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    Cultural Identity (what defines us?)

    Holding On and Crossing Over: The Rituals that Define Us

    Debbie Ouellet  |  17.Dec.09

    Return to watering holes for more than water—friends and dreams are there to meet you. -African Proverb

    As a writer and poet, it's my job to notice things. Bear witness, as best I can, to those defining moments, large or small, that resonate and overlap the boundaries of age, gender and culture. These moments are what define us. By paying tribute to them, we honour the very essence of our humanity.

    In North America, the months of December and January are pivotal times. Ends and beginnings.  Reunions and separations. Remembering and moving on. They are rich in the rituals of family: reunion, storytelling, reaffirmation, returning to your roots. They are times of crossing over: sorting through the tangled strings of our lives, making choices, discarding the unwanted bits, beginning again.

    The Ritual of Reunion: Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanzaa, December is the month when families (both families by blood and those ‘families’ we choose) unite—cross cities, continents, and oceans to reaffirm, "This is home. This is where I come from. This is who I am." Whether  or not you agree with the commercial aspect of the holidays, whether you find the reunions painful, the need to return home, to find and confirm our place within a family unit is as uniquely human as opposable thumbs and walking erect.

    In the hectic, consumer-driven world we live in, it can be difficult to remember to honour these moments, to cherish them as the rituals that define us—rituals that will continue to define what we leave behind in our children and their children. I live a two-hour drive from my family. Add a snowfall and traffic and you can double the time. To be honest, I dread the thought of that long drive every December 25th. I'm busy. There are things to do, better uses of my time—hurry, hurry, hurry. But when I finally get there, pull back my chair, my stomach comfortably full of turkey and stuffing, a sense of peace comes over me. We drink coffee. We talk. We remember.

    Holding On - The Ritual of Remembering:  Maybe it's my storyteller nature, but the giving and receiving of gifts is not my favourite part of the holidays. It's those moments afterward, when people pause and every other sentence begins with, "do you remember when?" or "I remember the time." We open the wine of our lives—sometimes sip, sometimes drink deeply. We laugh. We reflect. Sometimes we cry. In the most basic way, we've returned to our tribal origins: gathering around the fire, sharing food, recounting the legends of our ‘tribe.’ So it has been since the beginning of our species. So it will continue long after I return to dust.

    There is more in the telling of these stories than simple conversation. This is the glue that binds us to who we are, where we came from and what we believe. Often the stories will be told again, embellished and improved, by our children and again by their children—a piece of us passed on for generations to come. Robert Fulghum, in his book From Beginning to End, the Rituals of Our Lives wrote, "The personal events contain universal themes that tie us to humanity, past, present and future. The ritual is in the remembering—the remembering is self-revelation."

    Talismans: The word ‘talisman’ can conjure images of shamans and wizards. In truth, we all own talismans that connect us to people or events important to us. This is especially true during the holidays: Grandma's serving platter, the tree ornaments bought the year my children were born, the carnival glass punch bowl from our first Christmas together, photos of Decembers gone by. Holding them in my hands is like the tug from a thread to the past. Images, moments, memories come to me, clear and fresh. We'd do well to honour these talismans—pass the stories along with the item to our children. They are the physical evidence of the history of our lives. Robert Fulghum says about talismans, "They are symbols of connection and reconnection, union and reunion with what is sacred to us." In turbulent times—by reminding us of where we came from, who we are—the best of them can be our compass, the anchors that keep us from going adrift.

    The Ritual of Crossing Over:  As one year ends, poised for another to begin, each of us, whether consciously or not, takes stock of our accomplishments and failures, our roles and place, our beliefs and needs. The inevitable questions: “Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I fit into this helter-skelter world?” are asked. We question: “Have I done my best this past year?” and “How could I have done better?” There is a pivotal moment for many of us—a threshold where we leave behind the person we were in this waning year and decide the person we will become in the dawning of a new year. January 1st, 2010 is the beginning of a new year and decade. We’d do well to pause and contemplate how we’d like to cross over this threshold.

    As each year ends, I join the millions of Canadians who take a hard look into that inner mirror and form New Year’s resolutions. These are promises we make to ourselves to improve a portion of our lives. One New Year’s resolution that stands out for me was several years ago. I realized that I’d become much too busy; so much so that I was losing touch with family and friends. People had become an interruption to my hectic schedule. I didn’t like that image staring back at me. That year I resolved to perform one random act of kindness daily for a minimum of three months. It could be as little as slowing down to allow another driver into my lane, or letting someone into the cashier’s line ahead of me. This promise I’d made to myself made me go out of my way to look for ways to show kindness. I kept change in my car at all times. The homeless person who tapped on my window in the middle of downtown rush-hour traffic was no longer a nuisance. He was my daily promise to myself. I smiled more that year. I liked myself better.

    Maybe the dawn of a new decade is a good time to return to that earlier resolution. Lord knows, the world could use a little more kindness.

    Goodbye and Hello: Such is the way with our rituals of holding on and crossing over. It is our opportunity to take stock, adjust—hold on to the talismans and stories of our lives—discard the pieces that drag us down. Say goodbye to the me of 2009. Say hello to the possibility of a better me in 2010.

    May it be so for every one of you.


    Comments :

    1. Posted on 09.May.10   From: E Raven

    Christmas was a holiday I until ten years ago I tried to avoid. It was too painful for me. Then my sister started coming down with her husband and kids. Sometimes she would stay for ten minutes, sometimes for hours. Suddenly that day had meaning again. Until I began to look forward to it. Now it has become tradition. I ended up looking forward to it. But not for the presents or Christmas dinner. For that one day of the year I had family. I was part of a family again. ER

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