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Traditions and Rituals… Making them fit your life and not your life fitting them

A young girl was watching her mother bake a ham for a family gathering and noticed her mom cutting off the ends before placing it in the oven.

“Mom, why do you cut the ends off before baking the ham?” she asked.

“Hmmm… I think it helps soak up the juices while it’s baking. I’m not sure, though. That’s just the way your grandma always did it, so I’ve just always cut them off. Why don’t you call grandma and ask her?”

So, the little girl phoned her grandma and asked “Grandma, mom is making a ham and cut off the ends before placing it in the oven. She said that it’s probably to help soak up the juices but wasn’t sure. She said you’d know because she learned how to cook from you.”

“That’s true. I do cut off the ends of the ham before baking. But I’m not sure why either. I learned how to cook from my mom. You should ask her.”

So, the inquisitive little girl called her great grandmother and asked “Great grandma, mom and grandma said they learned how to cook a ham from watching you. Do you cut off the ends of the ham to help it soak up the juices?”

The great grandmother chuckled. “Oh, no sweetie. I just never had a pan big enough to hold a whole ham, so I always had to cut off the ends to make it fit.”

Some of you may be familiar with this little story or maybe it’s totally new to you. Either way, I hope the message behind it made you think a little about how we sometimes do things out of routine or habit without much thought. I’m guessing that many of us have things like this in our lives that we’ve grown accustomed to doing simply because “it’s always been done that way” including our rituals and traditions.

What is a tradition and a ritual?

According to this article, “These are unwritten laws and norms pertaining to behavior and action when interacting with others in the society. A Tradition is a generic term that encompasses a wide variety of things and concepts that are handed down by one generation to another. Whereas a Ritual is an act or a series of acts that are performed or observed in a society on occasions, events, festivals, and ceremonies. These rituals have a symbolic value and also have a religious basis. So, a handshake to greet others is a ritual, while the practice to honor and respect the seniors is a tradition.”

Rituals tend to fall in one of three categories – religious or mythical that reenact sacred stories, rites of passage as markers for a new stage of life, or family rituals that are more unique, emotional, and generational.

It’s well documented that rituals and traditions play important roles in our lives. They strengthen bonds, create a sense of identity and belonging, and keep generations connected. And, for the most part, they do. We have fond memories of times with family and friends engaging in annual gatherings, events and holiday activities. This article and this one share some common ideas that you may already be familiar with.

But what happens when life “shifts” and traditions and rituals that used to be great no longer are?

What's changed

Life happens. We move away from our origin family. We get married. We have children. We get divorced. We blend families. Children become adults. Family members pass on. Our values and beliefs change. Things that brought joy and fulfillment no longer do. These are some of the reasons as to why traditions and rituals that once made sense in our lives may need to be re-evaluated, re-designed or totally eliminated.

Why change can be challenging

From the moment we are born, we are indoctrinated by our family’s ways along with social and cultural norms. We may have very deep emotional ties and memories around certain traditions or rituals, so the mere thought of those not happening anymore can send us into a place of fear - fear of missing out, fear of being seen as different and/or fear of being left behind or outcast.

But, once we’ve realized that these are no longer working for us, we can choose and create, with intention and purpose, new traditions and rituals for ourselves.

Just to clarify… I am not anti-traditional customs and rituals. I do, however, believe that we all lead very different lives and should not feel burdened by or enslaved to ideals that are no longer are right for us. As this article explains, some “holidays” are not good for everyone.

A window of opportunity for new ideas

Here are a few examples of traditions that have or can be re-configured to better fit a scenario or life situation:

  • Halloween celebrations. Various organizations have created alternatives to the trick-or-treat tradition. But to avoid the massive sugar overload of this holiday, some people have opted to spend the evening out doing a fun activity such as bowling, movies, or indoor sporting centers including dinner beforehand and a late-night treat on the way home.

  • Wedding ceremonies. Many contemporary couples modify the ceremony and vows to be more in line with their beliefs about equality and partnerships. Additionally, family dynamics and changing cultural norms may play a role in every aspect of the day from pre-ceremony activities to the final walk down the aisle.

  • Baby showers. Traditionally hosted to “shower” the mother-to-be with gifts for the impending new arrival. Pregnancy and baby-related games, food, and the opening of gifts are the usual agenda. But, with more partners taking an active role in parenthood, some have restructured these gatherings to include both parents to celebrate and support the couple in becoming and raising a family.

  • Totally made-up holidays, events, etc – Sometimes we just have to find and make our own joy! Whether it’s a celebration made up by others (wear your pjs to work day) or by you, your friends, or family (eat ice cream for breakfast day), it’s totally worth taking the time to make it a tradition and create some cherished memories! One of my favorite tools for this is the Celebrate Everything calendar by the Escape Adulthood company… stay tuned for the 2023 edition soon!

Of course, there are many other traditions and rituals that may need attention and re-evaluation depending on your situation. Also, it doesn’t have to be an entire transformation. It could simply mean “tweaking” an existing tradition – getting away from “the way it’s always been done”. For example, you could switch up the menu for a holiday meal to something unexpected and less labor-intensive - such as grilled steaks and baked potatoes instead of a turkey and roast beef with all the trimmings.

Finding a new pan that fits

As you contemplate and start working towards creating new traditions and rituals, here are a few points to consider:

1. Give yourself permission to make, or consider making, a change. It may sound hokey, but it provides validation that you have the self-imposed authority to do so.

2. Spend time to determine why you want or need to make a change. What matters to you? What beliefs, values or logistics have changed that brought you to this point?

3. Visualize your end goal. When you implement this new tradition or ritual, what do you want to happen? How do you want to feel? What do you want to experience?

4. Communicate and share with those who will be affected. Get feedback and be open to it all. Ask them for their input and ideas that could further enhance the change. If they

will be directly participating in the new activity/tradition, it is important that they understand and support it.

5. Try it out and tweak as needed. It may take a few times to iron out any minor bumps. Be open-minded and flexible to adapting and modifying your ideas to best meet everyone’s needs and the ultimate outcome(s) you desire.

It all comes down to the awareness and recognition that things need to change, and the desire and intention to make it happen.

And once you find the right “pan” to hold your “ham”, you won’t have to worry about cutting off the ends any longer. Your traditions and rituals will "fit" just right and be filled with meaning, purpose, and joy!

I'm here supporting and cheering you on. But, if you find you need a little help getting started, let's chat.

In celebration of you,

Your turn…

1. What rituals and traditions from your childhood bring back fond memories?

2. What rituals and traditions do you currently have in your home at this time of year?

3. Is there a ritual or tradition that you are considering updating or eliminating from your life?


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