Rituals: Why I Love Them & Why They Matter
Recently my extended family got into a bit of a heated mess around a long-time Christmas giving tradition and how best –or even why— we should carry it out. It really crystalized for me how key these touchstones are for me and my family.
Rituals and traditions are what give life meaning. They connect us to humanity and to ourselves. They are powerful and necessary anchors in the world. We all crave sacredness and ritual in our everyday lives — and not just around birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, and weddings. Rituals can be both carefully planned events and casual but regular remembrances.
They might be as simple as voicing gratitude before a meal, creating regular space in your day for contemplation, setting an intention before a yoga class, scheduling morning and/or evening meditations, lighting a special candle in your home or work space before you start the day, or creating family “support circles” in which you take turns sharing your needs.
One of our family’s favorite rituals is hosting a “back-to-school” blessing for the kids in our life. We gather in a circle on the back porch after a special meal and have the kids voice and write down a one-word theme or intention for the coming school year, and then all the parents shower them with positive qualities — focus, compassion, the ability to try new things — for a healthy, enjoyable year. I also like to celebrate the holiday tradition of All Souls’ Day (November 2); I set up a Mexican Day of the Dead altar to honor deceased relatives. My son loves to be involved in this ritual.
I also love creating larger rituals that celebrate important life transitions.
When my sister was thirty and pregnant with her first child, I hosted a blessingway — a ceremony derived from a Navajo tradition. (In Native American culture, women are honored as they pass through many phases in life, not just pregnancy.) I have always related to my sister as a blend of sister, mother, and mentor; I was fourteen when she was born, and she was only a teenager when our parents died. But our relationship is slowly changing. About twelve women, both friends and relatives, attended the ceremony. None had ever attended a blessingway before, and it was a new and unusual experience for them to come together with other women in such an intimate way.
I spent hours Sunday morning getting ready for the gathering. Being about as non-crafty as they come, I was very proud when I successfully hobbled together a simple handmade flower wreath to adorn my sister’s head. For me, the process of contemplatively preparing for my sister’s arrival that Sunday felt like a ritual unto itself. Then, when everyone had arrived, we gathered in a circle on cushions on the floor in our front room. I told stories about growing up with four brothers and how excited I was when the “surprise twins” made their entry— and one of them was a girl! I talked about the significance of women’s circles, my sister’s journey from maiden to mother, and the importance of asking for and receiving help from a tribe. Then we all took turns “gifting” my sister with qualities to support her as a new mother and honoring her beautiful, kind, generous, and wise heart. As we took turns sharing, we created a birthing necklace for my sister by stringing together carefully chosen, symbolic charms and beads. Finally, we blessed “birthing” candles that each woman left with and that they would light as soon as they received word that my sister’s labor had begun.
The women attending were visibly moved by this ceremony; it was clear that many were hungry for this level and type of connection.
When we mark important transitions or milestones in our lives —whether it’s your daughter’s first period, your last day at a job or your son starting kindergarten— we connect to the sacredness of life in the everyday. We remember that life is mysterious and unknown — and way more than a to-do list. Rituals help remind us that we’re all swimming in the same big, vast, miraculous, and awe-inspiring ocean.