Why we all love tra­di­tion The com­fort of ri­tu­als and why they’re im­por­tant

christ­mas wouldn’t be the same with­out car­ols and stock­ings. fiona Wright ex­plores why ri­tu­als are im­por­tant – and how to cre­ate your own…

Woman & Home - - In This Issue... -

The time is 9.50pm on christ­mas eve. i am plac­ing car­rots and a small brandy by the fire­place next to the stock­ings, ready for you-know-who and his rein­deer, de­spite the fact that my chil­dren are well into their teens.

can­dles glow on tables and car­ols are play­ing softly on the ra­dio. mo­nop­oly and scrab­ble tour­na­ments are un­der­way, and we’re tuck­ing into cin­na­mon eggnog and mince pies.

the truth is, we could en­joy spicy milk drinks, play board games and lis­ten to lit­tle don­key any time of the year. but we don’t.

and why, de­spite the fact that my chil­dren have known for nearly a decade that no one is com­ing down the chim­ney, do they in­sist on the stock­ings and car­rot rit­ual?

ac­cord­ing to re­search, there are huge ben­e­fits to recre­at­ing the same ex­pe­ri­ences year in, year out, es­pe­cially dur­ing win­ter months.

Close con­nec­tions

a study from the uni­ver­sity of con­necti­cut in the us says christ­mas ri­tu­als and tra­di­tions give a sense of be­long­ing, help­ing us re­con­nect with close fam­ily, rel­a­tives and friends. they even have an im­pact on men­tal health, giv­ing us a feel­ing of deep calm and con­tent­ment. Re­peat­ing age-old cus­toms makes us feel se­cure, and gives us a sense of con­ti­nu­ity and con­trol over our lives.

“every­day life can be stress­ful and chaotic,” says life coach and ther­a­pist Rachel martin. “hav­ing a spe­cial time of year, when we know ex­actly what to do, the way we’ve al­ways done it, pro­vides a sense of struc­ture, com­fort and rhythm that isn’t al­ways present in our work and home lives. our brains love pat­terns, so our sub­con­scious laps this up.”

any­thing, says Rachel, that is well-prac­tised, easy and fa­mil­iar can re­lieve stress and anx­i­ety, mak­ing us take a break from the daily grind.

“his­tor­i­cally, win­ter has al­ways been tough in terms of sur­vival. Ri­tu­als cre­ated pur­pose and brought peo­ple to­gether to share re­sources, keep warm and stave off hunger, cold and bore­dom. even now, many of us dip and feel low in the win­ter months.

“Ri­tu­als are very pow­er­ful and hu­mans have cre­ated cer­e­monies, cus­toms and prac­tices for thou­sands of years. it’s a way of im­pos­ing or­der, shar­ing com­mon ground and bond­ing with those around us.”

Sim­ple plea­sures

hol­i­day tra­di­tions are es­pe­cially im­por­tant for chil­dren, even older ones. as well as be­ing lots of fun, tak­ing part in old ri­tu­als that are passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, such as dress­ing the tree, light­ing can­dles, writ­ing to santa and eat­ing de­li­cious, fa­mil­iar food, sig­nals to chil­dren that they are an im­por­tant part of fam­ily and com­mu­nity – and it makes them feel safe. the more re­hearsed and fa­mil­iar these are, the bet­ter.

“Re­liv­ing our own child­hood christ­mases – for ex­am­ple, tak­ing part in na­tiv­ity plays, mid­night mass or carol singing – gives us much more than a Prous­tian rush,” says tiu de haan, a rit­ual de­signer and cel­e­brant who cre­ates ri­tu­als, ex­pe­ri­ences and work­shops for peo­ple and or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“the more pos­i­tive our ex­pe­ri­ences of fam­ily christ­mas when we are young, the bet­ter our in­ter­ac­tion tends to be with our own chil­dren. tra­di­tions are the strings that con­nect our past with our fu­ture. chil­dren sense this and want to con­tinue it. it’s very ground­ing and joy­ful.”

Mem­o­rable mo­ments

Prac­tis­ing ri­tu­als also strength­ens fam­ily ties and can be the glue that holds fam­i­lies to­gether, es­pe­cially for those who live some dis­tance from each other, ac­cord­ing to stud­ies at sh­effield hal­lam uni­ver­sity. they bring dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple to­gether and en­cour­age good­will and gen­eros­ity. that could be why spend­ing christ­mas with the in-laws for the first time is of­ten seen as a rite of pas­sage – a sign that you’ve re­ally joined the clan.

it might not al­ways feel very bond­ing when, 30 years later, your mother-in-law is still telling you your tur­key is a bit dry or un­cle arthur is drunk­enly snor­ing through the Queen’s speech (again) but, ac­cord­ing to no­bel prize-win­ning psy­chol­o­gist daniel Kah­ne­man, it will never spoil the over­all ex­pe­ri­ence. Kah­ne­man’s re­search shows that when we think about past ex­pe­ri­ences, we tend to re­mem­ber the best mo­ments and the last mo­ments, pay­ing lit­tle at­ten­tion to ev­ery­thing else.

in other words, our mem­ory of the fam­ily christ­mas will mostly con­sist of all the lovely tra­di­tions, glow­ing happy faces, pulling crack­ers at the ta­ble, the (de­li­cious, moist) tur­key, open­ing presents and play­ing cha­rades, and then hug­ging every­one good­bye. and when every­one’s gone, the tree’s come down and you flop ex­hausted onto the sofa, you know you’ll want to do it all again, next year, in ex­actly the same way…

“ri­tu­als strengthen ties and can be the glue that holds fam­i­lies to­gether, en­cour­ag­ing good­will”

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