The Ties that Bind

American families talk about their rituals and the meaning they bring to their lives


Bob, age 37

Grays Harbor, Washington



"We have a family meeting every Sunday evening. After dinner we gather and each share three things we liked about the week and one thing we wish had gone differently. We usually have a treat, too. I love this, because the look on my five-year-old son Morgan's face is priceless as he recounts his favorite stuff of the week. I think it will also lay the groundwork for talking about problems as he gets older. We also plan to start talking about budgeting and other family stuff as well. We had tried making a list of what he's interested in learning/exploring that week, but that sort of flopped. We also discuss potential uses for our forty-dollar monthly 'homeschool' budget."


Sheri, age 30




"Like most parents, I suspect, I think ritual is very important, particularly for kids. The consistency, knowing what to expect, what to look forward to, and the fact that rituals create such wonderful memories, are a few of the reasons.

Our family is very "casual," in that our rituals are more along the lines of having fun as opposed to religious or "rules"-oriented. I'll share one of our fun rituals: The birthday person gets to decorate their own cake! Whoever's birthday it is (child or parent) gets to pick what kind of cake they want. In our family, this inevitably means chocolate cake with either white or chocolate frosting. The kids and I make and frost it together. Then with homemade decorating frosting (or sometimes the store-bought kind in the tubes) the birthday person gets to make whatever kind of cake creation they want. Of course, with the kids, it usually ends up being a big mess of scribbles and blobs!

We had a party for our son Aaron's fourth birthday and gave each guest a tube of frosting. Aaron started the decorating, then we passed the cake around the table and let each child add their own decorating touch. It was such fun!"



Rogers, Minnesota



"We try to observe all of what we call the "moon days"--the solstices and equinoxes. For winter solstice, we spent a lot of energy building it up to help downplay Christmas. We made ornaments and decorations dealing with light, and on the actual night we celebrated, we had a special meal with symbolic foods and lit 365 candles in our tiny apartment and then our two boys went out and banged noisemakers in the darkness. They ended up dancing around a light post, since they thought that it was nicely symbolic. Then we gifted them in the morning.

We also gift them on the spring equinox. For this ritual, we did lots of paganish stuff and "coming back to life" and fertility symbolism, including special foods. In their baskets, we had some neat Playmobil toys but no candy because we couldn't figure out a reason to include it.

We have a special family night each Saturday, too--often just pizza and movies, sometimes board games by candlelight. Every Saturday evening we spend together as a family, no exceptions. We plan to continue this tradition until the boys move out, although we realize we will have to probably change the evening when they get older. They both look forward to this night more than they do birthdays and Christmas.

We also have very serious small rituals, such as bedtime reading--usually a half-hour of picture books and then a half hour to an hour of chapter books, and we read a family "big" novel each winter. This year we started The Tempest but never finished because of a lack of interest. We have plans to read a version of the Iliad and the Odyssey this summer."



Bowling Green, Ohio



"We feel that rituals really bring us closer together as a family. On Friday nights, at the dinner table, we all (and any guests we have) go around in a circle and answer this question: "What's the best thing that happened to me this week?" We all really look forward to this time. And we take special care not to interrupt the person speaking. Our guests always enjoy being included in this, too."



Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



"I'm a scholar of ritual and culture, so I know they are important, especially in the alienated culture of postmodern life, where no one lives anywhere for long, grandparents and cousins are far away, etc. So we need rituals to give structure to our lives, to give us a sense of longevity and existence that goes beyond the immediate circumstances. It's especially important to me as a single parent, because a strong sense of family, created by a web of rituals, gives my son stability and support, and creates a sanctuary of our home.

We have a bimonthly "family night," which will probably become every Friday night as my son gets older. I usually fix something really fun to eat, we watch a special video or movie, or we do something fun, like go to the park after dark, go to a free concert, go to friends' houses for dinner and wild playing with other kids. We are Unitarians, so lighting candles is very important to us. My son Charlie is still interested in blowing them out, so we don't do it a lot, but we will begin to light a chalice on family night and when we sit down to dinner together at the table.

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