The Ritual of Ritual: Learning to be present this holiday season

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The holidays are a time to take account.

So, while the second year of the pandemic slides into the holiday season, shuffling and stumbling, we’re all just exhausted by now, but this is a time to remember that we’re still together and moving forward in the best way we know how.

During that first year, our family did Kindergarten from home, learning by getting our hands and feet and hair filthy in the wilds of the White Mountains; my 5-year-old daughter absorbing the knowledge of the insects and the wisdom of the rocks.

Now, in the second year, we’ll finally get to see my nephews for the first time since this all began, we’ll try to make the holidays something real, a turning point, the moment when we reassert ourselves; the time of cranberry sauce and elves on the shelves and of gratefulness, of course.

First grade for Little Bean began with some amount of fanfare: a sidewalk wipeout that resulted in an ER visit to have pebbles picked out of her knee by a patient and kind doctor, for example. One of those pebbles, the largest, now sits on her memento shelf in a small jar. “A souvenir, daddy,” she said as we drove home from the hospital. 

But what is summer without glorious badges of honor? And a story to tell her brand new teacher, which she did nearly the moment they met. 

She tells them other things as well because my daughter is never shy. She tells her new friends about her cats, Lavendar and Luna, about growing her own pumpkins for Halloween and about how “her” Santa does not eat cookies. Her Santa prefers vegetables.

And I wonder how long Santa will remain a part of her life? Given all the reality of the last couple years, there’s far worse fictions than Santa to hold on to.

On the surface, this is all how it should be, how normal feels. But now, we have a special place near the door for her face masks – she likes the kitty whiskers one the best – and parents aren’t yet allowed into the school building, and we’ll try to find an outdoor Santa for her to visit. And every day she’s in school I wonder if the next day, she’ll be back at home learning from afar.

But we’ll be fine with that as well. We’ll be fine because her uncle will visit, and along with her grandparents we’ll celebrate Dashain, the holiday of light over darkness from the Nepali side of her family. She’ll share a blessing with her grandfather – the oldest and youngest, the family bookends. 

We’ll be fine because the whole point of this time of year is wonder and awe, and coming in close to what matters. The writer and comedian Larry Wilde once observed that the size of one’s Christmas tree doesn’t matter because to children every Christmas tree is 30 feet tall. The point is the celebration, not the tree. The point is that on that evening when we darken the house lights and switch on the holiday lights there will be a glorious, fleeting moment when nothing else matters; when the connection between our parents’ lives and our lives and the lives of the kids of our children to come are all on display.

That’s what ritual does, it brings us into the present and makes us mindful. It’s a reminder of where we come from and a call to improve our future. And as she’s done these past couple years, once the lights are on and the veggie plate is laid out for Santa, once the snow (hopefully) begins to fall, my December-born daughter will turn to me and say, “Okay, daddy, ready for my birthday now.”

And I’ll be ready as well.