Exploring Rituals for the Holiday Season

(as seen in the USA Today / Pocono Record)

With the holiday season upon us – I’m thinking of all the connections between our traditions, especially as expressed through ritual. What could be more ritualistic than Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, or New Year’s Eve?  From the more secular parts of the celebrations, such as the Christmas tree and gift exchanging, to the most holy and sacred acts of worship, the holiday season is replete with customs, traditions and rituals. Lighting candles, decorating, wrapping gifts – all become meaningful when we do it year after year, just as our parents did, and their parents before them.

Sasha Sagan writes in her book For Small Creatures Such As We: “In every inhabited corner of the Earth, human beings have created rituals to give order and meaning to existence.”  I agree completely!

Old or ancient customs connect us to the continuity of life, to our faith or cultural past. New traditions bring closeness within our own families and communities right here and now. It brings joy – more of the time. Sometimes those same traditions can become more of a chore. 

Wouldn’t it be great to have your very own traditions to pass down through generations? Some families do, but if you don’t, you have the opportunity to start something of your very own. Simple things like driving around to look at lights, or baking cookies are holiday favorites. Here are a few more ideas that might inspire!

Explore world customs and make ornaments, food, or craft projects that reflect another culture. Can you imagine eating latkes for a special Christmas meal? Expand your cultural awareness with the Italian Fest of the Seven Fishes. You don’t have to be Latino to enjoy tostones (fried plantains) or a coquito, which is similar to eggnog with rum. 

Giving is always important. Have your family conduct a food or coat drive, or buy gifts to donate to a local shelter. But before donating anything, be sure to check first to see exactly what they need. Remember, it’s not what you want to donate, it’s what they truly need. Gift cards are often perfect because they offer people the opportunity purchase what that actually need. Adopt any cause or charity that resonates for you, and then continue to support it every year. 


Start a tradition of reading. Choose a classic such as the wonderful O. Henry story The Gift of the Magi, or try poems, chapter books, or just about anything. Perhaps pick something that takes you out of your comfort zone. Everyone will be more open to the book when it’s read together. Whether it’s after the candles are lit for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, or for the 12 days of Christmas, read every night. 

Sing songs together. Not everyone is musical but most can still muster up a few tunes with the family. Sing it loud, sing it proud, and sing it every year! 

Start an on-line holiday remembrance tradition, using photos or video. Mix it up with quotes from the family and the famous. Include favorite foods, special moments and even a few bloopers (but not too many, don’t embarrass anyone).

These are just a few ideas that may inspire you. I hope you will dream up your own traditions and personal rituals to add depth and new traditions to your holiday season.  Happy Holidays!