Religious Rituals: Don't Change a Thing

Written by Ashley Ball

Preparing for the same old Easter? Good for you. Rituals, even casseroles and five-hour drives to Grandma's, create a sense of identity and belonging.the comfort of holiday rituals

Easter and Passover celebrate undeniably magical events: Christ rising from the dead and God going to bat for the Jews against Pharaoh.

But let's face it, they're not especially festive holidays. Unleavened bread, hard-boiled eggs, gefilte fish and ham are cold, bland, old-people foods. Who could honestly be excited for the Easter or Passover lineup in and of itself? Would you choose to give a dinner party that kicked off with pretending to be an ancient lynch mob, or one whose menu studiously avoided flour? Year after year, you've probably felt, guiltily, that you were just going through the motions.

If so, congratulations! By adhering to your particular way of celebrating, you're doing yourself and your loved ones a greater favor than you know. You're sustaining ritual.

The word "ritual" has a self-consciously mystical ring. We think of the Incas' solstice ceremonies or ancient Rome's bloody methods of divination, not of that strawberry dessert we're going to have again or the inevitable moment when Great Aunt Rose warbles her favorite songs from "Easter Parade."

But the mundane aspect is possibly more important. Ritual, as explained by sociologist and Christian speaker Dr. Anthony Campolo, fosters a sense of solidarity and is crucial to emotional well-being and security, especially in children. Observe a classroom discussing a holiday to see this firsthand: "We do this on Easter. What do you do?" It's painful to watch the child without a tradition to describe.

So the next time you fret about not having anything new or fun to add to the celebration, stop to realize the value of what you're already providing. In a time of fragmentation, increased mobility and identity confusion, doing the "same old thing" is a precious gift.

Treasure it.

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Religious and Cultural Customs Around the World
Around the world, the rituals and customs of group celebrations vary widely depending on each culture, of course.

In Bolivia, the Incas created pillars and plazas to aid their viewing of the June solstice. The ceremony brought together "an empire that spanned 2,500 miles, while also reinforcing the separation between nobles and commoners." Discovery Channel Online.

Egyptian temples shared a common floor plan: subdivided chambers moved from light to shadow, and the ground sloped upward, leading to the darkest, highest final room, the dwelling place of the god. The sameness of experience reinforced for all worshippers the gradual quality of purification. Egyptology resources.

Muslims, with their ingrained habit of praying to Mecca five times daily, are among the hardest people to convert to another faith. Want to see Islam's origins firsthand? Apply online to go on the 13th excavation of the Tell Tuneinir in Syria.

For insight into cultures that really knew how to throw a ceremony, consult Dartmouth's Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean.

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