The Ties that Bind

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

We also light candles of joys and sorrows at church when big things come up. We have special little songs we sing for completely mundane events, like "the banana song," when I'm peeling a banana. When we went to Australia, on the plane, I made a little chalice from two Dixie cups and some tape. I covered it with foil and tied a red ribbon around the middle. We drank from both ends of it, toasting each other as we crossed the equator together for the first time. I wrote about that in our journal, so he'll be able to read it someday.

We go to the library once a week, and I'd call this a ritual because it, too, provides structure to his life, promotes the kind of values I hold dear, and because he always gets the same thing! Dr. Seuss and Dorling-Kindersley "Amazing Animals" videos! And we also have a giving ritual at holiday time--not just the usual stuff to the thrift store, but as a family, we take clothes, money, and food to the crisis nursery, on a special afternoon close to Christmas. The amount of money has to hurt a little (something like a week's worth of groceries), and the clothes have to be really nice ones.

And the two big rituals: When Charlie was six months old, I planned and held a naming ceremony in my church for him. It was a regular service with songs, candles, readings, and prayers. All the children who were his friends were invited. His grandparents were in attendance, and beamed proudly. My mother gave him a silver spoon that day. I wrote a poem for the occasion. When he is 13 years old, I'll have a special ceremony for him--a transition ceremony. A gateway to serious learning and responsibility as he becomes an adult and to affirm his place in the community and in the family."






"We have had beautiful christenings for each of our children. We chose special godparents, and the babies wore hundred-year-old family christening gowns. After the service we have a big semiformal luncheon at my parents' house. The children were all christened in the same small country Episcopal church where I was confirmed and married."






"We have "hop on pop" after supper each evening, where I lie down on the floor in our living room and the kids proceed to crawl and jump all over me. All I have to say is 'hop on pop!' and they all come running!"






"We never miss a football game at my husband's alma mater. Now that the kids are older, these football weekends involve special rituals of packing, traveling, and eating at the same fast-food restaurants along the way, wearing the same "lucky" sweatshirts to the game, etc. Fall football is definitely a ritual for our family."






"We keep the Sabbath holy. On Sundays we enjoy a terrific breakfast as a family and then we all go to church. Afterwards, we spend the day together at home. When we started doing this, it was very difficult not to want to mow the lawn or clean the gutters, but now we are all adjusted to the fact that Sundays are for rest, reflection, and family bonding. You can usually find us sprawled all over the house reading or snacking or just talking. The TV, radio, and computer stay off on Sundays. A quiet, reflective day really gets our whole family focused on how we can better serve God the rest of the week. The kids complained a lot at first, but now they sing the praises about our Sunday ritual to other overly busy families."






"We go out to a big breakfast on the first and last school days of the year."





"We take our dairy cattle to the State Fair every fall. The kids enjoy a week of sleeping in haylofts, grooming their livestock, eating cotton candy and hot dogs and playing with other 4-H kids from all over the state. They even get to miss a few days of school. I remember enjoying the same thing when I was a teenager. To me and to my kids, the State Fair marks the end of summer and the beginning of fall."






Katie Allison Granju lives in Tennessee with her husband and three young children. She is the author of Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child (Pocket/August, 1999). For more information, visit

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