Over the last several years I've become increasingly interested in grounding life in rituals and traditions. But of course most of the common examples readily available to white Protestant folks in America are steeped in some toxic culture of patriotism, mainstream Christianity, and consumerism, so it takes some work to find practices that feel worth establishing for our family, and some experimentation to present them in a way that's understandable for the kids, not too goofy or moony for the adults, and meaningful for everyone. Nonetheless I've been slowly trying, and last night we had a small success story with a ritual to mark the Autumn Equinox.
My wife just bought a firepit, and since the equinox coincides with my birthday every year, my folks came over for dinner, and it was a great celebration. Grilling, gifts, cake and warm apple cider, M making up silly (but often rhyming!) songs about fall; we really hit the high notes. Then as the sky was darkening -- and I knew that the boys' internal clocks were running close to the Bedtime Or Meltdown deadline -- I shared the idea with everyone, of course targeted primarily at the kids:
So, tomorrow is the Autumn Equinox. It's one of the thing that means it's Fall. What happens in the fall? [kids give a few answers] Right, the leaves all fall off the trees. Do you know why that happens? [brief discussion of why] So, the trees don't need those leaves anymore - if they want to survive the winter and keep growing, they need to get rid of them! I'm inviting you to get rid of some leaves you don't need anymore, too. We don't actually have leaves to drop on the ground, right? But we do have ideas, or feelings maybe, that we might be happier, or get along with our family better, if we got rid of. Can you think of a feeling you'd like to get rid of, like something that makes you frustrated, or sad? This is a private thing; you don't have to say it out loud, OK? Just find a leaf or two, and hold it in your hands while you think about that feeling, or that idea. Then, when you're ready, drop the leaf in the fire. As it burns, you can imagine those bad feelings vanishing into the air. Then we can spend some time in the winter thinking about what new things we'd like to grow next spring!
You never know what will grab these guys, but "Dad said we can throw leaves into the fire, and we get to complain about what's frustrating at the same time" was a big hit. M had a lot of feelings to put in the fire. I don't know how useful it was for them emotionally, but it felt great for me, and I think maybe something got through to them, underneath the fun of playing with the leaves and the fire. And if all they got was fun, that's OK too. If none of my seeking and experimentation works for them, they can have their own midlife turn back to ritual, and I hope I can share it with them and their kids.