Honoring Both Traditions and New Beginnings

A short essay on the importance of family rituals in the lives of children and adults.

Life Letters

Rituals are as old as the earliest civilization. They can mark occasions by utilizing a special event to represent a far grander scheme, help to create meaning, and foster lasting memories. They can solidify, celebrate, commemorate, validate, and comfort.

For the past several years, my husband and I have joined friends and family around a magnificent campfire to acknowledge the close of the old year and the beginning of the new. It's always a festive affair complete with feasting, music, laughter and celebration. While this has been a family tradition for some time now, there have been other, quieter rituals that I have engaged in during the month of January which have offered important chances to reflect upon lessons learned during the previous year and to contemplate and prepare for the opportunities ahead.

One weekend in January, my husband, daughter and I followed Susannah Seton's advice in "Simple Pleasures for the Holidays: A Treasury of Stories and Suggestions for Creating Meaningful Celebrations." We had a special dinner, made a fire and gathered pillows around the fireplace, lit a candle, turned out the lights, and took turns talking about the past year - our favorite memories, challenges, humorous moments and lessons we'd learned. Next, we each wrote down something that we wanted to let go of and watched our papers disappear among the flames in the fireplace. Finally, we blew out our candle and camped out in the living room.

On another winter afternoon, I joined a small group of women to create what Barbara Biziou in "The Joy of Ritual" calls a vision collage. First we filled the room with beautiful music and gathered together magazines, poster board, scissors and glue. Next, we each asked ourselves silently, "what brings me joy?" and then began thumbing through the magazines, pausing to cut out anything that we saw that we wanted to manifest more of during the coming year. Once we each had a sizeable stack of pictures and word phrases, we arranged and pasted them on poster boards to serve as reminders during the year of what we valued most. The afternoon concluded with a wisdom circle followed by a potluck. It was a very special experience, and I still treasure the collage that I made that day.

continue story below

From the time my daughter was a small child, until she was sixteen, we made baked goods and chocolates together for friends and neighbors during the Holidays. Tucking her into bed used to involve a rather lengthy and specific ritual; there was a story, a witch chasing ceremony, a little back rub, and always a glass of apple juice placed at her beside in the event that she got thirsty in the night. A Syracuse University study published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Family Psychology found that family rituals are associated with marital satisfaction, children's health, academic achievement, a sense of personal identity in adolescence, and closer family bonds. In this uncertain and unpredictable world, children need rituals to help them feel safe, contained, and cared for. They don't have to be complicated, and yet those few moments we invest may provide our children with gifts to carry with them for a lifetime.

next:Life Letters: Home Words

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, October 22). Honoring Both Traditions and New Beginnings, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Last Updated: July 17, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info