Adventures in Ceremony

This past month I’ve done a record number of in-person ceremonies with family and friends. Looking back, I’m surprised at how many I packed in to one month. I counted a total of 16, starting with a full day of Thanksgiving, eight nights of Chanukah, four Friday night Shabbats, one evening around the fire at Solstice, and several days celebrating Christmas.

As I take my last bite of Christmas pudding and reflect on the month of ceremonies, I confess to feeling blessed and refreshed, as if I’ve soaked in a hot tub of love. So many ceremonies could have been a source of stress and overwhelm but they weren’t. That’s because we crafted each ceremony on the underlying intention and picked only those traditions that suit our family. The cumulative effect of celebrating gratitude, darkness and light and connection has been profound.

Planting Seeds of Light

Chanukah is the Jewish mid-winter festival of lights, lasting for eight days. We didn’t play the dreidl game which always ends in tears, we made no latkes and gave no presents. Nor did we retell the story of how the fanatical Taliban-like Maccabees took over the high priesthood and kingship in a vicious civil war against the progressive Hellenistic Jews.

Instead we made the room totally dark. Only when we knew of each others’ presence by whispered cries and groping hands, did we light the candles on the menorah. Each flame sparkled brightly, held and nurtured by the darkness. It felt magical, as if we were planting seeds of light.

“The One who set darkness to be Her secret place (Psalm 18:12) —

May you teach us to see the darkness between the flames of the candles,

and the darkness within the flame,

so that we may cherish the Earth,

dancing between the sun and the moon,

the womb of all Life,

and see the radiance in all creatures,

in the passing of life into life,

deep into deep, fall into winter into spring.

prayer by Rabbi David Seidenberg

Now Our Minds Are One

The American festival of Thanksgiving marks the beginning of centuries of colonialism and genocide against the First Nation peoples. This year, we acknowledged that history and honoured the spiritual essence of Thanksgiving by reciting the Thanksgiving Address, the central prayer and invocation of the Iroquois Confederacy (the six First Nations of Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora).

There were seven of us, children and adults, taking turns to read out the prayers to the life-sustaining forces – to the People, Mother Earth, the Waters, the plants, the trees, the animals, the four winds, the sun, the moon and the Wisdom Keepers. After each one, we recited together the words – Now our minds are one. We started with thanking the People:

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty and responsibility to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give our greetings and our thanks to one another as people. Now our minds are one.

Thanksgiving Address

The communal recitation of these words was very moving. It led to feeling a strong sense of connection, reminding us that we humans are an integral part of the natural world.

The Web of Life

Later on Thanksgiving day after we’d finished off the pumpkin pie, we sat in a circle with a ball of string. One by one, we named something we were grateful for and then tossed the ball to another, each time holding on to the string as we tossed. ‘I’m grateful for my good health.’ ‘I’m grateful for Legally Blonde.’ ‘I’m grateful for the COVID vaccine.’ ‘I’m grateful for friends.’ ‘I’m grateful for Minecraft.’ After several rounds, we had a web of string connecting us all to each other, a visible framework for the invisible network of gratitude linking us together. At the end, in a spontaneous burst of enthusiasm, the children dived into the web, rolling around tangling themselves up in the string while the adults held them.

Letting Go of What No Longer Serves Us

With three boys under nine, our Solstice ceremony was not going to run according to plan. But I only lost my temper once when the fire bucket was kicked over in a fit of exuberance just when I’d got the fire burning well. The boys jiggled and wriggled perilously close to the fire while burning marshmallows and making s’mores. Still, when it came time to burn the slips of paper on which we’d written what we wanted to let go of, everyone rose to the occasion. I was touched by their thoughtfulness and willingness to engage with the ritual.

Becoming a Being of Sharing

I have tears in my eyes looking at the framed drawings my grandchildren gave me for Christmas. My grandson did his illustration in his usual decisive way, a bold drawing completed to his satisfaction in a few minutes. He carefully put it in a frame, wrapped it and placed it proudly under the Christmas tree days in advance. My granddaughter agonised over her drawing, tormenting herself with making it perfect and only managed to slip it under the tree in the nick of time.

At the present opening ceremony, gifts were presented one by one so each gift could be fully appreciated and the giver thanked. I am still glowing remembering their beaming faces as they opened their presents and as they watched me open mine.

The only way to achieve true joy and fulfilment is by becoming a being of sharing.

from The Secret by Michael Berg

It might seem incongruous for my example of the Jewish Kabbalistic teaching of transformative sharing to come from our Christmas celebration. But as explained in The Secret, this is a universal truth to be applied to everyday life, whatever one’s religion or belief system. It certainly has brought me joy.


  1. Rosa

    Beautiful thank you Lisa

    • Mary

      Reading those beautiful descriptions of the rituals (and it sounded fun as well as being very moving) gave me a more optimistic outlook on 2022


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