Family Rituals this Holiday Season

Nov 11, 2014

What if you were asked about your family's rituals?  

What would you say?  Would you wonder what was required for something to be considered a ritual? Turns out that rituals are an important part of healthy family life but in our super busy, super scheduled lives we may not feel that we have time for such things.   But if you think about it, you likely have rituals around meal times, bed times, birthdays and holidays.


If we consider our rituals at all it is often during this holiday time.  It's a time we may take more notice of the ways in which we connect with family and friends.  That's what rituals do. They connect us to those people and memories that are important to us.  They help make our lives predictable and meaningful. That Thanksgiving meal, the trip to see Santa, that lighting of candles can mean so much more than it appears on the surface.  It gives us identity.  "That's the way my family does it."



 The good news is we can create and shape rituals to fit our family.

We don't have to do things the way our families of origin did them unless we want to.  We don't have to do things they way the holidays are depicted on TV.  We can participate in rituals that are meaningful to us.  In fact rituals are often an expression of our values.  If we want to teach our children about the importance of helping others, we might create a tradition of helping at a food bank or soup kitchen once a month.  Or we might sponsor a family at Christmas time through one of the many charities that offer this opportunity.  And if our family decides that they enjoy chocolate cake more than pumpkin pie, we are free to create that ritual and enjoy the story that goes with the creation of that ritual. 

Rituals have the power to help us weather change.

For example, after moving across the country a family can feel pretty isolated. It can be so reassuring to children as well as parents to pull out the favorite ornament, watch the favorite old movie together, or bake the same cookies the family has always baked.  These rituals are a demonstration that our families are strong enough to maintain the things that are important to us even in the face of change.

This is true when a family has experienced the loss of a loved one.  Rituals can bring up those bitter sweet emotions we experience in the grieving process.  The loved one is missed as we go through the holiday celebrations and rituals, while at the same time brought closer to our minds and hearts.  It's good to be prepared that something as simple as gathering for a special family meal might bring on a flood of emotion.  Don't be afraid of this.  It is healthy and helps us remember and connect. 

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Sometimes rituals can become tricky for a family.

For example, blended families have particular challenges at the holidays as they negotiate rituals.  Whose rituals are honored?  Who is asked to make concessions?  But it can be an opportunity to ask what is important about this family here and now?  What do we want to celebrate?  How do we want to connect?  It might not be the way it always was but it can be meaningful and help us define new roles and connections.  When facing these challenges it's important to remember that rituals are often playful and even silly.  Think of silly paper hats at birthdays and loud slurpy kisses at bedtime.  Over the years some of the most intense family conflict I have witnessed is over the question ''when do we open the presents?"  Those childhood associations and experiences can be powerful and hard to let go of. For blended families it might not be a question of their way vs. their way, but a new way that is our way.  A willingness to be vulnerable, playful and silly can open us up to new possibilities and get the creative juices flowing in the adoption  of new ways to do things.

Some ideas for this Holiday Season

As we move deeper into this Holiday Season here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Create a gratitude journal for Thanksgiving.  Have each family member and guest make an entry about what they are grateful for in the journal  Read journals from past years.
  • Take a picture in the same spot or pose or wearing the same colors every year.
  • Drive through the neighborhood to see the lights and decorations.  Have hot chocolate or hot cider when you get home and vote for the best house.
  • Watch the same Holiday movie each year.
  • Make treats together and take treats to neighbors or a nursing home.  (and you know what? It's ok to purchase treats. It's the sharing that is important.)
  • Choose a favorite holiday book and read it out load, even when the kids are teenagers.
  • Find a way to work in lighting candles in your holiday rituals.  It's dark out this time of year and we need that little light shining. A lit candle at dinner time can be exciting for young children and help them mark the time until the big day comes.
  • Don't forget the ritual of taking care of yourself.  Take a moment sometime in the hustle and bustle to sit quietly looking at the lit tree or candle or fireplace and just breath.



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