Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Twelve Ways of Christmas - Way 2: Meaningful Rituals

"For the Second Way of Christmas, the Season gave to me meaningful rituals ...." (The grief part is the First Way.)

Ritual -  A ritual is a ceremony or action performed in a customary way. Your family might have a Saturday night ritual of eating a big spaghetti dinner and then taking a long walk to the ice cream shop. (source

This was the first on-line definition I found that didn't refer to ritual solely as a function of religion so I decided to use it while simultaneously wondering what percent of families still sit down any day of the week especially at home for a meal and savor the experience of eating and being with each other?  How many would actually walk to the ice cream shop especially if it's a long walk?  

I also opted for this definition because my favorite childhood holiday ritual involved food and experience.  

Just last week I told my mother my favorite ritual was delivering plates of her homemade sweet treats to elderly members of our small community.  I can still see the white paper plates loaded with fudge, divinity, date balls, pecan pies and bite-size fruit cakes.  She and I would visit with each person before moving on to our next stop. In my mind this took an entire day though it may have only been a couple of hours. Equally meaningful for me was doing something with my mother who was usually busy following society's prescription for women of her generation running a home, yard and family.

In the late 80's I made those same sweets for the yearly ritual that was my Christmas party. 

Today this ritual has morphed into my giving loaves of chocolate-cranberry bread (from Provence) to those who are part of the fabric of my community, neighbors as well as the souls to whom I feel connected at Wild Birds Unlimited, the Cat Shoppe and Burgess Falls Nursery.  Holiday ritual involves conveying to those who are part of my weeks through the year that I value and honor their presence.

Lily, Ella and Corina.
Meaningful ritual for me has often involved children, like Ella and Lily, whose parents graciously allow us to be in their lives.  I had a Christmas Eve ritual with these two neighbor girls to whom I am "Aunt Dawn.'  On Christmas Eve we would don Santa, reindeer or elf headgear.  Then armed with three $5 gift cards from Starbucks, we would venture to the mall in search of happy people.  Contrary to the joy one's "suppose" to feel during the holidays, it is rare to find smiling people at least at the mall on Christmas Eve.  We would quietly stalk potential candidates for our gift cards to ensure their smile was constant and not connected to a brief interaction. We were seeking genuinely happy people. My favorite encounter involved meeting Corina.  Since she was the first person we spied as we walked into the mall, we delayed gifting her.  Yet everywhere we turned there she was seeming cordial with strangers as well as store clerks.  After looking for other happy people, yet always encountering her, we introduced ourselves.  She was delighted by our card but we were more impressed with her.  The Christmas prior she had been undergoing treatment for throat cancer and didn't know if she'd see another holiday.  Being alive was the reason for her joy.  
Aunt Dawn, You-Know-Who and Lily
You may have noticed I wrote I had a ritual with Ella and Lily.  Rituals are often most meaningful when they're fluid and flexible.  Ella's turning thirteen reminds me of this for suddenly putting on a Santa hat in public is far from cool.  Our ritual shifted in the last few years to hanging out together at Christmas in the Village.  This year we paddled in a down pour to Provence and Fido where Lily and I had our ritual photo with Santa taken.

My rituals are simple.  I've lights around the windows in the room where I spend much of my time.  This simple shift in light will stay with me through the winter until spring nears.  Putting up clear lights to remind me of the Season's Light is ritual for me as is sitting outside under Winter's stars. 

Music is part of holiday ritual for many.  Every year I hear my friend Kristi Rose and Aqua Velvet perform holiday songs at a local venue.  And sometime in the coming week, Jerry and I will probably conjure up our own little performance.  We'll put on our Santa hats and venture out to sing carols to a handful of friends and neighbors.  We may resuscitate a ritual from years prior.  (Yes, sometimes rituals are laid to rest then resurrected.)  When my nephews were young, we drove them all over Nashville one year to see homes decked in lights.  I still recall turning around in the car seat one night to ensure they were seeing the lights only to find the three of them fast asleep.  Jerry and I continued that ritual ourselves and added hot chocolate (maybe that would have kept my nephews awake).  With Christmas music playing, we drove all over Nashville seeing Christmas lights until we stopped for reasons I don't recall.  This year we're reviving this ritual for an evening.

My favorite more recent ritual has involved going to the Belcourt on Christmas Eve to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" on the big screen.

At times I wonder if the speed with which we live is actually diminishing ritual in our lives.  Meaningful ritual requires attention, being mindful and taking time to reflect on what has meaning.

Meaningful rituals don't require money.  If the economy were based on my rituals, we'd surely experience a crash.  The things that hold the most meaning for me cost little to nothing.  Yet it seems around the holidays that buying stuff and eating a lot have become America's primary rituals. 

The on-line Encyclopedia Britannica refers to ritual as a specific, observable mode of behavior exhibited by all known societies.

Think about it.  At least in our known society, aren't the two most observable modes of behavior in America around the holidays buying a lot and eating a lot?

I'm not knocking food and gifts.  Food as a gift is connected to my most meaningful rituals past and present.  Awareness and balance seem to be key.

I challenge you in the coming week to consider your holiday rituals.  What are they?  How do you experience meaning in them?  Are they routine and somewhat hollow?  Have you inherited rituals that belonged to others and aren't really yours?  Are there rituals that have fallen by the way that you want to resuscitate?   

As for me, remember that ritual with Winter's stars I referred to earlier?  I've got a sky full alongside a nearly full moon awaiting me.

I wish for you simple rituals with much meaning.
-Dawn, The Good News Muse 15 December 2013

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