Ritual is something that's "always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time," according to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary. Rituals that come to mind are daily rituals (getting up, taking a shower, going to bed), religious rituals (mass, prayer), and rituals connected to specific occasions (holiday celebrations, funerals, last day of school). My (almost) daily ritual is to shut the computer after a day's work, go down to the kitchen, and begin cooking dinner while sipping a glass of wine. Brushing my teeth as soon as I get out of bed is a ritual, too, because I do it every day, in the same way, with the same movements. But the rituals I really want to talk about on the cusp of this Passover/Easter week-end are the special ones for special occasions. Why do we create and need ritual? Ritual is reassuring, and we need certain routines in life. It is reassuring to know how, when and in what fashion to celebrate an occasion, instead of inventing it anew each time. Annual holiday rituals tie us to nature's cycles as well as to our ethnic culture and roots. Like the seasons that always come back every year in the same sequence, like the moon that waxes and wanes always in the same predictable way, rituals are grounding specifically because they don't change. There is reassurance in knowing what to expect because the rest of life is so full of change, adjustment, fluctuation and surprises.
It is especially comforting for children to learn and have rituals because it creates rhythm and it helps them to find their place in the world, in nature, in their culture, in their family. My Easter menu doesn't change much from year to year. It's always a leg of lamb, always asparagus and some other green springtime vegetables. Like a ritual I buy a white hyacinth every year a few weeks before Easter, and we all associate its smell, which permeates the entire house, with Easter and the beginning of spring. Each year about three weeks before Easter we bring up the Easter storage box from the basement to pull out the painted eggs and decorate pussy willow or other bare branches, which will start to sprout tender leaves by Easter. Same thing each year. Here's to a new spring.