenue, leading a procession of thousands of ceremonial soldiers, community groups, marching bands and floats. The president, vice president and their spouses will then watch the parade as it passes in front of them from the Presidential Reviewing Stand (yes, that is really a thing).

There’s now a limit set at 15,000 participants which might seem like a lot, but that’s nothing compared to Dwight D Eisenhower’s first inauguration in 1953 which featured 73 bands, 59 floats, horses, elephants, and civilian and military vehicles and took four and a half hours.

Inaugural balls

(Seth Wenig/AP)

To round off the day’s celebrations, Washington’s high society will dance the night away at glamorous inauguration balls.

And it’s here where the acts who’ve actually agreed to perform at the inauguration will do so.

The number of official balls has varied from president to president, with Bill Clinton reaching an all-time high of 14 in 1997 closely followed by Obama with 10 in 2009.

The number is still being decided for Trump but one thing’s for sure, if he’s going to try to attend all of them as his predecessors have done, he’s likely in for a looooong night.


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