The Power of Rituals for Strong Families
We sat around a fire on a cold winters night yesterday celebrating New Years Eve. We, as in my parents, three siblings, all our partners and offspring. There were also some friends around, who would sometimes just stare at our family, almost in disbelief and then smile and say something along the lines of “what a family”. Yes, we were singing together, full of hugs and affectionate gestures and the connection we have is hard to miss.
I hear it time and time again that my family is really unique. On the one hand I know it. And on the other hand, it’s just so normal and I do catch myself thinking, "isn't this just normal?". Yet, in the meantime, I have come to realize that the strong bond we have is not the norm for everyone. Actually, in the last years I have met many people that expressed utter disbelief when I suggested that we can feel connection with family.
A good friend of mine, whose parents went through a long and painful divorce, often tells me that she would like to know what it takes to be an “intact” family. She asks me what advice I would give her. Her probing got me thinking…
Yes, there are many things that my family does that I think might contribute to the amazing bond and closeness we have. Over the holidays, I was chatting to my mom and exchanging what we think played a part. One key thing that came up were rituals. We have many rituals that are really fun and bonding at the same time.
One ritual that we have is around how we celebrate Christmas. When we were younger, my mom would always ask us what we wanted for Christmas meals and we could have whatever we wanted. Mostly that was french fries and chicken nuggets (I know, it's a bit strange but hey, we were kids and that was a treat for us).
Now that we are all grown up, we created a new family ritual and we turned Christmas into a family cooking challenge. We pull names out of a hat to make pairs or trios for each course. Then we come up with a theme (this year was “Adventure”, last year was “Enchanted forest”, the year before was "Feelings", etc.). Then we all go grocery shopping together and spend the afternoon cooking.
Every year we are partnered with someone else and we challenge ourselves to come up with something new and exciting. It’s all quite secretive as we like to surprise each other and at the same time we are also all helping each other out. There are about 10 of us (and now some young kids too) in a tiny small kitchen with limited utensils. So everyone helps out with cleaning as we go as well as coordinating oven and fridge space.
Then the celebration begins and we start with apéro and presents. The first part of the cooking challenge is revealed and we all enjoy it together, appreciating the efforts and creativity that went into each course in terms of flavours, presentation and sometimes pure out-of-the-box thinking. And that’s how the night unfolds, one course after another. The meals always turn out fantastic. It's a team effort so the burden doesn't rest on anyones shoulders and we are all doing something together.
Once all courses are served we pull out a sheet of paper that we hid between two wooden beams the year before. This sheet of paper holds a signed list with each of our commitments from last year. We read through them one by one checking to see if we stuck to them or not. And then we proceed to put the list together for the year to come. It’s fun and sometimes a little embarrassing when certain goals go unmet several years in a row, but we support each other either way. That's our family Christmas celebration, one of many of our family rituals.
As I get ready to start my own family this year (I’m getting married), I am taking stock of the things I want to make sure I bring into my little family. I want to make sure I learn from my childhood so that we can hopefully recreate the strong connection I had in my family. Rituals are definitely a strong part of that and in the coming months I’ll be sharing more of what I think are powerful ways to strong family connections.