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Guest column: Rituals and traditions make us who we are

"Rituals and traditions that play a vital role in our personal and professional lives, and consequently, they create who we are and who we are yet to become." 
Urszula Bunting (Courtesy photo)

Ready or not, we are in the 2020 holiday season. With COVID-19 still in full swing along with the necessary restrictions to deal with the pandemic, many of us are approaching holiday celebrations differently. We might decide to stay home for the holidays, not meet with friends and family, limit large gatherings, and choose to eat at home. Nevertheless, we can still make this holiday season beautiful and meaningful, perhaps even more than ever before. 

"We are what we practice," said Dr. Shauna Shapiro in her famous TEDx talk

Whether we realize it or not, we are the product of what we choose to do every day, including our belief systems, the cultural roots we inherit from our lineages, and customs we adopt when we connect with new relationships, professions and communities. Some of these practices are rituals and traditions that play a vital role in our personal and professional lives, and consequently, they create who we are and who we are yet to become. 

Rituals are simple things we often repeat, like brewing coffee in the morning, taking a walk during the lunch break or brushing our teeth every night. These rituals become part of our lifestyle until we choose to change them. Sometimes we adjust them according to our circumstances, desires and sought-after outcomes. Every day we have a chance to add, remove, adjust and experiment with our actions and how they affect how we feel and who we choose to be. 

Although like rituals, traditions are not as quick to establish or change; they are often part of our birthright. Traditions have a way of touching our hearts and souls and make us feel safe and loved. We remember the feeling even if we temporarily suspend the tradition or choose to adopt a new one. We look for the feelings that connect us with our family home, our comfort zone and a sense of security during uncertain times. Many traditions, especially during holidays, stir our senses and emotions. We don't need the traditional Thanksgiving dinner in front of us to see it, smell it and taste it. We are frightened by thinking about a Halloween monster's growl and are cheered when we hear Christmas carols. 

Rituals and traditions exist in our personal, family and community relationships, and they are present and active in our professional lives. In our personal lives, these practices create a sense of grounding, stability and internal strength. They can help to build a bond and a sense of security within families, and for communities and professional groups, they create a specific culture, a sense of belonging and a deeper connection with like-minded people. 

Here are some ideas on how to incorporate more rituals and traditions into our lives during the holiday season. They can brighten short winter days, soothe our nervous systems and help us enjoy this special time of the year with open hearts and creative minds:

  • Reach out to family members and become interested in your heritage and how your ancestors celebrated holidays in the past. It is a part of who you are. 
  • Learn to cook holiday dishes specific to your family roots (my traditional dishes from Poland are pierogies, cabbage stew and borscht with mushroom dumplings).
  • Be brave and bake something from scratch: bread, a pie, cookies or anything that will fill your house with aromas you remember and want to repeat in the years to come. (I bake a cheesecake that brings memories from my family home in Poland).
  • Establish a meaningful ritual of saying a blessing, a prayer, an intention or expressing gratitude before starting a meal.
  • Light a candle and remember those who are no longer with us, and who have contributed to the rituals and traditions you carry on.
  • Wake up your creative juices and make your decorations and ornaments; share them with family and friends.
  • Unwrap your unique talents and use them to make holiday gifts rather than buying them in the store or online. 
  • Listen to seasonal music, dance in the kitchen, sing in the shower. 
  • Be generous and support those who are less fortunate in any way available to you: financial assistance, volunteering your time, delivering non-perishable food to the local food banks, sending notes to people that are sick or lonely. 
  • Let people that you care about know that you are thinking about them. Send a message, call, Zoom or connect with them in any way possible; speak from your heart and take time to listen to what they have to say.
The holiday season and the end of 2020 are an opportunity to hit the pause button and to review our rituals and traditions and how they serve who we are and who we want to become. Let’s all have happy holidays full of old and new rituals and traditions that will fill our hearts with love, joy and good memories.