We Wish You a Merry… Ritual

This December, I find myself reflecting upon a holiday many years ago when I played the role of an angel at my church’s Christmas pageant. I remember receiving instructions to gently cradle my offering of plastic grapes for baby Jesus and to approach the nativity scene slowly, deliberately, and in step by my fellow blue-robed angel. I was not to look at or wave to my family members as I passed them.

This was the first time I was charged with the solemn execution of ritual duties, and I followed through with a level of commitment absurd for a six-year old in a tinsel halo. I was stone-faced and serious, committed to the importance of the ceremony and my role.

Over time, my interest in ritual only grew. As a child and teenager, I served as an acolyte, carrying the cross in processionals, lighting and extinguishing candles, and helping prepare the Eucharist. Later, in college, I was the sacristan at my college chapel, a role which had me arriving early to arrange chairs and candlesticks, staying late to disassemble the ritual space, and learning how to get wax stains out of altar linens in my dorm room (Hint: an iron and newspaper do the trick).You know, typical college kid activities.

Though the church was an obvious focus of ritual life, my ritual devotion extended elsewhere, particularly to the intersection of ritual and food. Family dinners were sacred to me, and I would insist we turn off the television every night. I threw my first formal dinner party before the age of ten, immersing myself in cookbooks, napkin folding manuals, and etiquette books to get all the details right. I started the first of many dinner party clubs in high school and wrote my college thesis on parallels between the Eucharist and other ritual meals. Today, we ritualize our family meals by sharing gratitudes before eating.

And this Christmas, we celebrate it with all sorts of rituals – those from my family, those from Liz’s, and those we have created together. We open the advent calendar with our chocolate-ravenous child each night. We think about loved ones around the world and send Christmas cards with well-wishes. We, like Liz’s grandmother, burn bayberry candles. And we make ‘miracle loaf’ – a truly miraculous combination of refrigerated crescent rolls, bacon, eggs, and other artery-clogging items that Liz innovated. Each ritual sanctifies the season and makes our wintry days feel special.

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What is it, exactly, about ritual?  To me, there’s something incredible about how you can intentionally invest meaning in some of the most mundane, tangible aspects of life – movements, words, objects, food, and space – and thereby create something transcendental. It is a way of bringing the holy (however you may define it) into the everyday. I see it as the alchemy of meaning: by enacting ritual, you take everyday life and make it special.

And so, this past fall, I started classes to become a celebrant. A celebrant is someone who creates and performs rituals for others. This can include anything from the weddings and funerals you might expect to baby blessings, divorce ceremonies, business openings, and seasonal rituals. Celebrants do not bring any particular religious bent to their work, but instead focus on crafting meaningful experiences to fit the needs, values, and beliefs of the ceremony participants. Come spring, I’ll be certified and look forward to bringing more ritual into my life and being of service to others.

Whatever you believe and however you ritualize it, I wish this holiday season is transformed into something special and meaningful to you.
Meredith

To learn more about celebrancy, check out the Celebrant Institute and Foundation here.

 

Our Intentional Christmas

Given that we’re recently engaged, this is the first holiday season that Liz and I have fully merged our travel plans. We spent Thanksgiving with my family in Michigan and Christmas with hers in Iowa and Minnesota (where we are currently). While navigating each other’s traditions, we’re also intentionally creating our own. While we celebrated Christmas today with Liz’s mother, sister, and brother-in-law, we celebrated our own Christmas last Friday and Saturday before leaving San Francisco. Friday was our faux Christmas Eve, while Saturday was our stand-in Christmas Day. We knew we would participate in our respective family traditions when we travelled, so this would be the place where we started our own traditions – some adopted from her family, some adopted from mine, some merged, some imagined anew.

Our Friday night “Christmas Eve” consisted of a celebratory dinner, cozy fire, and loitering on the couch listening to Christmas music. We experimented with prime rib, twice-baked potatoes, corn, and a kale salad for dinner, trying to figure out whether that felt like our holiday meal. Following Liz’s family tradition, we each opened one present (a puzzle for her, hot chocolate for me). And following my family tradition, we sprinkled ‘fairy dust’ in the fireplace to help Santa ease down the chimney.

Christmas morning we awoke lazily and settled onto the couch with our respective caffeine of choice (Diet Coke for Liz and coffee for me). We opened presents methodically, one-for-her and one-for-me until the pile had disappeared. I was surprised to find that even small acts like this are loaded with invisible decisions (e.g., Do we wrap presents for each other? Does Santa wrap his presents? Do we open all at once or do we go back and forth?). It’s been curious to not only experience different ways of doing things as I step into Liz’s family, but to also figure out which of the traditions I care about. I mind less whether we have a real or artificial tree, but I care immensely that we use the stockings that my grandmother knit (including new ones for Liz and Reese).
reese and stocking
Christmas morning breakfast was perhaps our easiest tradition to establish. On special days in the past (i.e., holidays, the morning of our engagement), we have long been eating a crescent-roll-scrambled-egg creation that we have dubbed “Miracle Loaf.” As with many rituals, we can’t quite remember why we eat it or why it has that name, but at this point, it’s stuck. This year, we adapted and evolved the Miracle Loaf recipe further, adding garlic, replacing green onions with white onions, and slap-dashing some egg wash on top to brown it up. It is perhaps the first true Whipple/Callahan recipe in our recipe card collection.
miracle loaf

Like me, you may be asking “What does it all mean?” “What values do our traditions manifest?” and “What do our traditions aspire to?” For the most part, I don’t think we’ve created these traditions because they are specifically meaningful or symbolic. Instead, we select some to honor her heritage, we select some to honor my heritage, and then we co-create together. The meaning is less in the action of eating the Miracle Loaf or wrapping the gifts, but instead in the fact that we’re consciously choosing our own path together.

Wishing you a very happy (and intentional) holiday season,
Meredith