Dear NEEAAReST and Dearest,
At Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, I asked Emma (my 16 year old niece), “What is your favorite part of Thanksgiving?” She replied, “It’s predictable. Not in a bad way.” She went on to talk about all the things that are a part of every Thanksgiving. I think I understand what she meant. There is something familiar and comfortable about our family Thanksgiving. There is an ebb and flow. Even the stress of cleaning the house, cooking, and putting everything back together is part of the ebb and flow. People gather from their respective homes around the country. People nap after the meal. Generations participate in every Thanksgiving. (This was the first Thanksgiving I did not have one grandparent to visit on the holiday or at the table.) Often, and this happened more frequently when I was younger, friends of the family would also gather at our house on Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving tradition is filled with established rituals in our family.
This time of year, big time, front and center, larger than life rituals are all around us. Decorating trees. Lighting candles. Singing songs. Praying prayers. Partying with friends and colleagues. Giving gifts. Cooking. Baking. Keeping up with the all the rituals can be draining and/or joyous, simultaneously. Some people don’t feel included in the rituals, are weighed down by rituals, or their particular rituals are not recognized. There is a certain complexity to rituals. Within that complexity, rituals are a big deal.
Practicing rituals is important for many reasons.
Rituals teach us about culture.
It may seem obvious, but different cultures have different traditions and rituals. Different traditions and rituals go deeper than eating different food or singing different songs. Different languages play huge roles in rituals. Rituals include praying different prayers in different languages at specific times of day. Rituals include how we handle birth and death. Rituals include gender roles and identity. To participate in different rituals is a learning experience of true importance in this time where cultural understanding is hard to find.
Rituals bring us together.
Occasions to come together are few and far between in today’s priorities-often-out-of-whack, technology-driven, no-time-to-even-steep-tea, politics-over-ethics, can’t-build-walls-fast-enough world. We often travel in circles of sameness, rather than reaching out to create diverse circles of friends. Rituals can be a time for reaching out. Rituals allow us to connect with people who don’t look like us, speak our language, or eat the same food we do. It is critical to talk with one another, eat with one another, pray with one another, and play with one another. Coming together is the foundation of peace in our world. In that light, rituals lead to peace
Rituals provide comfort.
To bring it back to predictability, perhaps one appeal of ritual is its predictability. Predictability is comfortable. Doing what we always do is comfortable. Eating what we always eat is comfortable. Telling the same stories we always tell is comfortable. Playing the same roles we always play is comfortable. The connection provided by participating in rituals together with others can be comforting. The sameness to many individual rituals is comforting, too. Ritual moves like a machine with well oiled gears.
Rituals make us mindful.
Ritual and mindfulness come together at the point of presence. When we do things mindfully, holidays can be a ritual. When done mindfully, meals can be a ritual. When done mindfully, getting ready for the day can be a ritual. When done mindfully, going to sleep can be a ritual. Rituals give special significance to the comings and goings of life. We need rituals to have space for the unique and meaningful to emerge.
Rituals can be passed down.
Perhaps the most important part of rituals is the idea that they can be passed down. What does it mean when something is passed down? It means that it someone from a previous generation performed a task in a ritual and then asked a younger/newer person to perform the task at some point. For example, the adult women in my family always did the cooking for Thanksgiving. At some point, I started to make the mashed potatoes. Making the mashed potatoes became my job. Gradually, over time, cooking the meal was passed from my grandmother’s generation, to my mother’s generation, and now it is subtly working its way to my generation. I have learned the process. I am not just responsible for mashed potatoes, now. Having things that are passed down acknowledges the beauty and wisdom of a certain time, while inviting others into their role in the continued life and breath of the ritual. Passing rituals down allows rituals to be maintained.