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The Importance of Ritual during the Festive Season

Whether we begin to take out the Christmas decorations, start the gift-giving list or plan meals and getaways, the month of December is full of traditions and rituals.

Traditions, from the Latin traditione, means “delivery, surrender, a handing down or to hand over.”

Ritual, from the Latin ritus, refers to a “religious observance or ceremony, custom, or usage.” Although both tradition and ritual may be customs, the key here is ritual’s religious association which emphasises the underlying symbolic meaning behind the actions.

Traditions may be more habit, while rituals involve focused thought, purpose and intention. Ritual practice is as old as humanity, developing from people’s compelling need to understand and connect with the collective, even archetypal, unexplainable mysteries of life.

Since each family does things a bit different, rituals help give us a sense of belonging and identity to our families, both past and present. They provide something constant, stable, especially during these fast-paced times.

Even though rituals are mostly constant, they can grow and change over the years. As Edward Whitmont noted, “A genuine ritual, like a living symbol or a religious experience, cannot be fabricated; it can only be discovered.” Jungian analyst James Hollis agrees: “Rites are not invented. They are found, discovered, experienced.”

Although traditions may be more passive in nature, rituals are participatory. Author Donna Henes explains that “There is no way to benefit from a ritual by just watching it, or by reading or hearing about it. It must be experienced to be affective, or effective, for that matter.”

Regardless of the time of year, rituals and traditions tend to share the purpose of connecting with family, friends and our communities; reflecting upon the passings and embracing the time to come with hope.

When we take time to add ritual to our busy lives it produces order, harmony, patience and appreciation. Take a moment to look at the food, music, decorations and giving you do during this time of year. How might you change a tradition into a ritual?

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.