Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ritual Roundup - End of the School Year

One of the tasks that I take most seriously as a parent, and that I most enjoy, is establishing and maintaining family traditions and rituals.  While there are some traditions that we enjoy as a family (having a fondue dinner on Christmas Eve - something that I did with my family growing up and that my mother did each year with her family - is one example), much of what I have tried to foster with my husband and children are rituals rather than traditions. When I first heard the word ritual used in this way I found myself thinking about religious rites and found it to be off putting in the context of daily family life.  However, I soon found it to be my word of choice when referring to the activities we undertake as a family after discovering Meg Cox's fantastic book - The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday.

In her book, Ms. Cox states "...the dictionary says that traditions are 'beliefs and customs handed down from generation to generation,' whereas a ritual is 'an action repeated' or 'an established procedure for a religious or other rite.'  I think ritual can convey something more recent and spontaneous: something we've done just twice and plan to do regularly.  And something small and daily.  Ritual is a much more inclusive word, covering the vast range of life's compelling ceremonies, from a simple grace or goodbye hug, to elaborate festivities like Christmas and weddings."

She goes on to say that "family ritual is pretty much anything families do together deliberately, as long as it's juiced up with some flourish that lifts it above humdrum routine.  Repeated words or actions, special food or music, or a heightened sense of attention can provide the juice.  I wouldn't call it a ritual if you sometimes sit on the front steps and blow bubbles with your kids, but if you do it every Friday and then have graham crackers and milk and call it your 'welcome-to-the-weekend party,' that's definitely a family ritual."

Most recently we found a special way to celebrate the end of the school year. Ever since E2B started preschool, we would let him - and now he and his sisters - pick out a restaurant that he (they) would like to eat at for dinner on the last day of school.  Once E2B reached elementary school last year and he was to be surrounded by neighbors also running off the bus in excitement, I felt moved to help create a larger and more immediate celebration.  What has evolved is an excellent example of how collaboration can make a good thing even better.  It started with the idea of having an ice cream social outside when the kids got home, as we had done on the first day of school, with each family providing a different topping.  However, upon further reflection it made sense - because the last day of school is a half day with students arriving home just before noon - to serve lunch first.  In the end our excellent community of neighbors all pitched in to cover the cost of pizza, we followed lunch with ice cream, and then the kids enjoyed playing together.  Another family set up a slew of water toys and the afternoon quickly evolved into one big water fight.  It was a good, good day.  

This year we were a little bit more deliberate with our planning and, although the overall elements remained unchanged, it was even more fabulous than the year before.  One neighbor brought out towels and blankets for the kids to sprawl out upon.  Several provided drinks.  An intrepid pair filled hundreds of water balloons.  One family set up a slip and slide and pool in their front yard. We once again had a delicious lunch from the local pizzeria.  After eating their fill of pizza the kids joyfully engaged in water balloon battles and all manner of water play.  We parents learned our lesson from last year (when we ended up picking up most of the pieces of spent water balloons ourselves as the kids scattered) and announced to the kids that ice cream would be served only after they picked up all of the balloons.  About three minutes later it was done and the kids dug right into their sundaes.  Several hours after the end of school celebration commenced a storm blew in and it was the perfect time to wind things down and allow the kids to recover from their fun with some quiet indoor time.

In addition to the larger celebration, I wanted to do a little something for E2B and Princess Wonder (finishing up their 1st grade and kindergarten years respectively) that I had first attempted several years ago.  I made a "welcome summer" banner for the kids to run through.  The last time I tried this E2B was distraught by the prospect of ripping the banner, so we only admired it from afar.  This year both of the big kids, and Miss Intrepid in their wake, were glad to run through.

Banner number one - another is hung across the doorway behind it so that E2B and Princess Wonder would both get a chance to break through.

No aspect of this celebration was very complicated, or even terribly sophisticated, but it was tremendously fun for the kids (and parents, too!). These are the sorts of experiences I want to create for my children and part of what I hope will make up fond memories for them as they grow up.  This is the power of creating family rituals.

So I ask you - what rituals does your family observe to celebrate the end of the school year?

"Anthropologists have never found a human culture without ritual, and psychologists say it's the early comfort rituals we perform with our infants that give them the sense of security essential for human growth.  Knowing there is always someone there to pick you up and kiss the boo-boos makes it possible to keep taking steps into the vast unknown."  ~Meg Cox from The Book of New Family Traditions


  1. So you told me about this ritual long before I read this post... and even in your brief retelling of the plan, I was impressed. I was also determined to COMPLETELY copy your idea when Peanut finishes kindergarten next summer.

    Except I don't think my neighbors are as awesome as yours. But we'll see, won't we!

  2. What a lovely tradition - I'm sure your kids will remember it, what a great way to start the summer!