Autumn Family Rituals: Not quite there.

For the past few years we’ve been trying to develop some family rituals. It’s been a slow process, far slower than I ever imagined it would be, but we are closer each year.

Rituals provide anchor points for the day, week, season and year. They give us a sense of continuity in our lives and the best ones link us with  the earth. This is something I think modern-western city-living people have forgotten that we need.

Rituals also, as with stories, provide people with an emotional link to others. We become part of the group of people with whom we participate in the ritual and, with those rituals which endure, with people of previous generations. Many regular attendees at places of worship speak of the comfort of attending a different church/synagogue/ mosque/temple within the same religion and still experiencing much the same ritual. It can be comforting when in a new place, or when visiting, to experience that sensation of being in a home away from home…even if you don’t ‘meet’ with anyone after the service.

But we’re a secular family. We have our beliefs (which I’m not about to discuss here) but they are not institution based. This leaves us, as well as many others in the western world, with a void.

Daily rituals are not a problem: we eat together at least twice a day and we have great routines. Weekly rituals are yet to be found and decided upon. Seasonal/equinox rituals are celebrated well by the boys’ school with harvest, mid-winter, spring and advent. But Easter and Christmas are public holidays in New Zealand and our seasons don’t fit those of the northern hemisphere. It’s difficult to link baby chicks and new life with autumn. It’s not that easy to have a festival of lights in the middle of summer – when it doesn’t get dark until 9.3opm. Hence my motivation to set up our own.

For Easter the past two years we made our own buns on Good Friday. This year I found a recipe for Passbrod, a Dutch bread that I believe is made especially for Good Friday. Considering that Craig is half Dutch and, by default, the boys a quarter Dutch, it seemed a logical addition to our day. I have intended for the past five years to plant bulbs on Easter Saturday…I even managed to buy the bulbs this year…but none are yet in the ground…On Easter Sunday we have the grand chocolate egg hunt, which for our boys is more exciting than actually eating the chocolate. I know what I’d like our Easter rituals to look like…but we’re not quite there yet.

With late Easter this year, we ended up with a clash of rituals – and I’m not sure how we would get around it in the future. You see, All Hallows in October – the middle of spring – doesn’t make a lot of sense in the Antipodes. Besides I’m not really into the commercialisation of a ritual meant for remembering and honouring the dead. Halloween leaves me cold. To get around this I thought we could have our own All Hallows week during the last week of April. We have our major remembrance day on the 25th April ( ANZAC Day)  so it made sense on that level too. The days tend to draw in about now (It’s teeming with rain as I write this…the first decent rain of the autumn/winter) and it feels right to be taking the time to remember those who have died. With the Christchurch Earthquakes and The Pike River Miners disaster as well – the older boys have had a year of being exposed to death in a way they never have before.

But this year our All Hallows week clashed with Easter and posed a bit of a problem since we were away at Mahia Beach over the long weekend. I just haven’t been able to get the atmosphere right. I had pictures of our loved ones who recently died laminated with their names and DOB and DOD on them. On the back I wrote how they were connected to our family, so a source of information for genealogy in the future. I hung each memory-card from some thin autumn branches which I put into a vase. They’re not very attractive branches mostly green with crunchy dead brown bits around the edges. I would have preferred maple with its variations in colour – but that’s something to work on for next year. We have a candle as part of the display and the Hare and the Owl both want to carve pumpkins. But we’re already half-way through the week and I haven’t managed to buy the pumpkins yet! Oh dear.

So, our rituals are a work in progress. Unlike religious traditions which have been passed down through the generations we’re creating our own. There is a great sense of satisfaction in that. We’re drawing on history and we’re drawing on myth, and we’re making it all work for us here and now in the 21st century.

How about you, what family rituals do you have to anchor your family?

And any ideas for weekly ones…I’m a bit stuck there. 🙂

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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18 Responses to Autumn Family Rituals: Not quite there.

  1. adhdwith3 says:

    I agree that rituals are so important. So many have been created for us that sometimes we don’t create our own family traditions.

