The interesting thing about it (aside from the free food, which is always interesting) was that as I was standing there listening to people say their various bits, I realized that it was actually a ritual about transferring power. This is an important ceremony, wherein the old chief hands off power to the new chief, and we all recognize it and are reassured that everything is going well and that, despite change, everything will be just fine. The content of this gathering was no different than an aged king passing the crown to his heir, or a tribal chieftain handing off the spirit staff to his successor.
Just the trappings are different -- in our culture, it's important that there be wine and beer available, and that there be cheese and crackers and other nibbly things to be eaten off small plates but no place to sit, and that everyone say some nice things about the transition (because it's important to be able to hear how sincerely they say them), and there probably has to be a cake with "Congratulations, So-and-So" (in this case, the name of our lab) written on it in frosting.
It was just kinda neat to suddenly see it through anthropology glasses (it's all kung_fu_monkey's fault), and to feel a kinship with all those ancient peoples who did the same thing thousands of years ago around a campfire. To say, "oh, yes, this is just how we do it here and now -- but really, it's all the same."