Wednesday, February 1, 2023

It’s A Celebration: Do We Need A Few More Rituals In Life?

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Christmas, New Year’s, weddings – all fine and good. But what about creating some group rituals that mark other days and parts of our lives?

Christmas. Weddings. Landmark birthdays. They’re all ritual practices or ritual events that mark transitions and create or celebrate family/social ties. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and New Year’s Eve all involve rituals (giving gifts, staying up til midnight). Graduations are rituals. A baby shower, a christening, and a secular ‘naming day’ are rituals. When society was more religious, going to church was an important ritual. Those of us who aren’t religious still mark the Christian rituals of Christmas and Easter because, hey, family time and yummy food.

Research shows that rituals are important; they help us make sense of things, help give us a procedure to follow, help us to offer or give support, and help to lessen loneliness, among other benefits.

“Research shows that rituals can offer numerous psychological advantages such as helping us savour experiences, giving us a sense of control, and reducing anxiety,” writes university professor Jamie Gruban in Psychology Today article ‘The Power of Rituals: Personal rituals can enhance your life’. “Rituals help to structure our lives. People perform group rituals that demarcate significant social events and milestones.”

Dr Rebecca Lester, an anthropology professor and psychotherapist, has written a Psychology Today article called ‘The Importance of Ritual: Marking life events in a socially distant world’. “One of the most important features of rituals is that they do not only mark time; they create time,” she writes. “By defining beginnings and ends to developmental or social phases, rituals structure our social worlds and how we understand time, relationships, and change.”

Covid has made practising group rituals less common, because of restrictions and the fear of catching it, but unfortunately that’s happened at a time when we need group rituals most because of the pandemic.

Now that we’re largely circulating more often, maybe it’s time to restart some old rituals and introduce some new ones, enabling people to get together, rather than just meaning to get together.

Divorce Celebrations, Period Parties: More Rituals We Can All Experience

If you’re up for it, here are a few ideas depending on what’s happening in your life. Sure, some people might feel bashful about being the centre of attention, but that might lessen if such rituals become more normalised.

How about a wedding ceremony where you marry yourself? It isn’t a widespread practice yet, but it’s being done more – and we love it. How about an I-quit-my-job party? No, not tea and cake on your last day at work, but a proper party marking that you’re totally done with this job and ready for the next chapter. Maybe don’t invite your colleagues, unless they really want to leave themselves.

How about a break-up party? You know, let’s party him off your mind, have one too many wines and/or cry til we laugh. A Cosmopolitan.com story titled ‘How to Host Your Own Breakup Party (Because, Why Not?)’ says: “there’s proof that when you’re super bummed about the loss of a relationship, surrounding yourself with friends can give you a boost.” Makes sense.

When it’s the end of a long-term relationship or a divorce, it might have a slightly more serious tone. But someone I know is planning to have a divorce party once the paperwork goes through, to bid that relationship farewell with the support of friends, and to mark a new chapter in her life.

Or how about a party for new mums, say, a week or two in, or whenever it may bolster rather than exhaust them. It might be, say, three friends coming over – one to make a cup of tea and a sandwich, one to talk to your friend about how they’re feeling, and one to entertain or burp the baby. And how about an “I accept my weight gain after childbirth” party with a dessert buffet?

Celebrations regarding puberty? In the Jewish culture, there’s a well-known coming-of-age ritual: a Bar Mitzvah to mark the occasion of boys becoming men, and Bat Mitzvah to mark the occasion of girls becoming women.

Many a 12-year-old doesn’t want anyone to know what just happened to her knickers. But period parties are a thing in the U.S., according to Huffington Post article ‘Period Parties Are Smashing The Stigma Of Menstruation’, by Caroline Bologna. “The period party concept isn’t particularly new, but the modern, American, red velvet cake version seems to be catching on in our social media-driven world. Pinterest is full of period party ideas [and games].”

A friend of an acquaintance threw parties for her daughters after they got their periods. “I created my own rituals for my girls. They involved a cosy circle of their friends and family; it’s been all women and girls, though that [not having men] doesn’t have to happen. Yummy food and drinks. A chance to share stories, offer gifts of advice and other taonga. Basically, to make the young woman feel special and loved. And my girls are happy we did it.” 

At another, er, period of life, why not throw a menopause or perimenopause party? It could celebrate the upsides and give a middle finger to the downsides. It could be a way of wrapping support around ourselves, and showing we may need it, over what could be a process of months or years.

Sarah Connor – who has been starting discussions about menopause and perimenopause with the movement Menopause Over Martinis – initially held a potluck dinner with eight friends and family members of different generations to discuss it. “I’ve heard of people hosting menopause parties and period parties,” she tells us.

Whatever the ritual is, part of the appeal is that it’s sort of a step aside from the day-to-day grind. As the ultimate ritual that is Christmas approaches, maybe we could ponder what rituals we want in the future – marking significant events, getting support, and of course having some fun.

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