ColumnistsLife After 55

Rituals Enrich Our Lives

By Michele Bazan Reed       Email:

About 11:30 each evening, my cell phone pings. It’s my daughter, Katie, a continent away in Southern California.

“Wordle? Say go,” the text reads.

“Go!” I reply.

And so begins our nightly ritual.

We play the popular word game, where you guess a five-letter word in six tries or less, racing head to head, to see who can get it quicker or in fewer clues. (Katie always wins, since she types faster than I do, and guesses with reckless abandon, while I ponder each guess, mulling it over before committing to it).

Then we’re on to Quordle (guess four words on a quadruple grid, in only nine guesses) and Sequence (Quordle but you have to guess each word before the next grid is revealed).

We follow up our gaming with a quick check in — anything happening since our afternoon phone call — and then sign off with the same phrases and emojis every night.

It’s a ritual, faithfully executed, that signals the end of the day and the time for bed.

Merriam-Webster tells us a ritual is a ceremonial or religious act, but also it’s “an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner.”

And mindfulness gurus tell us these ritual acts can give structure and meaning to our lives.

For most Americans that first cup of morning coffee is a ritual. As we prepare the coffee, inhale its bitter and complex aroma, and set about adding whatever sugar and cream we prefer, it signals to us the beginning of our day. Whether we hurriedly gulp it down, pour it into a to-go mug or savor it over the morning weather forecast or the news of the day, it wakes us up and prepares us to face the day ahead.

My late husband, Bill, raised the coffee production ritual to an art form. First, he would grind the day’s beans, carefully chosen at the store or a specially selected roaster. Then he’d boil fresh water in the electric kettle before combining the two in the insulated stainless steel French press. When a timer went off after the precise minutes for perfect coffee, he would depress the plunger on the cafetière and call me as I grabbed a few last moments of sleep. He’d use the same pattern of words each morning. I’d appear and we’d savor a perfectly prepared cup of coffee together while we read the New York Times and other papers on our phones and discussed the main stories.

Everyday rituals like this make up the fabric of our lives. Experts say they reinforce our shared bonds.

And solo rituals, like greeting the day with a routine of yoga poses, closing our laptop and shutting off the lights at the workday’s close or curling up with a book and cup of tea at day’s end, give comfort and add meaning to our daily lives.

But there’s that other definition of ritual, involving religious rites and ceremonies. We bring the element of ceremony into our homes this time of year, when we light the menorah, decorate the Christmas tree or prepare the Kwanzaa feast.

Food is an important part of all the rituals this time of year, whatever your heritage.

I’m of Polish heritage and so my family grew up with the Polish traditions, a legacy we handed down to our children.

The Christmas Eve feast — Wigilia or vigil— is the main celebration, and begins at dusk when the first star appears. The youngest child is set to watch for it and announces the star’s appearance to start the feast. It’s still Advent so it is a meatless meal.

Growing up, I remember the feast at my grandparent’s farm, with a table for the adults and a small one for us kids. We would feel so grown-up when Grandma (Babcia in Polish) allowed us for this one special night a tiny glass of the cloyingly sweet Mogen David wine, and we scrambled at meal’s end to be the first to grab the crusciki or angel’s wings, bowties of pastry dough, deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar.

When Bill and I married, we passed the tradition on. We’d pile the serving dishes high with pierogi, 12-fruit compote and mushroom casserole. Katie prepares her special poppy seed bread. And traditionally, the Polish feast includes a fish dish.

As a newlywed, I scoured Polish cookbooks for fish recipes and poached pike in court bouillon or broiled salmon as the main dish. Then the kids came along and wouldn’t eat that stuff, so we developed our own ritual — fish sticks! So even though they are grown, we retain the ritual, with fish sticks from the freezer section (and “fishless” sticks for vegetarian Katie), served up in special Polish pottery dishes alongside the more traditional fare.

What are your holiday rituals? And the daily rituals that give meaning to your life?

Let’s make a resolution to enrich our lives with comforting daily routines and pass on the rites and rituals of our own cultural heritage to a new generation during the new year.