Habits, Routines, and Rituals

Category: Weekly Columns

What are you fondest memories from your childhood? I suspect they are things that your family did that were ritualistic in nature. They may also have been the better family vacations. Family rituals are touchstones in your life and the lives of your children. Just as habits and routines become comforting, so do the rituals you establish in your family.

There are numerous examples of these sorts of rituals, often centered on holidays and religion, depending on whether your family is observant. During the just passed Christmas and New Year’s period, there are so many rituals we have all participated in and/or watched in movies and on television. The dropping of the ball in Times Square is one of them. Watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street” may be another.

I believe the special rituals you create at home become the lasting memories for your family and, very likely, for subsequent generations of your family. For me, rituals are similar to the comfort Home Room was at school. Do they have Home Room anymore in school? When I attended Junior High School – now called Middle School – Home Room and my designated seat was a significant and calming ritual during those turbulent, significant, and scary years between childhood and the teen years.

Habits, on the other hand, just like the Home Room example, provide comfort and security. For me, enjoying the same breakfast most every day gives me a secure start to each day. I often like to joke that the only thing I control is what I eat for breakfast. We all have similar habits and routines that give us comfort and a false sense of security.

Which sock do you put on first? Which pant leg? Do you have a nightly routine around brushing your teeth? A showering/bathing routine? Does your family have certain evenings that you eat certain meals or go out to specific restaurants? What are your family birthday rituals? Family songs? The list is endless.

One of my fondest childhood memories – a ritual of sorts – was going to my maternal grandparent’s home every Friday evening. Since I wasn’t allowed to watch television on school nights, Friday evening was the first night of the week in which I could watch my favorite shows, such as “The Rifleman,” “Superman,” and my grandpa’s favorite, “Bonanza.”

My grandmother made the same meal every Friday and I loved it. We had fried chicken. I don’t remember the side dishes but vegetables weren’t much a part of my eating vocabulary during those years. And, she’d make one of two pies that I absolutely adored: cherry or lemon meringue. My grandfather had a big chair in which he’d watch television but on my visits, that special chair was mine. I was in heaven.

My immediate family memories and rituals mostly center on food, parties, and holidays. My mother made a deadly terrific noodle kugle. Since we all loved the crisp edges, she came up with the brilliant idea of making individual kugle in muffin pans, thus having the whole thing be crispy!

Two holidays stand out in my memory: Passover and Hannukah. We always went to my parent’s dear friend’s home for the first Seder on Passover. There, we saw all the other children as we were all growing up. The patriarch of that family happened to be the Cantor at our Temple. That was the good and bad news. The good news was that he knew his stuff. The bad news was that he had to do every single word of the Hagaddah (the Passover Seder book).

Hanukkah simply meant lighting the candles for eight nights and seeing my dad in the kitchen doing something other than eating. His job was grating the potatoes for the latkes. It was sort of the Jewish equivalent of the man being in charge of the BBQ. Hanukkah also meant negotiations. I could get eight small presents or seek one big one. I remember one year getting my first ten-speed Schwinn bicycle as my Hanukkah present.

Hanukkah, just like Father’s and Mother’s Day meant special trips to the department store with each parent to select a present for the other parent. With my dad, that was special time because we rarely did things alone. Just writing all this down brings back those joyful times to me and reinforces the importance of ritual in the family.

My own family rituals are too numerous to list but I will share my favorite and the one I fervently hope my boys perpetuate if they have families of their own. We eat family dinners together often, but Friday night’s dinner is always special. Friday night is Shabbat in Jewish homes and while we are not overly observant, we do carry on this simple tradition.

I make challah, the sweet traditional bread of Shabbat. I created my own cinnamon bread style of challah that my family adores, as do any guests that join us on Friday evenings. We say the four traditional blessings. But, our special family Shabbat ritual is going around the table with each person present – whether it be just our immediate family or guests – sharing the Best and the Worst thing that happened that week. Key provision, begun when the boys were young, is that only one “Worst” is allowed. There’s no limit on the “Bests.”

When the boys were young, they struggled with this ritual and we’d often remind them of the good things that had occurred during the week. As they grew older, this ritual has become a time of airing things on our minds, and sharing things that we might not otherwise have even thought to speak about. It’s special and it’s ours.

What are your family rituals? Please share then and any great childhood memories in the comments section, below.