As I trimmed my Christmas tree last night, I was contemplating the rituals we keep, in particular the ones we keep around the winter holidays.
Whether it's lighting candles on a menorah — Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate! — sitting down at mom and dad's dining room table to a traditional meal of turkey or tofurkey or lasagne, or hanging stockings over a fireplace, all of these activities are, at their heart, rituals.
A few years back, I didn't put up a tree. I didn't put a wreath on my front door. I didn't glow out the house with sparkling white lights. I was stuck in a depression and wanting little more than to curl up in bed between the comforter and the plaid flannel sheets and read. What I realized, after the fact, was that I truly missed the annual process (which only made me more depressed — fancy that).
I missed the physical action of going through my ornaments and selecting the ones I would tuck carefully among the branches.
I missed the flood of memories of my grandparents, and my cats, and my childhood that comes along with the ornament hanging.
I missed sitting on the couch and spending time just gazing at the tree, while our orange tabby Tai would try to drink the bowl water, play with the shiny red balls and lounge on my grandmother's hand-sewn tree skirt.
I even missed the excuses I'd make for not having yet taken the tree down come mid-to-late January.
It would be another year before I'd get to revisit my tree, my lights, my stockings. And that next year I was determined that I wasn't going to miss out.
We each construct rituals in our own way, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not, and they don't look the same for anyone. (Thanksgiving dinner without canned cranberry sauce? Horrors!) Rituals form over time and with a certain amount of intention. But they don't have to just happen at the holidays.
I think what I want to challenge myself to do this coming year is bring the spirit of ritual more into my every day life.
Strike a match. Light a candle. Sit quietly for a moment.
Hug my dog. Look her in the eyes. Tell her I love her.
Use the same bowl for every meal. Eat that meal at a table, instead of in front of the television. Relish the flavors.
It's easy to relegate ritual to the holidays. And it's just as easy to discount it when something goes not quite right. It's less easy to bring a sense of attention and commitment to our daily lives.
It's a living practice. Practice with me?