Tradition and Ritual for Everyone’s Holidays

The Holiday Season has arrived.  It might seem that it began months ago when the shelves in most stores around town filled with red and green decorations and gifts.  To me, Thanksgiving feels more like the official beginning of the season.

Growing up, my family’s annual Thanksgiving tradition was to feast at noon on turkey and all the trimmings with special friends and neighbors. After the oldest of us left home for college, our ritual changed from the dining room table to tailgating and cheering for the football team.  We had family and friends with plenty of food, games and fun – What could be better?

Many of our holidays would not be the same without their time-honored rituals, but do these rituals benefit everyone?

Thanksgiving is a state of mind and is not necessarily a fun-filled day of celebration.  Dark emotions can be magnified in anyone who is feeling lonely or sad while everyone else appears especially happy and celebrating.

Joan Chittister, a leading voice in contemporary spirituality, says, “Traditions are meant to develop us emotionally, one layer of understanding at a time. We all have traditions, habits, rituals, routines.  The only question is whether they make life more or less meaningful.”

Rituals and traditions symbolically bring us into our community and family as well as into ourselves.  They mark the changes in life and are important in good times as well as in bad.

It’s worth thinking about alternative traditions and rituals.  Not to forgo favorites, but to create appropriate new ones that include everyone.

Rituals offer –

·      Continuity and community in times of celebration

·      Order and clarity in times of change

·      Relief and comfort in times of anxiety and

·      Integration and healing in times of loss

Chade-Meng Tan, Google engineer and author of the book Joy on Demand, shares some tips that may help anyone having difficulty getting into the spirit when everyone else appears to be especially happy.

He recommends that you focus on the smallest momentary pleasures already in your day.  Pay close attention to “any fleeting moments of joy in life that are not super intense.” Your very first taste of a favorite treat or the moment you stand under a warm shower or sink into a relaxing bath.

Tan suggests that you choose a few random people whether you know them or not and send them your positive thoughts and wish them well.  “Being on the giving end of a kind thought is rewarding.  You’ll be happier than you were five seconds ago.”

“All you have to do is notice the joy and bring attention to the pleasantness.  A bad mood is like being in a dark room, while those little moments of joy are like candles.”

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recommends starting a One-Sentence Journal.  “Your sentence can be about anything – something beautiful, hilarious, whatever.  It keeps you accountable without making happiness feel like a chore.”

You don’t have to buy a journal if you plan to write only one sentence a day.  A couple of sheets of paper may be enough for the whole year.

But if you want to fully engage in writing only a few thoughts each day, The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day can be your excellent companion.  To order a copy click The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day by Intelligent Change.  

Let this holiday season be meaningful and beneficial as you take part in your favorite celebrations – Thanksgiving, Milad un Nabi, Bodhi Day, Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve and others, all occurring in the last weeks of 2017.

Let’s continue to keep our spirits up well into the New Year and beyond with thoughtful attention and joy.


Susan Hendricks, LISW-CP and CJT, leads guided writing groups and workshops.  She will lead two different half-day workshops –  November 19th and December 9th   CEUs available for licensed mental health workers.  You are invited! 

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