Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Give Thanks for Ritual

Well, Thanksgiving is here, and millions of people around the country are going to crowded airports, getting on congested roads and dealing with a whole lot of hassle for what is basically a big dinner. (And one that takes a heck of a lot of energy to make.) On top of that, people will be seeing family and friends, but there will be no shortage of annoyances, from the minor to the major, that is part and parcel of being around relatives on a day full of high expectations.

Sound terrible? Or is Thanksgiving your favorite holiday? Whatever your feelings, Thanksgiving is a ritual most Americans choose to reenact every year. But even if you love it, you have to admit it is a hassle. So why do we do it?

Because it's a ritual, and we need ritual. If you doubt the human need for ritual, re-read the first paragraph, or consider the time, cost and trouble it takes to plan a wedding. Consider every culture's need for funerary rites. Ritual instructs us, it gives us a safe harbor in times of transition, it provides comfort, it provides closure, it provides renewal.

Consider the very American ritual of Thanksgiving: the gathering of family in an established homestead, the preparation of traditional and time-worn family recipes, the giving of thanks for the food and the blessings of the year. It is a ritual of reflection, and one that helps to prepare us for the dormancy of winter so that this time of rest is quietly productive.

Consider the meaning of this ritual and of ritual in general in your life. What do you gain from it? What is difficult or frustrating about it? What kind of daily rituals help you to navigate your life, and what are the rituals you rely on in times of great need or great happiness?

As you give thanks this holiday, give credit to ritual, and find its place in your life. Once you acknowledge your human need for it, ritual can find a very useful place in your life's journey.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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