the importance of ritual

the importance of ritual

Six years ago, before I became a mom, before I even really grew up, I was living in a cozy basement apartment that had a big, knotted apple tree out back as the main attraction. In the fall, its lower branches literally touched the ground from the weight of all the apples it produced.

I would go out wrapped in thick sweaters and a couple of baskets and grab all I could, and then spend days cooking and baking anything that I could stick apples in.

I made so many things that were pretty good, but only one recipe was truly outstanding, and it came straight out of a book I had owned for years but never made anything from. It was an apple cake recipe from Jenna Woganrich which I’ll link below, and oh my god it was so good.

That fall was all apples and leaves and hikes, and that cake came along wrapped in foil and making everything smell like sugar and cinnamon. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a fall more. It was a dream.

And then, in the middle of all that autumn beauty, I was speeding along the highway towards a hospital in Denver. My brother was dying. For six days, the moments suspended themselves in time as I sat by his bed while his breathing became scarce until finally he was gone. I remember getting in my car to drive away and seeing a crumpled piece of foil holding leftover crumbs from the cake, and for some reason, it felt comforting.

Ever since my brother has been everywhere I look in the fall. He is in the damp leaves on the ground, the bare branches, the chill in the air, the orchards bursting with apples, the fields orange with pumpkins. But most of all he is in the apple cake that I make like clockwork every late September. It has become my most endearing fall ritual. I gather, I bake, and then there are days and days of snacking that follow. It’s a sensory experience that embodies the remembering.

That’s what a ritual is: action linked with intention and meaning and done repeatedly with consistency. Like my yearly apple cake ritual to remember Noah, it’s a clockwork thing that happens right on schedule no matter what. Life wouldn’t be the same without it, whatever that thing happens to be.

But rituals don’t always have to be connected to some big deal life even like a death. They can be a morning coffee ritual or a weekly family game night. Macro or micro, solo or communal, elaborate or simple. They can be all or any of these things.

The older I get the more I realize that we adults aren’t so different from children. We basically want the same things. We want to be held, to be loved, to be comforted, and we want familiarity.

Rituals give us those last two things. Our lives might be a surprise at every turn, but at least we know there are some constants to look forward to. It’s the little things we do with repetition that give our lives meaning, so we should do a lot of those little things often.

No one I know has a surplus of meaning. We can always use more of it, but it doesn’t spontaneously create itself. It takes commitment and determination and energy to do something rather than nothing.

Inertia is always the easiest, but it’s never the most gratifying, or the most memorable. None of us are going to remember the times when we did nothing with our families. We have to actively create what we want remembered.

If you don’t know where to start, here are just a few things to get you started brainstorming your own family rituals:

  • Morning coffee ritual

  • Weekly baking day

  • Nightly read-alouds together in bed

  • Nightly bath time, massage, and stories.

  • Monthly full moon hikes

And here are the links to the book and recipe I referenced above:

Read: Made from Scratch by Jenna Woganrich

Read: Jenna’s apple cake recipe

What about you? Does your family have any special rituals that you do on a regular basis? If so, share in the comments below :)

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