    Christmas, for example, demands so much of us that it’s hard to find time to create any meaningful traditions of our own. One simple one that we have is that we have homemade bread, milk, and cheese on Christmas Eve.

    It’s supposed to get us back to the roots of Christmas and remind us of the simple dinner that Joseph and Mary probably had. We do a little family nativity too.

    • I really like the idea of a simple meal on Christmas Eve. I have told the nativity from a shepherd boy’s perspective once before, I must relearn it for this year. I think it will be easier for us to consistently keep our family rituals now that the baby stage is finished and my brain can stay engaged!

  2. hakea says:

    This is something that I have given great thought to on occasions with very little resolution.

    Apart from birthday celebrations for the humans and canines of this family (and Christmas is just another birthday celebration for us – yes we make a birthday cake for Jesus) and a little family party for the footy grand final (the Festival of the Boot) and the soccer world cup. Saturday is Soccer Day which is a weekly ritual. I usually make Anzac biscuits on Anzac Day and we watch the march on tv.

    Sorry, I’m not much help. I’ve just signed up to do a course on druidry, so I may glean something from that?

    I think it is easier if you are involved in some kind of community where you all hold the same values and it provides momentum.

    • I agree on the community aspect, Narelle. It’s what’s given me the impetous to get going and do something about adding in some meaningful rituals. I love the idea of a course in druidry – keep me posted, I’m keen to learn more.

  3. Laura Weldon says:

    I read a stack of books on creating family rituals. I think I loved the concept more than my kids ever did. The rituals I purposefully created, full of meaning and linked to something larger than ourselves, seemed wonderful (to me). But most of them faded because my kids didn’t latch on to them as useful, magical, or worth repeating. And those three qualities are important. My kids adore rituals which rise out of ordinary life—-like mom reading to them while they eat lunch on weekdays or making our own “burp juice” as an alternative to soda (plain seltzer mixed with fruit juice concentrate) to go with homemade pizza. Try to forgo something that your kids have latched onto and they’ll moan that “we ALWAYS do this” and you know you’ve unintentionally created a ritual.

    • The boys are *very* excited about the idea of making their own burp juice – I’ll have to find some seltzer, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it on sale here (although have never looked). And most of the rituals which are sticking are the ones which involve food…mothering boys?! LOL
      Anyhoo, I think your point about them needing to be useful, magical or worth repeating is right on the button. And I think in the meantime I’ll just keep trucking along creating ones that suit me and hopefully they’ll come along for the ride!

  4. Fiona says:

    This year especially I think some of the rituals have started to fade in our house – teenagers have created their own rituals with their friends. We still do the important ones but no so much of the family ones.

    Our weekly family ritual with our children used to be to pile all of them into the car on a Sunday and go for a drive through the hills. Hubby and I would view our ‘dream homes’ dotted through the countryside and we would always stop somewhere different, a playground or park and share an icecream or a snack purchased from a country deli and we would kick a ball around.
    The upside was that the kids always ended up having an afternoon nap on the way home (long after they stopped having afternoon naps at home) and it was quiet time for hubby and I just to talk on the journey home.

    I miss those days, they were a special family ritual when we had very little money and four young boys to keep amused.

    • I expect our family rituals will become less important when our boys are teenagers too, but I hope that they remember them if they become parents and do the same sorts of things with their own children. The teacher of our eldest son has her adult children just turn up on the doorstep on certain days of the year…because they trust she will be baking Hot Cross Buns or fresh bread or whatever…I’d love that to be true for us too.

  5. faemom says:

    Those sound like lovely rituals. I keep trying to add more seasonal, earth-tying rituals as well. It’s not going as well as I hoped. I have managed to prepare a special meal on the first day of all the seasons, but everything else falls flat. As for weekly rituals, we have Family Fun Day where we do something as a family, but I don’t know if that’s a ritual. I want to add a pizza and game night in to the mix eventually, where we try different types of pizza and games. I’m trying to get us all to church regularly too. LOL Yeah, that’s working out great.

