Rituals & Celebrations

I have a complicated relationship with holidays, one that predates my abandonment of religious belief.  I have a hard time understanding rituals; I need to understand the logic underlying the holidays.  The link between Christmas trees, gifts, and the birth of Jesus always seemed too tenuous for credibility.

In graduate school, when I was lost and confused about a career, I took the Meyers-Briggs personality test.  When I received my results, I laughed – part of the profile stated “does not readily grasp social rituals.”  This description is entirely accurate; I am abysmal with small talk and my attempts in the dating world were a comedy of errors.  I also struggle to understand the meaning of holidays and traditions.

In college, one of my roommates was an agnostic Jew.  For Hanukkah one year, when she was unable to return home to celebrate with her family, we all sat down together to light candles and eat latkes.  My friend, with her gift for setting people at ease, has a knack of bringing people together.  As a table, we were a mixture of people; we were musicians and scientists, agnostics and Jews, old and young.  Between the passing of bread and the conversation of a diverse group of people, the celebration was more about friendship than anything else.  That was when I started to understand the logic for holidays and celebration; underneath all the stories and rituals is the joy of family and friendship.

As an agnostic, I still celebrate Christmas; I love the scent of pine needles, the sight of snow falling thick upon the trees, the smell of hot chocolate, the brisk feeling of walking into a warm house after a walk in the cold air, the communal feeling of Christmas dinner, and the comfort of friendship.

That is my reason for the season.

4 thoughts on “Rituals & Celebrations

  1. I completely agree with you about the sights and smells!! I love the traditions that remind me of my childhood and make me feel a connection with past generations.

    The word ritual makes me think of attending a ceremony that has a fixed set of steps and ritual texts to be recited. That’s the type of ritual that I’m not so keen on. But I love traditions like making gingerbread houses or Christmas cookies, putting up decorations, making a snowman, watching Christmas specials, and listening to Christmas music. Do you think those sorts of traditions are fundamentally the same as rituals, or do you think there is a distinction?

  2. I never had a problem with traditions like making gingerbread or snowmen but I did have a hard time understanding the huge fuss over making sure everything was exactly right. I guess part of me wondered why we always had to be so rigid about some of the traditions.

  3. I also am not that fond of holidays, especially Christmas. It doesn’t help (and might have arisen from) that my bday is 12/24. I don’t ever remember a birthday party (with other kids) nor receiving uniquely birthday presents from extended family.

  4. @3 – That is a rough birthday, I’ve known a couple people with similar situations. My birthday is the day after Valentine’s Day, so I usually get a combined Valentine’s/birthday celebration. (Even as a kid I would get Valentine’s cards with Happy Birthday written in it.) Although having a birthday on the day chocolates go on sale has its perks. :)

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