As we get deeper into autumn, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Thanksgiving. We take it very seriously at my house and, by seriously, I mean we typically host at least 20 people. It’s mostly a “friendsgiving” (family are allowed but carefully screened) and tequila shots are offered at the door to ensure extra cheer right from the get go. I’ve already started poring through allllll the food magazines, and begun planning the menu, reminding myself that I’m actually allowed to cook with chestnuts at other times of the year, even though, somehow, I never do.
Thanksgiving is the ultimate holiday for me; an excuse to immerse myself in food, gratitude and a houseful of people that I dearly love. It also gives me a chance to review the accompanying traditions and rituals of the holiday since they are an important part of the overall vibe.
Traditions and rituals are very similar to one another in that they both serve to remind you of your personal identity and your values. They’re like anchors in an unpredictable and ever changing world, a chance to consciously promote clarity, connection and well-being versus slipping into unconscious patterns and feeling like we’re not active participants in creating the lives we want. The difference between them is traditions are usually things that are long lasting, sometimes handed down in families or groups for generations and are mostly fixed (although often flexible), while rituals can be a highly personal and often a spiritual way to achieve the same meaningful feelings.
Rituals and traditions are about who we are and who we strive to become. Thanksgiving embodies what I love most about both: an opportunity to get rooted, give thanks and feel connection to my people and my community. The tequila shots, the chestnut stuffing, the going around the table sharing gratitude and an intention for the year ahead - those are all traditions that we (my family and friends) look forward to every year.
But, on a personal level, the planning of the menu, the trips to my local farmer’s market, the chopping, cooking and baking - those are rituals. They are a chance for me to remember why I love nurturing people; why I value using organic and locally sourced ingredients; how I use cooking as a form of meditation and that I’m grateful and lucky enough to be able to host such a gathering, at all, when others in my community are homeless and hungry.
As a Certified Life Coach I especially have an affinity for rituals. They can be game changers. Rituals encourage us to pause and consider. They require our presence and attention and can be a special and even sacred time to empower us and help us feel grounded. This can be a great antidote for the multitude of anxiety provoking distractions that we’re presented with throughout our day like the maddening/depressing news cycle, the compare and despair of social media, traffic, iPhone alerts, overflowing inboxes…etc. There are lots of ways to incorporate ritual into our daily lives but here are a few to start with.
Since this is the month of Thanksgiving, let’s start with gratitude. A gratitude ritual is a great way to start or end the day on a positive note. I recommend getting a journal that you can dedicate to this practice and start by simply listing 3-5 things that you are grateful for. Hold each thing in your mind, for a minute or two, before you write them down. This is a great way to start training your brain to look for the positive throughout your day. When I write my gratitude list down I like to think of it as writing a little “thank-you” note to the universe and I challenge myself to come up with new things every day.
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Meditation and/or stillness.
Our minds are so. damn. busy. that, sometimes, it’s a wonder we can even hear what our essential selves want to share with us. Getting quiet, focusing on the breath or a mantra, and, basically, making space amid the chaos up in there is a cornerstone ritual to help us unplug from the “shoulds” and connect to our inner selves. There are tons of great apps to help with this. I like Insight Timer and Simply Being, to name a few. You can also check out Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Challenges. They are free to start with and there is a new one every couple of months. Or you can take yourself into nature, sit yourself down and just breathe. Just stopping for an intentional pause for some deep breaths can be a lovely and grounding ritual.
Even if you think that you’re not a “journal person” this can be a wonderful ritual. Self-reflection can be uncomfortable sometimes but it’s all in the name of growth and they don’t call ‘em growing pains for nothing! If you’re just getting started with journaling or you want some prompts or new ideas, check out The 5-Minute Journal, morning pages, intention cards, or just sit down and ask yourself how you want to feel and what it would take to help you to feel that way. It doesn’t have to be a “Dear Diary” situation. The possibilities here are endless.
Activities like yoga, walking, tai chi or qigong are all excellent ways to connect to your inner self while actually moving your body. This is not movement for the sake of fitness, although it can sometimes check the box in those categories, as well. This is about being mindful, present and intentional and less about breaking a sweat, although if you have a way of bringing ritual to your daily exercise then I’m all about it. Even periodically getting up from your desk and doing some stretches can be made into a ritual.
Cook something you love (for yourself or someone else!) without distraction. Set aside some time for reading, every day, and mark it as non-negotiable in your calendar. Visit a place that fills you with joy (this is one of my places), pray, read something inspiring with your morning coffee; light a candle in your workspace when you start your day; spend some quiet time with your pet — the ideas are endless. You can use crystals, tarot cards, aromatherapy, or any other props that help you intentionally create meaningful connection with yourself.
Be patient with yourself, stay open to switching things up when necessary and don’t forget to periodically check your mindset so that you are in “want to” mode vs “have to” mode. Rituals are not set in stone! Whenever or however you decide to include ritual in your life, consider it an opportunity to intentionally focus on what's important to you and actively create forward motion towards the life you want to be living.