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  • Evie Mpras

Make Holiday Rituals a Habit of the Mind.

Family rituals contribute to emotional regulation and intentional living. Materialize the meaning into life-long habits for your family.

I'll admit it. The idea of finding adorable little trinkets for a series of stockings is not my idea of fun over the holidays. It ends up being one more thing (sigh) on the HOLIDAY LIST OF THINGS TO DO.

When my husband and I decided to pick and choose our family's traditions for the season, we realized that it's not just about paring down, but choosing rituals that raise our spirit and set the tone for the year ahead: rituals that are the basis for lifelong habits.

The link between ritual and habit is clear. Consider your family's holiday rituals, whether they are religious or secular. What is the value driving the act? Togetherness, gratitude, faith, generosity of spirit? Are you going through the motions, or is it meaningful for you? Is there a mainstream tradition you'd like to do away with in favor of something else?

MIT Professor of Brain and Cognitive science Dr. Ann Graybiel's research suggests that the basal ganglia structure functions to formulate habits through learning. Once that learning has happened, we think and act instinctually, rather than mindfully. Graybiel says in her article Habits, Rituals, and the Evaluative Brain,

"Some habits we strive for, and work hard to make part of our general behavior. And still other habits are burdensome behaviors that we want to abolish but often cannot, so powerfully do they control our behavior...during much of our waking lives we act according to our habits, from the time we rise and go through our morning routines until we fall asleep after evening routines."

I'll use my family's Christmas stockings as an example. I spent last year cross stitching each stocking. I passed time tangling my hands in thread as my daughter tangled hers in strings of playdough. Time slowed down and we quietly, rhythmically connected. One afternoon I looped my needle and observed my girl. I told her, "I love watching you create things." She raised her eyebrows and smiled brightly, delighting in feeling treasured. And that's when I got my idea.

Instead of presents, we would drop hand-written love notes to one another in the stockings. We could read them to each other on Christmas morning.

I felt like a model of motherly efficiency: saving time, energy, & money while encouraging connection and love. But my smugness was interrupted by a nagging question- do I practice gratitude and give praise consistently in my home? What habits am I modelling for my husband and child after the holidays are over?

Practicing gratitude with each other should not be a once-a-year-ritual. This needed to become a habit in our household: a habit of the mind.

"Habit is the most effective teacher of all things." -Pliney

Lets determine what we teach ourselves and teach our families.

Lets materialize cherished traditions into habit.

My point is not to knock stocking stuffers filled with trinkets! I'm sure that's a lovely avenue for joy for many families. I simply believe each family should consider what rituals speak to them and why- then act accordingly...all year.

Holidays raise our consciousness for treasured values and acts of love; it's our challenge to teach our brains ritual and habit outside of this time period.

Consider the morning rituals Dr. Graybiel references- what habits of thoughts and behavior begin your day? What do you wish were different? What holiday tradition can you bring into post-holiday life?

Rituals alleviate stress and anxiety by connecting us with symbolic forces greater than ourselves, and by bringing a sense of control to the chaos of our lives.

Overshadow the stress and anxiety of your family's days with a sense of order and meaningfulness.

We need ritual and repetition to make the brain receptive to habit changing.

Radicalize your holiday. Make it what you want for your family.

I'll be writing love notes to drop into my husband and daughter's stockings next week. as we start our new tradition this year. I imagine the looks on their faces reading my words; The moment may help shift our family expressions of love and gratitude past December.

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Further reading on the importance of family rituals:

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