As we begin another not-quite-usual holiday season, we wanted to share with you, once again, some seasonal offerings from our homes to yours. In looking at the writings that Neufeld Institute faculty submitted this year, it became clear that what I had in front of me was a collection of togetherness rituals— annual activities that weave together attachment (being known, being significant, love and closeness) and play (expressive, safe, engaging and not outcome-based) making for treasured winter family touchstones. I hope you enjoy reading about the faculty’s togetherness rituals as much as I did . . . perhaps you will see some of your family rituals in a new light and perhaps you will be inspired to create new rituals this season– ones that have connection and joy at their heart. 

Heather Ferguson (Canada), whose “kids” are twenty-two and sixteen, writes about how her family’s annual holiday traditions of crafting and making art gave rise to a new ritual a few years ago:

One of the things I have most enjoyed about the winter holidays over the years is crafting with my children. They have always delighted in making homemade gifts — from decorating candles and cookies in their younger years to, more recently, knitting scarves and forging tools. For many years, on the days after Christmas, we would paint. I always yearned to imitate the spirit that my children painted with, hoping I, too, could simply enjoy the mixing of colors and shapes on my page. While at first I struggled to focus on the experience rather than the outcome, over the years I relaxed and came to love this annual activity. Out of that tradition, a new one was born a few years ago when I brought out a large blank canvas. Intimidated, at first, to start, we slowly began sketching overlapping curves and spirals and stars and flowers, moving around the canvas when inspired to add to someone else’s creation. Then, out came the paints. We painted tentatively at first, following the pencil shapes and then, increasingly, following our mood and desire. We embellished and overlapped our own and each other’s creations as we delved into the experience. We ended up with a large eclectic, vibrant painting that hung in our home all year, a reminder of the warmth and pleasure of creating together. And we have created a new family painting every year since.

Laina Clugston (USA) describes how the slow pace of her family’s Christmas traditions allowed them to savour the connection and rituals: 

When my daughter was little, I learned about celebrating the twelve days of Christmas. Celebrating twelve days relieved the pressure on all of us. The season began with advent – a time of expectancy and waiting – filled with kind secret deeds inspired by St. Nicolas and preparing gifts. On Christmas morning we gathered in a circle by candle light near the tree.  We picked carols to sing and talked about why we give gifts on Christmas. We opened the Santa gifts and stockings–presents were opened slowly and played with – sometimes for hours – before another was opened. The second day we opened the gifts from mommy and daddy. The next day grandparents from Boston and so on, giving time so the gifts could be absorbed and the experience wasn’t too overwhelming. The feeling of celebration continued through the party on January 6th, Three Kings’ Day, which marked the end of the season – a time of giving and family and long-lasting magic.

Robin Brooks-Sheriff (Canada), whose daughter is eighteen, writes about how, after years of seeking to find holiday traditions that felt both joyous and meaningful, her family now has two treasured rituals:

Most of our gifts now take the form of charitable giving in each other’s names. We discover the amazing work people are doing around the world as we hunt down interesting donations to make. Goats? Coats? Training for women in Zimbabwe to fight poachers? Beds for the animal shelter? Sports equipment for kids? Endangered species protection?

The second tradition came out of needing to have an activity to replace the Christmas gift opening frenzy.  My creative step-daughter orchestrates a tree ornament making project in which we draw names and make an ornament for someone.  The materials must be largely recycled and the project must embrace the fact that most of us have two left thumbs but we laugh and play together and the stakes are low. And every year we add ornaments to the tree that remind us of the time together.

Shoshana Hayman (Israel), mother of six and grandmother of twenty-six, is remembering beloved family traditions and musing on how to update them as her grandchildren grow older. 

I was chatting with my fifteen year old granddaughter about our annual Chanukah celebration where all of our children and grandchildren gather to light the candles and to enjoy a festive meal, complete with potato latkes. The younger children love to play games such as “pin the candle on the menorah”  and “eat the jelly-filled donut without using your hands.” We have an arts and crafts table where they can paint and decorate dreidels and small clay flasks and a lively Chanukah trivia quiz.     

Last year the coronavirus prevented us from celebrating together, and we want this year to be extra special.  I asked my granddaughter if she had any new ideas.  She flashed a big smile as she suddenly remembered, “You know what I loved most when I was little? The big box stuffed with wrapped surprises!”  I smiled too, as we both took delight in the memory.  I enjoyed searching for all the little surprises, trying to match each one – glitter pens, flowery pads of paper, miniature dolls, bags of marbles, brain-teasers, tubs of play dough – with the grandchild I thought would especially enjoy it. I remember the eagerness of all the little ones, as one by one, they all received a treasure. It was challenging to find exactly what would delight each child.  It was a sort of attachment test, making each one feel special and loved.  Now they are older and it’s time to find new ideas for our huge family gathering.  But one thing always remains — however we celebrate, I hope they continue to feel how special and loved they are.

Happy Holidays from all of us at the Neufeld Institute!

For more stories about family rituals, you may wish to re-read our 2020 holiday editorials, Traditions: Now More Than Ever and Three Generations in the Kitchen.

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