Clapping dates back to the sixth century – but has become ever more popular

Have you noticed how much we are clapping these days, writes Monica Dyson. I became much more aware of it when I recently attended a wedding and a week or so later, a funeral.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 23rd May 2019, 4:19 pm
Birmingham players formed a tunnel to clap Doncaster Belles from the field in a past match.  Picture: Malcolm Billingham
Birmingham players formed a tunnel to clap Doncaster Belles from the field in a past match. Picture: Malcolm Billingham

When the vicar announced that he now pronounced the happy couple husband and wife, the atmosphere changed to something akin to a talent show with jubilant whoops, shouts of ‘bravo’ and clapping. This also erupted when they walked down the aisle to exit the church, which occasion was once something a bit more sombre and to the triumphant sound of Mendelsohn’s’ Wedding March’

On this occasion the music was The Beatles ‘Love is All You Need’ which I understand has been a favourite for some time and which is quite nice to clap to. It seems that numbers by Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift are also popular today.

Of course audience participation is a big part of modern life and I blame some television shows for that, but there is also the fact that many people simply do not know how to behave in a church because they’ve never been in one.

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Apparently vicars are having to issue guidelines about appropriate behaviour at weddings, but it seem that clapping may be permissible. It just doesn’t seem right to turn a church occasion into entertainment.

There are many churches embracing ‘happy clapping’ these days. Growing in popularity with young people, it is described as joyful contemporary worship, and includes guitars and drums to accompany the singing and clapping.

Clapping can be very annoying. Once a singer reaches the first high note when performing on X Factor, everyone claps. It is not unusual for audiences to clap all the way through a number but completely out of sync with the performer.

I was most surprised at the funeral I attended, when, at various points during the eulogy, the congregation clapped, obviously to recognise a life well lived. Unfortunate if you’ve never done very much to deserve a clap!

There is now clapping at the beginning of football or rugby matches to recognise the passing of a previous player or someone associated with the club, whereas previously it would be marked by a two minute silence.

This is somewhat contentious. It seems that the practice of clapping to recognise someone’s passing may have started with Princess Diana’s funeral cortege in 1997, and then was introduced at football matches in 2005 after George Best died. Whereas it can be seen as a tribute to the life of a person, it doesn’t always seem appropriate when it happens to mark the anniversary of a great tragedy like the Hillsborough Disaster or Aberfan. I feel two minutes silence is much more respectful. Then again, football fans and respect don’t always go together.

If a player is carried off on a stretcher he is again clapped which I expect makes him feel a whole lot better!

Slow rhythmic clapping can be a sign of displeasure, of impatience and annoyance with a long space in between clapping showing sarcasm.

In actual fact, although we seem to be doing more clapping than ever today, it isn’t anything new. Clapping to show appreciation first appeared in various parts of the Bible, notably the Book of Kings which dates back to the 6th century BC. It was also used by the Ancient Greeks who were very big on audience participation. Not only did they clap to show approval, but they threw stones or even food at performers who didn’t meet the expected standard. The X Factor does have some way to go yet!

The Romans not only clapped, but also clicked their fingers which is something, that like clapping, has endured to this day.

Like many English, words clap can be used in many ways and it’s no wonder people get confused by the English Language.

You can clap someone encouragingly on the back and say ‘well done’, you can hear a clap of thunder, clap your hands over your mouth to suppress a laugh or cough, get clapped into prison or hear it used as a word to describe a rather nasty medical condition.

It would seem that clapping has many health benefits. Clapping as an exercise for twenty to thirty minutes each morning helps to keep you fit and active. It stimulates the blood circulation, gives therapy for digestive disorders, helps heart and lung problems particularly asthma and gives relief from back pain.

Although it is also recognised that clapping can aid children’s academic performance and sharpen their brain, a school in Australia recently banned clapping at assemblies in favour of silent cheering, excited faces or punching the air. They say it is to respect anyone in their school community who is sensitive to noise.

Likewise Manchester University student union reps who voted to replace clapping with the British Sign Language equivalent which is a wave of both hands. Their belief that it would help students with both autism and deafness was criticised in some quarters by people who said that it was a load of rubbish and that soldiers in the trenches during World War II had managed to cope with sudden noises.

But for me the ultimate in clapping was the days when your holiday plane would land at the airport from its package tour usually somewhere in Spain, to be heralded by hysterical applause from the relieved passengers at having landed safely, and knowing that their straw donkeys were all in one piece.