Try these creative rituals to make the holiday season memorable and meaningful

I believe we are starved in North America, for soul-nourishing rituals and celebrations that give us access to the numinous aspects of beauty, love, peace and joy; which help us experience the deepest meanings or powers governing life.
Dostoevsky once proclaimed1, “Beauty will save the world!” I believe it to be true. Whenever I feel despair, I am uplifted by beauty in the form of music, art or nature.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn2 said, “…If the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated [by the material world] and cannot reach the light—perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three.”

Psychologist Mary Pipher author of The Shelter of Each Other:Rebuilding Our Families (Amzn) asserts:

Without celebrations, time runs together and the significance of events is overlooked. Most families celebrate birthdays, but they often miss the opportunity to create meaning. Much more can be done on a birthday than simply having cake and presents. Poems and speeches can be delivered, photos taken, flowers and trees planted in honor of the day.

We have celebrations for birth, death, and marriage, but not for many rites of passage in between. We need celebrations for retirement, a new job, a first driver’s license, and for the day a child leaves for college. Families can invent their own celebrations and special holidays.

Creative rituals to make a celebration more meaningful:

Make Appreciation Cards

This activity works best at the kitchen or dining room table. Have enough cards for every family member present. You can use store-bought cards but its much more creative to make them yourselves.

Each person writes his or her name at the top of the page on the inside of the card. Pass these cards around the table and ask everyone to write down what they appreciate about each person. When the cards are filled, everyone is given back their own card and they can read what others appreciate about them. (This is a great activity for work groups too.)

A New Year’s Eve fire ceremony

I remember one year in the last century, a group of friends rented a cabin for Christmas week in the redwoods of Yosemite in California. On New Year’s Eve day we skied 10 miles through hills and vales in glorious sunshine to have lunch overlooking Half Dome and returned to the cabin, under blood red skies. Exhausted we had a nap, awoke at 10pm and gathered around the fireplace for a dinner of cioppino.

By midnight we participated in New Year’s Eve ritual I had never encountered before. Since we were in the company of artists and filmmakers, the evening was highly art-directed. Minutes before midnight, we retrieved shot glasses of vodka from the freezer.

After toasting each other and carrying on, we proceeded to cut down the Christmas tree branch by branch, taking turns to feed each branch to the fire. In the spirit of ‘out with the old and in with the new’ we made a verbal declaration of what in the world we wanted to release, and what we wanted to bless or invoke for the New Year. We began with personal declarations but as we proceeded, we shifted to more global concerns. We continued this ritual until the entire tree was fed to the fire.

The epiphany for me was that we do not need a church or a priest to conduct a ritual. We don’t have to be perfect either. It’s more important to be open-hearted and have a sense of purpose. As Leonard Cohen sings in ‘Strange Music’

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

As I reflect on this story 20 years later, I am mindful about buying trees for Christmas and burning them after. It’s better for the planet I am sure, to buy a living tree that can be planted after the holidays. Still, there is something to be said for making a declaration and then releasing it into the fire. It could be a note you have written on a piece of paper.

A Circle of Connection

Another ritual (which can also be done on Zoom) is to reflect on the past year by sitting in a circle and answering questions such as:

  • Who was the peacemaker in your life this year?
  • Who or what brought abundance or prosperity into your life this year?
  • Who encouraged you or inspired you this year?
  • Who or what challenged you this year?

A light hearted question to ask is what is your favourite (Christmas) present? Friends love this question and it works well on Zoom too. 

By telling our stories of appreciation and gratitude, within a circle of deep listening and focused intention, the evening becomes magical. As Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance (Amzn) so eloquently proclaims, “When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection… every time we remember to say ‘thank you’ we experience nothing less than Heaven on earth.”

Apps to help you celebrate virtually

If it’s not possible to get together in person, you can host a classic holiday movie using the Teleparty app. It works on Netflix and HBO Max. Amazon, Disney+ and Hulu have their own group-watching features for subscribers. You can also play trivia games, Charades and Pictionary on Zoom, with a little planning.

For more ideas, Crowd Party App has wide a variety of fun games you can play over Zoom, Meet, Teams, Webex, or a smart TV. It’s free for up to 10 people.

Enjoy the holiday season and stay safe!

This post was first published in Dec 23,2016, and updated Dec 2, 2021.

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1,2 Source: Beauty Will Save the World: The Nobel Lecture on Literature by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.