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Rituals for holidays and everyday

Ten good things rituals do for children and five rituals to try at home.
By Meg Cox
July/August 2003 7.1.03

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Family rituals:

  • Impart a sense of identity
  • Provide comfort and security
  • Help to navigate change
  • Teach values
  • Teach practical skills
  • Solve problems
  • Keep alive a sense of departed family members
  • Pass on ethnic or religious heritage
  • Help heal from loss or trauma
  • Generate wonderful memories

Here are four rituals different families have created:

Arbor Day

Tarrant Figlio has been celebrating Arbor Day with her kids for years, and they have developed some special rituals. “On Arbor Day, we always plant a tree together as a family. I tell the kids how special trees are, and we talk about how birds nest and how paper is made from trees. they are sort of like mini-science lessons.” Tarrant’s children also keep a special scrapbook for their Arbor Day trees, and every year they measure each tree, count branches, and take a photograph. Since the picture includes the kids, they can look back and see how they grew, alongside their trees.

Here Comes the Sun

My family’s winter solstice celebration is an example of a simple but meaningful ritual that combines special actions, music, and food.

After dark, turn out the lights and sit in darkness, remaining silent for at least a full minute. Then, talk about how darkness makes you feel, and how joyful primitive people must have been knowing that the days would soon lengthen. Next, light candles and run to the front door, flinging it open as you yell, “Come back, sun!”

Combine orange juice and vanilla ice cream in the blender to make “sun shakes.”

Play the Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun” while drinking the shakes, and discuss all the good things that come from the sun.

Half a Game

Doni Boyd’s kids were both born in January, so she always threw them a joint half-birthday party in July, making it as silly as possible. “We would put the picnic table half in our yard and half in the neighbor’s yard,” she explains. “I would serve half a cake and cut ice cream bars in half. Since it was summer, everybody would come half-dressed.” To increase the fun, people brought only half a present (the board for a game, but not the game pieces, which would be saved for another time), and played half games. “Everybody loved the idea of letting the kids go hide, but no one would go seeking them!” says Doni.

Family Day

A couple in Minnesota adopted two Romanian orphans in 1991 and decided to celebrate the adoptions on an annual day called Family Day. At a festive dinner, they retell the story of the adoptions—but also take time to talk about a biological daughter who committed suicide in her teens. There are five candles on the cake, including one for this girl. The message this family hopes to communicate is a hopeful one, that no matter what, once a person joins this family, they are part of it forever, and everybody’s story matters.

Soup Nights

Children’s book author Martha Freeman and her family host Soup Night every Thursday from October through March. Every September, Martha sends out a standing invitation to about sixty people, friends and neighbors, to come any Thursday they want after 5:30. Many bring bread, wine, or cookies. Martha makes huge pots of soup and provides paper bowls and spoons, plus apple juice for the kids. Her three children love the casual party atmosphere and seeing all their friends.


Excerpted with permission from The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday by Meg Cox (Running Press, 2003). Available from the UUA Bookstore; see link in sidebar.

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