We asked prominent writers to share their most cherished traditions. Some are from childhood, some are brand-new, and all add to life's meaning and pleasure.
Family rituals connect us powerfully to the past and offer comfort and joy in the present. As Christina Baldwin wrote in Life's Companion, "Ritual is the way we carry the presence of the sacred. Ritual is the spark that must not go out." Why not let the following traditions inspire you to consider your own treasured rites?
Jean Hanff Korelitz
On my daughter's first birthday, I took her out to the backyard with a purple Emilio Pucci dress that had belonged to my mother in the '60s, slipped it over her little body and took her picture. On my daughter's second birthday, I did the same thing (the dress drooped a tiny bit less). By her third birthday, she was throwing up her arms inside the dress like a runway model. For her fourth, we happened to be away from home, but I packed the dress and found a background similar to the one in our yard. And so forth, until her now fast-approaching eighth birthday. Her first years have passed so quickly that it's sometimes easier to imagine the woman she'll be than to recall the little baby she was, but with the birthday photographs lining the stairway to my attic office, I can watch her growing up in the purple dress every time I go to work.
I grew up watching my Catholic mother light candles for every prayer. As a child, I didn't understand the meaning, but I was drawn to the light. As I grew older, lighting candles was a ritual that I adopted—and now I light a candle almost every night. When I want to treat myself, the candles are lushly scented creations. More often, they're cheap votives and tea lights purchased at the grocery store.
Lighting candles is a mostly spiritual ritual for me, but it would be wrong to dismiss the element of romance: Candles are a testimony to my love affair with life. When everything else goes wrong during the day, I come home at night and light a candle, and the flame is a little rocket, a flare up to the heavens—a reminder to God and myself that although I may complain, I love my life down here on earth.
Alice Elliott Dark
Sunday afternoon. Crisp and clear. A perfect day to go window-shopping and to a museum, but that's not the plan. Instead I'm playing ball games in the backyard, and then going to IHOP for pancakes. It's my son's choice this week, and this is what he wants. Our family custom is to take turns deciding on an activity for all of us to do together. We started this when we realized our plans were often unsatisfying compromises, and we've discovered that participating in one another's unique joys makes us happy. We feel closer than when we've had a family day that reflects none of us as individuals. By bedtime, my shoulder is sore and I'm calculating the calories in the pancakes. But my son is relaxed and peaceful. I can tell he feels seen.
Next week is my husband's turn. I'm already curious.