Rituals to Ruts – and Back Again

Three items representing family rituals.

We hadn’t yet got to the ritual of the birthday cake appearing with the accompanying, Happy Birthday song. Before we began the meal, the youngest at the table wanted to toast the birthday person. We had never done this before, but we all raised our glasses, clinked, and toasted the star. That got me thinking about rituals.

Not all rituals are equal. Good ones should be continued. Bad ones should be dropped. And those that have transformed into a rut, need to be refreshed. I thought this would be a ritual to refresh the celebration of a birthday.

Rituals can involve individuals, groups such as families and friends, or even large groups such as strangers during national celebrations.

Rituals can be fluid and changing. They can be very static enduring over the years, if not centuries.

The familiar handshake is the ritual we often use to greet people, in which there’s not necessarily a secure intimate emotional connection. Over time, that ritual often evolves into a hug. It too, can change from a short embrace to a long lingering steamy “get-a-room” comment.

The ritual of telling family stories as we gather to celebrate various milestones and annual events is an important aspect to build bonds amongst family members. Setting aside that time to tell the stories is a ritual in itself. It can be formal or can just happen after the meal. Within that time, the routine can involve telling familiar stories over again so that the younger generation can appreciate their ancestral roots. New stores can be added and become part of the refresh.

Rituals can be tangible such as reviewing family videos and photographs. They can be very active such is the mandatory Family Reunion baseball game. They can also be a much lower-key affair with time set aside for silent meditation with others.

Rituals can also bring feelings that make us feel happy, sad, angry and ungrateful. It is essential that rituals ultimately bring us happiness and a sense of purpose. Remembering the struggles of our ancestors that leave us with a sense of pride in ourselves today and a sense of purpose can do that. Some rituals ultimately do not benefit us. They only depress us. We should give some thought about changing that routine into another ritual that will enrich our lives. The possibilities are all around us.

Older adults have an important role to play in leading the inclusion of rituals and encouraging group members to participate. We have the time and the wisdom. Sometimes we need to take the lead, do the heavy lifting when some of those around us don’t value family time as much as we do. Perhaps family time has not been important to you. What is one thing you could do to enrich your life with family time. Take a moment to think how you can strengthen emotional bonds with those we call family.

What is the common factor of the three items in the picture? The toothpick is what a favourite family member always has in his mouth. The jigsaw piece represents a family pastime, and the strange creature with the eyes, comes out once each year with a surprise when lifted up. All related to our family rituals.

Oh, by the way, yes, we still had birthday cake with the song. Some rituals should last forever.

My thanks to St. Albert Seniors Association: 780-459-0433 for making this blog possible.

Glenn Walmsley