Holiday Rituals; Life Rituals


This year’s Thanksgiving pies: pecan, pumpkin, and peach-blueberry. Facebook just offered me my 2013 Thanksgiving pie photo as a memory, and it shows the same three pie flavors–in the exact same photographic arrangement. See what I mean about ritual?

Holidays bring out the ritual in me, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Who doesn’t have some sort of ritual associated with major holidays?

For me, it starts with the food:

  • Thanksgiving = Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and lots of pie – always including pumpkin pie
  • Christmas = Swedish meatballs and potato sausage, baked beans, Swedish mazarin torte, and mostly the same kinds of cookies year after year after year
  • New Year’s Day = Lentil soup
  • All holidays = Sour cream macaroni & cheese for my vegetarian son

I have non-food rituals for holidays also.

On birthdays in my family, it’s a music ritual: “Older,” by They Might Be Giants. (“You’re older than you’ve ever been / And now you’re even older / And now you’re even older / And now you’re even older.”)

On Thanksgiving morning,I like to open up the back door of my house and shout “Thank you” to the world. This is a little ritual I picked up from my son, who did this as a small child and made me smile every time. I adopted the habit when he outgrew it. I’m still hopeful he might pick it up again some day, possibly when he has kids of his own, but I won’t let go of it myself even then. For me, it’s a lovely reminder of the days when my son was small.

The view from my back door, where I say "Thank you."

The view from my back door, where I say “Thank you.”

On the weekend after Thanksgiving, we drive to a tree farm and get our Christmas tree, fresh-cut. Usually this happens on the very day after Thanksgiving, unless the weather is absolutely hideous. And even the process of picking out the tree involves some ritual, because I am almost utterly incapable of choosing my tree without seeing every single one on the farm. I have to make sure I’m getting the very best one, after all. So I walk up and down row after row of trees, usually ending up with one of the first two that caught my eye. My husband, a saint, is surprisingly tolerant of this.

New Year’s Eve means Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. And on April 1, I get out my T.S. Eliot and re-read The Waste Land. Revisiting just this one poem–and the reminder it gives me of all the beautiful poetry in the world, at my library, and on my bookshelves–makes my April and my Spring a whole lot less cruel.

I’ve been reading more poetry lately than I have in recent years–and by “lately” I mean the last two or three years. I’ve discovered Li-Young Lee (and others), and rediscovered W.B. Yeats (and others). It calms and nourishes me. It makes me grow, and it makes me reflect. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop reading The Waste Land every April. The ritual also calms and nourishes me, along with the poetry.

Here’s the first poem I ever read by Li-Young Lee. I have re-read and re-read it, and will never get enough. It’s called “Persimmons.”

And in looking for that poem online, I took myself down a 42-minute rabbit hole, watching this 2007 poetry reading by Li-Young Lee. I wasn’t planning to read poetry today, so this was a welcome surprise.

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