Less glitz, more spontaneity can revive ho-hum holiday spirits
By Michael C. DeMattos
As most of my family and friends know, I am a firm believer in the power of rituals and the importance of holidays. We live in a world short on meaningful ritual, and I consider it my personal quest to remedy this situation.
The holiday season has become a bit ordinary for many I know. This is sad, because the holidays should be anything but ordinary. They are special times both meaning-rich and extraordinary.
Holidays do not need more bells and whistles. In fact, bells and whistles are often the problem. We maintain the glitz and glamour of the season but lose the essence of the event. The secret to quality ritualizing is being attentive to those thoughts, feelings and behaviors that would otherwise be ignored.
Falling into mere habit is the death knell of most rituals. We go through the motions and forget the reasons we have the rituals in the first place. Unlike habits, rituals are supposed to create a state of mindfulness. The idea is that we become critically aware of our surroundings and with any luck remain open to a plethora of possibilities; we become a proverbial petri dish for meaning-making.
Such was the case this Thanksgiving when my father decided that he would come over to my house rather than holding the family meal at his place. This was not inconsequential. Dad is getting on in years, though still spry and quick-witted, and the drive from Wai'anae to Kane'ohe is a haul. I offered to pick him up and then return him home after dinner, but he refused. He is cut from independent cloth.
He arrived mid-morning with pumpkin pie and mochi in hand. We sat and talked story and played a few games of cribbage. Just before dinner was served, we lifted our glasses and made a toast for all that we were thankful for. On the top of my list were family and friends, but especially my Dad.
Now, I do not suppose that we created any new family traditions. Next year we will likely be right back at Dad's house eating our Thanksgiving meal on the patio. But when Dad made his quest over the hill, he was making a statement about his health, his mobility and his self-determination. This Thanksgiving was about choice and willingness to break the rules.
After dinner, we packed some take-home plates for Dad and he was soon on his way. A call from him one hour later assured us that he had arrived home safe and sound and that the holiday had come to a close.
Rituals are equal parts tradition and spontaneity.
Our traditions inform us of who we are and have been, while the spontaneity allows us to lift the shade on who we will become.
In some cases, like my father's, we are both bedrock and moving target, rooted and grounded in family history, yet open to possibilities and free to change. By embracing both our tradition and our creative impulse, we bring the holidays to life and life to the holidays.
Family therapist Michael C. DeMattos has a master's degree in social work.