Ceremonies and rituals are powerful stuff, bringing people together to magically transform the ordinary into something extraordinary. Humans everywhere seem hard-wired to ceremonialize, having gathered to mark milestones essential to healthy and happy coexistence since the dawn of recorded time.
First Nation Chief Sun Bear has eloquently stated the vital importance of ceremony: “When humans participate in ceremony, they enter a sacred space. Everything outside of that space shrivels in importance. Time takes on a brilliant dimension. Emotions flow more freely. The bodies of participants become filled with the energy of life, and this energy reaches out and blesses the creation around them. All is made new. Everything becomes sacred.”
Making kid-centric rituals a reality in our own family not only unites and strengthens us, but also creates unforgettable memories. They remind us of how we are journeying together on this adventure called life. The following ideas, straight from family life, are contributed by Melissa Mendez, of Edina, Minnesota, and Deb Goldman, of Arlington, Massachusetts.
Encourage children to make their own Christmas tree, totem or other seasonal object, decorated any way they wish, to display in their room or another special spot. Ask them to take a photo of their festive creation and add it to the family album or notebook.
Benefit: Kids discover their inner creativity and enjoy expressing themselves individually.
Keep a Family Notebook
On New Year’s Eve, make it a custom for every member of the family to write down or draw pictures of their goals and dreams for the coming year. The whole family can then gather to consider, “What do we want to do this year?”
It’s fun, too, for parents and siblings to recall and reflect upon individuals’ special moments and accomplishments, so that everyone can join in tooting their own horn in sharing the good news on New Year’s Eve. Here’s another idea: Show home movies of good experiences, while crossing things off last year’s list as “done,” “do over” or “do again.”
Benefit: Make and realize plans for the new year. Letting children know that the family pays attention to and praises what they do each year empowers kids to realize what roles they play in the family. Everyone knows how they are making it possible to accomplish individual and family goals.
Engage the Senses
Maybe Grandfather has a special holiday cranberry-mango-lime relish that he is now passing along to his grandson in the kitchen tonight. The holidays are all about passing down stories, songs, recipes, readings from sacred texts, and the ritual lighting of the treetop or candles,â€¯from one generation to the next.
In other seasons, take the whole family for a walk in the woods to collect small mementoes of nature’s beauty that won’t disturb the environment. Return with autumn leaves, pine cones, seed pods and berries for a seasonal cornucopia, displayed either in a basket on a table or in an old unused fishbowl or tank. Mostly, kids will remember the time they spent skipping through the forest with their parents.
Benefit: The child is engaged in the process of both being in the moment and experiencing connections and continuity. Introducing repeated rituals like these welcome children to be involved in a family ritual from beginning to end. From year to year, they can anticipate and prepare to participate with relish.â€¯
Embrace the Neighborhood
Cultural cross-pollination expands understanding and cooperation for all. Invite neighbors over for a potluck of their favorite holiday food and to share stories of their heritage and present lives.
Benefit: Children will learn about different cultures and life histories, and enjoy and better appreciate the diverse tapestry of life in their own neighborhood.
Children in Charge
Engage children in creating ceremonial foods and decorations for any holiday in any season. Teach your children to prepare the special ceremonial foods in the traditional way, so they feel the excitement of making it happen themselves. They will feel the connection with past and present when they hand-grind the wheat, bake the bread, and then smile with pride when everyone says how great it tastes. When they hand-roll candles, they’ll discover details about the art of candle making and come to value the intricate process of creation.
Also, facilitate children’s natural urge to perform plays by suggesting that they might tell about and dramatize the origins and meaning of the holiday. Have them take charge of making the sets, costumes and props, choosing roles, memorizing lines, shaking rattles or playing bongos for background sounds … and gettingâ€¯the adults involved.
Benefits:â€¯Assigning children to be center stage in ceremonies builds their confidence and makes them feel more an integral part of the family and community.
Highlight the Seasons
Ever hear of Michaelmas? It falls on September 29, and celebrates the fall equinox each year. Its title is derived from the archangel and warrior Michael, who is said to protect us from the dark as light diminishes and winter nights become longer.â€¯For this glimmering festival, children getting to parade around, wearing golden capes and crowns with tiny electric candles on top that light up. In this pageant for their family and community, children may sing songs, dance and otherwise show their gratitude to Mother Earth as they honor this natural phase of the seasons.
Benefit: Sometimes the dark is something children are afraid of, so in celebrating light and hope, this festival helps dispel their fears, makes them feel stronger and enables them to better understand and celebrate the coming of each season in turn.â€¯â€¯
Customize an Altar Table
Children will feel good expressing themselves any time of the year by creating a sacred space in their home. Elements, for example, may include colored candles, figurines, rocks, dried fruit, flowers, leaves and beads to create a nature table or shrine. Go for adventure walks outdoors, arrange neighborhood scavenger hunts or investigate the basement or attic to locate neat things.
Benefit: Children look forward to and anticipate changing their space with the changing rhythms of the year.
Eldest Daughter Pancakes
Research the family’s cultural heritage and shine light on a festive tradition that focuses on the children. For instance, the Swedish festival of St. Lucia, on December 13, customarily includes an important role for the eldest daughter. Early in the morning on this day, she lights special candles and travels from room to room, waking up her family. Then she serves everyone Swedish pancakes and cornbread for breakfast, with a little help from Mom.
Benefit: Children come to know more about their heritage and how to prepare traditional and ceremonial foods. This type of coming-of-age ceremony honors the individual child and makes her feel important.
Charity Begins at Home
A Jewish harvest festival called Sukkot crosses cultures to teach all kids the key virtue of charity.â€¯During the fall harvest, Waldorf School kids travel to a nearby farm to select or harvest fruits and vegetables to carry to a local homeless shelter. They also build a three-sided shelter structure with no roof, called a Sukkah, to symbolize the story of an arduous journey of an ancient people who had no food or shelter, while celebrating their spirit and strength to survive. This festival eloquently involves children and teaches them their responsibility for taking care of everyone in the community.
Benefit: Children feel a part of the world and responsible for nurturing and caring for it, as they realize the importance of shelter and food to sustaining everyone through the generations.
Passing the torch of tradition on to our children, in whatever forms it takes, imbues every occasion with special meaning. Why not begin a new tradition today?
Charlotte Eulette is the international director of the nonprofit Celebrant Foundation & Institute, of Montclair, NJ. The institute educates individuals in the art of facilitating meaningful ceremonies to mark the milestones in people’s lives in ways that reflect and symbolize their values. Reach her at CharlotteEulette@CelebrantInstitute.org.