Rituals. This word may irritate some as long-past traditions more useful for society in the 12th century than for the 21st century. Others may have eyes that glaze over at the thought of pomp-and-circumstance marches, or the Mass in Latin. However, rituals fill our lives, maybe more subtly that we realize. Weddings, funerals, morning routines, evenings out with friends, holidays and seasonal events, all contain some level of ritual, from how we greet each other to the hierarchy within the social group. So, here we are at Mardi Gras, Fat-Tuesday, the beginning of 40 days of Lent. Where shall we party? What should we give up? Which scriptures should be read prior to Passion Week and Easter? All are rituals.
For us, the ritual includes a winter visit with Linda’s family. This began decades ago, as we work in healthcare, which does not shut down for holidays. Rather than trekking to the home-place for Christmas, we would schedule a winter vacation instead. Then her father died in January 21 years ago, giving more significance to gathering this time of year. Meanwhile, her brother’s birthday was about the same time period, offering another reason to congregate.
About ten years ago, we travelled to New Orleans with friends, introducing them to Zydeco and Cajun music. As it turns out, a local dance hall hosts an annual Mardi Gras party the weekend before Fat Tuesday, and these friends discovered this once they knew about the music. Now we can compact numerous family rituals into a winter vacation and Mardi Gras party.
Rituals usually contain several elements. First, as I have alluded to, is a time and date for which the events will occur. Again this could be daily, weekly, seasonally, or annually. Second, the ritual involves a specific group of people. Some may attend or disappear from time to time, adding and subtracting seats at the table. Third, rituals involve prescribed manners, such as greeting, topics, and story-telling. Fourth, ritual include decorative dress, from priests vestries, to Sunday-best, to costume-contest entries. Fifth, rituals often include music and possibly movement (processionals, recessionals, parades, and dance). Sixth, rituals include mind and mood altering spirits (aka alcohol). Well, a Mardi Gras party has all these elements.