    • It is hard to get them right, isn’t it? I’d say a Family Fun Day was a ritual…we have Fend For Yourself Friday where the older kids and Craig have to make their own evening meal. It can be hilarious some nights, and on others it’s like wrangling quick-silver to get them to eat before bedtime. So, I guess we do have one weekly family ritual afterall!

  6. I was really drawn to Waldorf because of the festivals. We are also a secular family with our school/activities (but privately have a faith) and I am more private about my beliefs on my blog too, because it’s a non-issue for me what other people do. We don’t need to be “like minded” on this issue IMO, especially in the homeschool world (oy!)…. Anyhow, I have struggled with family rituals. Laziness partly, but we do have activities that we enjoy every year, but they don’t look like celebrations and end up being very simple.

    We do not have family near except my mother in law, we do not all go to church, and a big meal for 3 adults (and I’m on a diet) is kinda tough too. I’m trying to shift the focus aways from food, but for many that is a big part of their traditions. My family is from the south (US) and there hospitality is big — offering someone food and drink. My husband’s family is from the norther Minnesota and they don’t offer people food and drink when they visit. I’m not sure if it is a regional thing or not…. Anyhow, I’ve adjusted to his family since I am so far from my own. I am sad that my boys are growing up without big holidays, but we do Santa and the Easter Bunny. We are able to do the American holidays in the right seasons. They just feel so commercial to me and I don’t like that either. I need to make a list of what to do every year and stick to it… or perhaps I will see that we ARE doing enough. Great post. thanks!

    • I think even small events that happen regularly could be called rituals, Cori. I didn’t manage any either (except Christmas and the Easter Bunny) when our kids were younger. It’s just now that I am totally out of the baby-coma that I am starting to think about what I want to include in our kids’ childhoods – in the way of rituals. And yes, Waldorf is great at understanding and keeping them – it’s one of the things we really like about it too. Thanks for your input, it’s good to know there are other people on the same wavelength.

  7. Hello. We try to have a weekly dance night – where we put on music after our evening meal and dance together in the lounge. My children (four and two) often take their clothes off, which makes it very giggly (not compulsory, especially for the parents). The children love dancing, and seeing us dance, but I think the really great part is that for a moment, my husband and I are doing something fun together – with eye contact! Even if it’s only three songs, it makes us all happy.

    • That’s a great idea – our boys are very big on naked dancing too – but they do it spontaneously…actually they are very big on naked fullstop, despite weather conditions and neighbours…Anyhoo, I think that’s a fabulous ritual, I might have to look at doing something on a more regular basis. Pleased you mentioned it. 🙂

  8. Juliana says:

    Funny – I’d forgotten you were in New Zealand and wondered when I read this post’s title, why you were worried about autumn rituals in May! However, I think the flipping of the seasons has great potential for holidays. For instance, pretty lights may not make sense for Christmas for you, but how wonderful it would be to have an annual Christmas beach picnic.

    • I agree, Juliana, the flipping of seasons gives us freedom to create our own rituals. I love that. And actually, now you mention it, we do have the ritual of taking down the tree on Boxing Day and heading off to the beach for our long summer holiday. Hmmmm summer…

  9. kaet says:

    Rituals do evolve over time. When I was little we always went swimming on a Sunday morning, then went home with the Sunday papers and croissants/rolls for a Sunday brunch. As time went on not everyone swam, but the brunch continued, and we would discuss different things that caught our eye in the paper.

    I don’t believe that was planned as a ritual, however – just that with the time of the family swimming sessions we didn’t get breakfast beforehand and so would be hungry afterwards. The Sunday brunch thing lasted years longer, however.

    • I agree that family rituals do sometimes change – particularly as the children grow-up. I am working hard at having a few which are more consistent and helpful for anchoring our family. Being secular, we don’t have the church/synagogue/mosque ones to draw on and that means we have to create our own meaningful rituals.

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