The Deepest Foundations
The holiday season is fully upon us. We’ve just passed Chanukkah, winter solstice is on the 22nd, and Christmas is the 25th.
At the foundation of all the frenzy and excitement, lies the rituals – the traditions – each individual and family have carried forth from generation to generation.
Ritual brings the past into the present through the people that hold the practices sacred. Each individual and family are the bridge from past to present and into the future of generations not yet born from the earth.
Without ritual, we are lost on our path. Holding to traditions – a large part of which is ritual – is both a temporal and moral compass. Our private lives and community involvement move to the rhythms of religious and secular observances.
In a typical calendar year, each family has birthdays to celebrate, anniversaries, perhaps milestone events like weddings and births, coming of age celebrations, graduations, and sadly… deaths and funerals.
Community celebrates national holidays. In the US, our government formally observes ten holidays – all except one of which is connected to our patriotism is one form or another.
And finally, we have the religious calendar, which is unique to each path. Per Gallup, here in the United States, the predominate faith is Christianity (70% of the population is Protestant or Catholic), and therefore, culturally, those holidays and ritual practices are most prevalent in our community consciousness. Only six percent of the US population follow non-Christian paths such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, etc. Of those, the Jewish population (at two percent) is twice the size of each of the others mentioned. And twenty percent of our citizens claim no religious identity at all.
Ritual is integral in our lives on many levels – we rely on it to define ourselves, our families, and our calendars.
Seventy percent of the people in the United States are moderately to highly religious as they report attendance at, and the importance of, religious practices.
All of this data adds up to deep integration of religious ritual in our communities. Secular and national observances fill in more of our calendars.
And… none of the above even take into consideration the importance and predominance of *daily* rituals in our lives. That first cup of coffee, personal “ablutions,” 9-5 employment, evening news, bedtime stories, and perhaps the luxury of a nightcap.
Ritual is integral in our lives on many levels – we rely on it to define ourselves, our families, and our calendars. It is almost like an autonomic response… we just do it. Practically without thinking about it.
So now that we know that we do it – and that it fills so much of our collective and individual consciousness – what does it tell us about ourselves?
Ritual & the Rise of Civilization
Despite some people’s urgent protestations that they abhor schedules and structure, ritual exists to some degree or another in everyone’s life. We are raised to expect it, at the least, and crave it, at the most extreme. Every day of our lives is measured by it and it gives us a sort of clock to rely on that is outside the “ticktock” variety.
Since the days we were just emerging from the trees.- and probably even before – we passed our time not with manmade mechanisms but with the rising and setting of the sun, the moon, and the turning of the seasons. For, even in the harshest equatorial climates, there are changes in weather which can be predicted, for the most part.
We slept by night (a ritual), we hunted and gathered by day (ritual), and had times during the day when we groomed, communed, and consumed. As our brains grew, we began to contemplate the larger world around us – what are those two orbs that rise and set in the sky, what are those points of light, why does the shoreline come in and out? And most importantly, is there a force behind these mysteries which has power over us? And… can we perform actions (rituals) to influence/appease it?
We’ve been at this ritual thing for a very, very!, long time…because we feel these rituals important enough personally, and to the fabric of our societies, that we teach them to our children.
We hedged our bets and decided safe was better than sorry, and so began to develop habits (rituals) to entreat the unseen force to behave in a favorable way so we didn’t starve, freeze, or die of thirst.
We added these new spiritual practices to our existing tribal and individual rituals – and thus we learned to expect, and be comfortable with, counting time by the passing of daily, seasonal, and annual rituals.
So, you see, we’ve been at this ritual thing for a very, very!, long time.
And that has come to pass because we feel these rituals important enough personally, and to the fabric of our societies, that we teach them to our children. In this way, society develops generational memories. Rituals may morph through the years and generations (you may not use the same Menorah, or dress the same for church as your parents) but they survive in their essence and meaning – and heartfelt intent.
All this gives us a sort of playbook for the life of the community as well as for us as individuals.
Knowing what will happen, and when, is calming. Reassuring. It allows us to plan ahead, and know what to expect from ourselves and the community in which we live – and to know what is expected of *us.*
Very important concepts for civilized living, yes?
The Difference Between Ritual and Routine
Some of you will question the difference between a ritual and simple routine or habit. And why am I calling daily actions (like showering and brushing your teeth) ritual?
Have you ever been interrupted in one of your daily routines? Like getting ready in the morning? There is a phone call., your spouse needs help with something, the coffee pot overflows…
What happens next, more times than not?
You miss or forget something. Right?
Why does this happen?
From the seemingly innocuous daily ablutions we perform for ourselves, and family, to the most solemn and poignant actions we take during religious/spiritual ceremonies… ritual is a comfort to us…
It happens because that *group* of actions have become ritual. Ritual is a deliberate sequence of actions with a specific purpose or outcome. Bathroom, shower, makeup, hair, teeth, travel mug, packed lunch, keys, lock door. The purpose? Preparing yourself (becoming “acceptable” per community standards of appearance) for your day in the outside world.
This sequence – ritual – may have a less deep meaning than the sequence you perform during a Sunday church service… but it is nonetheless a “ritual.” And therefore it helps you measure the passing of your day.
From the seemingly innocuous daily ablutions we perform for ourselves, and family, to the most solemn and poignant actions we take during religious/spiritual ceremonies… ritual is a comfort to us, and is a large part of the glue that binds us all together in humanity and community.
Whatever your rituals this holiday season, we here at the WeWan respect yours as we respect our own. As we fervently hope it is so for everyone during this holy time of the year.
May your family and friends bring you great joy and comfort. Let laughter warm your hearts and bring you closer together in love. And let the spirit of this season of light and hope lift you into brightness.
Chanukkah Sameach. Good Yule. Happy Solstice. Merry Christmas.