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Celebrating rituals: Why it’s important more than ever!

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As we head into months 8 and 9 of our collective newness that is living in the age of COVID-19, we are starting to find new rhythms to sustain us. The uncertainty is still around us but many have streamlined their work-from-home set up and developed new workout routines and, of course, routines around distance learning.  

There is another important tool to build resilience and that is ritual. I know for my own family, October is always a busy month. We have several family birthdays, an Indian dance festival called Navratri and the start of the Indian New Year Diwali, and Halloween! In regular times we mark these events with parties and get-togethers, dancing and eating — and of course, pumpkin-spiced lattes are a hallmark of October.  

Anthropologists have long known that celebrations and rituals give us predictability, a sense of control and connection. As hard as it is to believe, singing “Happy Birthday” again and again reduces anxiety. The repetition of cutting a cake, dancing, and even decorating and pumpkin carving lets us exercise the parts of our brain where we know what to do. It feels easy and joyful.

This study from Harvard shows that rituals improve performance and decrease anxiety. 

Birthdays are an important milestone for many and for children it usually holds an added bonus of a party and presents. It is important to remember that if this is something your family has traditionally celebrated, doing your best to mark the day will go a long way in creating happiness. The feelings carry over for months and the connection to family and friends on a sidewalk or or driveway will create meaningful memories. 

Reimagining and reinventing family traditions can be fun, so be sure to hang on to those as we head into another season. If it means decorating with spiderwebs and goblins for Halloween or making a nice warm spiced cider, plan on doing the same this year. I would like to share one of my family’s favorite recipes for this time of year,  pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.   

Improvise and enjoy!

Prerana Sangani, MD, October 19, 2020