This month we will celebrate the 220th anniversary of our nation's very first presidential inauguration ceremony.

Steeped in tradition, these ceremonies give all Americans, regardless of how they voted, the opportunity to come together every four years to honor our democratic process and the hard-won freedoms established by our Founding Fathers.

The oath sworn by General George Washington in 1789, as prescribed in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, has endured: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will try to the best of my ability, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

George Washington personally added the phrase "so help me God," as have most of his successors. He also established the tradition of the inaugural address. Throughout our tumultuous history, these cherished words have inspired, encouraged and reassured us.

The other individual components of modern-day ceremonies evolved over time. George Washington travelled 280 miles on horseback from his home in Virginia to New York City, which was then the nation's capital, to attend his first inauguration. Along the way, Philadelphians crowned him with a laurel, women in New Jersey threw flowers and sang sonatas, and New Yorkers fired a 13-gun salute.

Thomas Jefferson, our nation's third President, was the first to participate in what has since become known as the customary Inaugural Parade after Washington, D.C. became our nation's capital in 1801. Subsequent processions have varied widely according to the tastes of each President. For example, Teddy Roosevelt's in 1905 included cowboys, miners, and the Rough Riders - his Spanish-American War cavalry regiment - on horseback. Modern-day festivities have included cheerleaders, marching bands, and floats.

Jan. 20 will mark the nation's 56th formal inauguration ceremony since 1789. This month we will observe history unfold as our nation's 44th President, and our first African-American President, takes the oath of office. Like his predecessors, he will follow tradition.

He will attend the customary morning worship service, participate in a swearing-in ceremony and deliver an inaugural address on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. Later he will enjoy an inaugural luncheon with members of Congress in Statuary Hall and ride in an Inaugural Parade from the Capitol to his new office and home, the White House.

For 220 years, the United States - the world's oldest democracy - has stunned dictators and despots, and given hope to millions, by observing this most sacred of democratic customs. The world's eyes will be upon us as we make history again.

As America's soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines continue to defend our freedom abroad, let us all unite and take this opportunity to thank them, to appreciate the blessings that our Founding Fathers ensured, and to honor the courage, determination and leadership of the forty-three men who have presided over our great country.

Let us all wish our incoming President godspeed as he becomes the leader of our nation.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is a U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.