ENG 112 – Ritual: Or How I Learned To Stomach My Family

 Ritual: Or How I Learned To Stomach My Family

There is a reason that every time the seasons change from sunny to frigid I begin to experience panic and dread.  A notion in that chilled air makes me take up bad habits again to relieve the impending stress of a yearly process; the ritual of the “holidays”.  Rituals are processes that are followed time and time again often handed down among generations and become part of a tradition.  In modern times, we often aren’t even sure why we do these things, but we do them, “because it is expected.”  My question is, “Should we?”

Rituals are typically religious in nature, and many of the holidays that I participate in originated in religion (e.g. Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, etc.), but are not celebrated as religiously any longer.  Take Christmas for instance, Santa Claus was a saint, but he is not the origin of Christmas.  Most kids only think of Christmas as a time to get presents in stockings from a fat guy in a red suit with many reindeer, not that it is the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  My grandfather made sure we all knew that it was Jesus’ birthday.  At midnight Christmas Eve, when we placed the baby Jesus into the nativity, he would bring out a little birthday cake and we would all sing “Happy Birthday” to the manger.

Oxford dictionaries online defines ritual as, “A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order,” and also as, “a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone.”  While looking in from the outside, other folks may not see what my family does each year as a ritual; it certainly is one for us.  The same way my panic and dread happen leading up to these holidays are for me.

My family was (and still is for the most part) strict Irish Catholic.  Me?  I am not a fan of holidays, religion, nor my family.  Not so much, though I still participate in these traditions with my family because it is about family more than religious basis for me.  I participate in these rituals for the sake of keeping peace with my family.  Each winter I drink more and I smoke more and travel hundreds of miles to sleep under my relatives’ roofs so that I can sing “Happy Birthday” to a religious icon I do not believe in because it is a ritual, it is expected.

My ritual, of drinking and smoking and travel, exists so that I can maintain the family ritual.  I don’t agree with it.  Rituals became as they were as a means to bring people together and to control an otherwise chaotic brood.  It is often said religion is an opiate of the masses.  This is unsurprising as religion is a series of rituals.  Ritual is great for those who need it, but unwelcome for those who care not for it.  Perhaps it is because I am of a different generation and not inclined to be a part of the crowd but rather stand apart from it.  Even still, I see others of my age bracket happily following in the steps my family begs and pleads with “God” that I should follow.

I have personal rituals that I do for mundane things, such as my commute, that have pre-ordained steps and rhythms.  These aren’t comforting but they are a necessary evil.  The holidays are to be a time of cheer and togetherness, and they cause me stress and anxiety.  The expectation of the ritual, the scripted actions of each relative, it is enough to drive one crazy.  I was not made for such things.

Now, dear reader, you may find yourself balking at my traditions and values, but think to yourself, might I not do the same to yours?  Rituals are precious to each of us for different reasons.  You may value your family and holidays with relatives and everything you do; I simply value my ritual of avoiding such things when I can.  Sentimental is not a word used to describe me, and sentiment is a huge part of ritual.  I live in the moment and look to the future, ritual lives in a reproduction of the past time and time again.

Now, to be fair, I am not a total grinch.  I enjoy giving and receiving presents and spending time with people of my choosing.  I simply prefer to do these things in my own time, not because it is Festivus.   I travel each year to see my family because the rest of the year I do essentially only contact them sparingly and “Drunk Aunt Cookie” tells some rather amusing stories (some I’ve only heard twice before) during the Digestif and the children (cousins all 10+ years younger than I) are growing.  I see them because even though most of the time I dislike them, I do love them because they did what they thought was right for me.  I see them once a year because what they felt was right wasn’t right for me.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, ritual could be truly defined is the set of actions you do around a particular event or time that are special to you.  These may be deemed proper or improper by those in society, but really it should only matter if they feel proper to you.  I feel ritual is silly and antiquated, but that is only my opinion.  Far be it from me to prevent you from travelling hours to see your family to exchange tchotchkes for Hanukkah.  And really if you don’t like the ritual, change it, adapt it, make it work for you.


“Ritual.”  Oxford Dictionaries.  2012. Web. 14 Sep. 2012. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/american_english/ritual?region=us&q=ritual

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