Family rituals are any activities that a family engages in periodically, is symbolic for everyone involved and is valued by each member so that they wish to continue it in the future. Rituals can be cultural or religious but do not necessarily have to be. They can be done every day, every month, every year or at specific times of life.
There are three broad categories of rituals: celebrations, traditions and routines. Examples of family celebrations include weddings, funerals or holidays such as Diwali or Eid. Family traditions include any activities that are more specific to the family itself, including places to visit during the summer, birthday customs or specific types of food or music that the family members enjoy together. Finally, family routines are on an even smaller scale and involve family behaviors on a more frequent basis, such as seat assignments at the dinner table, bed times, discipline and modes of communication.
Most people don’t recognize how many family rituals they grow up. People realize the value of the ritual in their life when they are no longer able to participate, for example when they move to college or get married and have to create their own family rituals.,
Family rituals can have very positive and strong functions for the development of the family and the individual family members. Primarily, family rituals make change manageable. The ritual acts as a constant and strong support for a family that is going through life transitions such as a move, marriage, birth of a baby or death.
Rituals also pass on the values and beliefs of the family to future generations. Religious and cultural as well as societal values are embedded in every family ritual and without an overt lesson on how to behave, children learn the values and beliefs that their parents try to impart on them via the ritual.
By participating in a family ritual, all members of the family share a collective identity. Having a group-oriented, regularly scheduled activity allows each person to feel as if they are part of a group that all has mutual understanding of each member’s role.
Especially during times of stress, rituals provide containment for strong emotions. For example, during a funeral, the specific actions taken by specific members of the family are all meant as way to help each family member grief. Similarly, during a wedding ceremony, specific rituals allow for family members to experience and express their strong emotions in a contained and acceptable manner. This significantly helps reduce the onset or exacerbation of mental health symptoms as it slows the emotional experience so that it is more manageable.
Rituals can be extremely powerful, both emotionally and physically. Research has identify that engaging in family rituals has neurobiological healing properties. By stimulating both hemispheres of the brain, rituals allow people to feel integrated and improve overall well-being. Humans sometimes become limited in their experiences and expression by relying on verbal communication. Rituals tap into the nonverbal capacities of the human brain and allow for a deeper experience of emotion than words can provide.
The only time rituals do not have the abovementioned positive effects is when they are not used during celebrations or transition times, when they are rigidly adhered to, are exclusive to other rituals (such as not being flexible in a mixed cultural or mixed race family), or are participated in out of obligation.
What rituals did you grow up with in your family?