Monday, November 24, 2014

In Praise of Eggnog and Our Sacred and Secular and Oh So Important Holiday Rituals

Ritual is necessary for us to know anything. –Ken Kesey


For me it’s not really Thanksgiving Day until I take that first sip of eggnog.  On Turkey Day I’ll down at least one tall glass of this yellowish thick concoction, maybe more.  I’ll use it to sweeten my coffee too. That’s one of my rituals. One thing I’ve done every single Thanksgiving Day since I can remember. I’ve no idea exactly when this personal ritual began.  After fifty three Thanksgiving Days, all that eggnog and turkey and mashed potatoes and pie blurs together in memory. 

But a Thanksgiving without eggnog, this belly busting, artery clogging drink that weighs in at 225 calories per eight ounce serving? Perish the thought.  I need Thanksgiving. Even more, I need the rituals of that day. Traditions.  Familiar comfort foods. Family I’ve missed and am so happy to see again. The Macy’s Parade on TV in the morning, then watching football, after the table is cleared and we all go comatose on the couch. The ritual of old friends who come and stay for a couple of days. Grace before we eat, when each of us names one thing we are truly grateful to our God for.

Ritual. I can’t imagine life without cherished rituals: at the Thanksgiving table, in faith, in all things. Can you?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines ritual as, “a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed…according to set sequence.”  Translation: a ritual is something that we do again and again and again, which somehow anchors us in this ever changing life.  Grounds us. An action repeated. Familiar prayers prayed.  A meal shared. Ancient rites revisited. In ritual, we return to the familiar, feel at home, safe.  Like we’ve arrived back at a place that we must revisit: to remind us who we are, what matters, what lasts.

I’m a bit embarrassed to name all the various rituals I practice. I love ritual whether sacred or secular, profound or playful.  Faith based rituals give me meaning.  Worshipping on the Sabbath almost every week. Ending Christmas Eve every single year with “Silent Night” and a flickering candle in hand.  Reciting Psalm 23 at a funeral and finding comfort in these 2,000 year old words: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil….”

Self-made rituals too. I always give the book “Curious George” to new babies in my extended circle of family and friends.  Always pop a deviled egg in my mouth first thing at a church reception.  Always drink diet Dr. Pepper and munch cheddar cheese Combos at the airport.  Always read the New York Times newspaper every Sunday afternoon.

Rituals can be easy to take for granted. Reject as old school, old fashioned, stuffy. There is always a danger in practicing unexamined ritual: mumbling through dusty prayers at church or carrying on some family ritual which no longer fits. The best rituals are always examined and renewed, passed down from generation to generation, owned by those in the present day. 

Don’t like a ritual? Bored with it? Start a new one.  Invent a new tradition with your clan.  Rituals are “do it yourself”. Or step back into a ritual you’ve lost or need to find again. Go back to your faith.  Remember again a childhood prayer and then teach it to your kid. Only you can figure out what rituals work best, carry the most meaning.

But the point is clear: to be human is to live by ritual, in ritual, and through ritual.  No ritual? No life. Not really.  

So what Thanksgiving Day rituals are you most anticipating?  An old family recipe passed down from Mom to son, grandfather to granddaughter.  Touch football on the lawn.  Delivering a bag full of groceries to the local food pantry.  Inviting someone to the table who may have no where else to go.  Jumping for joy when your child returns home from being away.  The yearly board game after the meal.  Trekking out to the mall in the dawn’s early light to find a bargain.

All good. All precious rituals for the living of this day.  So Happy Thanksgiving, and can you please pass the eggnog?!

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