rituals for the new year

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Rituals for the New Year

The first days of a new year are a blank page, and yet also filled with one's history, hopes and aspirations.

During the holiday season many of us celebrate rituals, both informal and formal. We have friends who always prepare a Lithuanian dinner on Christmas eve in honor of their ancestry and to carry on their mother's tradition. Another friend takes a photo each Thanksgiving of her two children and Chloe, their Labrador retriever, beside a particular tree in their neighborhood. The photo is a marker of time and is included in their holiday card sent to family and friends. Appreciatively, I put my copy of the photo on the refrigerator.

Rituals bring families and communities together. We were invited to a solstice/Hanukkah party this year. The hosts brought together their friends to celebrate with ritual around these two events. We were asked to bring food and a poem, song, or reading that symbolized the sun. It was fun to think about what we wanted to share with the group. We brought a fruit platter with slices of persimmon, kiwi, oranges arranged in a circle with pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top. We also brought two musical selections, the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun, and Paul Winter's Missa Gaia Earth Mass opening piece, Canticle of Brother Sun.

Rituals provide continuity in our lives. When we do something on a regular basis, it becomes a tradition and a part of what makes us alive and vibrant. For many years, I have made the pies for Thanksgiving dinner. I enjoy making the pies and also enjoy the appreciation I receive. This year, my brother asked if he could make the pies. I must admit I was surprised by his request. After pausing and taking a deep breath, I agreed. Sometimes, we need to make room for new traditions.

The new year can be a great time to think about the rituals in our lives. Which ones do we want to continue and which do we want to give up? Do we want to begin a new ritual? 

Sometimes we have personal rituals that are not serving us well. Maybe we consume too much sugar, we check our email endlessly throughout the day, we stay up late at night and don't get enough sleep, or we spend money thoughtlessly.

It may also be time for a new ritual or practice. One of my clients is now getting up early to write first thing in the morning. Another is practicing his flute each morning after taking his child to school and before the other responsibilities of the day. A third client is taking a short break at work every hour in order to stretch, clear her thoughts and assess how she is using her energy. These simple practices enhance their creativity, productivity and happiness.

To incorporate a new ritual into our lives, we consider the significance of this change or new behavior so that our motivations are clear. We set up the conditions for success, seek support from someone we care about and practice, practice, practice. Most importantly, we don't beat ourselves up if we slip and we celebrate our successes.

As we begin 2009 with hope and "change we can believe in," let's look first at our own lives and rituals. We can make a conscious choice about which rituals we want to keep, which we want to eliminate or change, and rituals we want to add. By starting with ourselves, we will then have more energy and enthusiasm to contribute to our families, neighbors, workplaces, communities and beyond.

Happy New Year!

© Sue Schleifer, January, 2009

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