With the approaching holidays, I am once more aware of the preponderance of rituals in my family. Some are derived from cherished ways of celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas as a child. Others arose as my husband, Ron, and I merged traditions from our respective families and then generated new ones with our children. Now my daughter and her husband are taking the lead as they introduce their little girl to the joys of sharing and celebrating these beautiful feasts.
Stated simply, a ritual is a patterned way of doing something that involves words, symbols, or gestures. Grand rituals, such as the preparation and sharing of a Thanksgiving dinner, involve particular foods, colors, seasonal décor, and ordering of events. Who sits where at the table? How is the turkey brought in? What happens before and after the meal? Such questions point to the pattern involved in such a ritual and the other elements that surround it. These stem from tradition and take on greater meaning each time they are repeated. Each person knows his or her “role” and so the actions, words, gestures, and symbols don’t need to be explained. We know through the ritual what Thanksgiving is all about.
Smaller rituals are carried out in the context of daily life. Consider the manner in which you get up in the morning and how you order the first movements of the day, such as showering, dressing, greeting others, and eating breakfast. In many instances, such activities are simply routine—they are chores that need doing. When our actions take on a sense of purpose, however, they become more ritualistic. Savoring the first sip of coffee or the feel of a hot shower, for example, can be celebratory actions. No wonder the disruption of a morning ritual feels so unsettling.
Prayer and ritual are a natural fit within families. The beauty lies in what they are already doing. Without realizing it, parents communicate a great deal about spirituality through their own practices as well as in the way they celebrate both special and ordinary times. With some dedicated time and intention, rituals serve as a gateway into deeper spiritual practices within the home.
With some dedicated time and intention, rituals serve as a gateway into deeper spiritual practices within the home.
In similar fashion, day-to-day rituals are also opportunities for prayer. Blessing one another before heading out the door to work and school, drawing together our concerns for those in need while sharing an evening meal, and giving thanks at day’s end for grace-filled encounters are simple ways to increase awareness of God’s eternal presence.
Evolving with Time
Domestic rituals tend to evolve. This is an important consideration as children move through various levels of development... The different ages and stages that make family life so full require a variety of forms and expressions of prayer.
I am already anticipating how much our own family rituals will undergo these changes as our two-year old granddaughter takes a larger part in them. Watching her engage in the sights, sounds, and smells of holiday rituals will serve to awaken an even more profound sense of gratitude for the blessings in our family and in the joyous recognition of Christ’s constant coming as Advent hope opens into Christmas wonder. I have no doubt that the rituals we practiced for so many years will hold the same potential for recognizing and embracing the love of God made visible in the simple and yet profound way we are as family.
Watch my webinar to learn more about how to help families deepen the rituals they already celebrate to mark liturgical and secular seasons and holidays, as well as everyday routines.
Ideas for Families
Prepare for the Family Rituals and Prayers webinar and discover more great ideas for families in my Seasonal and Everyday Prayers and Rituals for the Family eBook resource. It includes suggestions for any day of the year as well as the liturgical seasons.
Kathy Hendricks, MA, is a national consultant and contributing writer for Sadlier. She motivates her readers and involves them through stories and anecdotes. She infuses her work with humor, inspiring and challenging the reader to grow further, both spiritually and professionally.