Modern Rituals. 22 Dec 2011

In the December 2011 Thinking Tank we considered rituals and their role in modern society. Some of the discussion focused on Christmas preparations but we also considered marriage, funerals and other rituals. There was some dissent over what was a ritual and what was just a habit, but in general a triumph of personal meaning over social conformity. Just over 100 ideas were proposed and considered by the group. Here is a summary of what was shared

Espresso Summary: Top 5 (the most supported comments)

  • You don’t need “official” rituals to have rituals of your own – different and at different periods of the year
  • Rituals are fine as long as they can be somewhat “tempered” otherwise they could be quite boring
  • Christmas feels like a big task. Not just the work involved (wrapping presents, preparing food etc) but also the ritualistic ways people behave at this time of year
  • Christmas is too commercial
  • Rituals don’t work when they too superficial – no time and no space to really pay attention to people

Latte Summary: when you have a bit more time


General view is that they can – and should – be personalised to increase their meaning

  • You don’t need “official” rituals to have rituals of your own – different and at different periods of the year
  • Rituals are fine as long as they can be somewhat “tempered” otherwise they could be quite boring
  • Some of the old rituals appears as not mine, others are new and very welcome

There were less supported comments about the specifics of Christmas preparations – carols and family and gifts and food.


Benefits of rituals were contemplative: a time for reflection, pause for thought.  rather than anything to do with pomp and circumstance.

  • The positive side is that it creates space for family time, that it creates moments in the family history
  • Is almost a way to learn myself better, getting a deeper insight into myself
  • My marriage: although I don’t believe in God, I enjoyed the ritual.
  • a time to share

Opinion was divided on more mundane rituals – these comments became Synthetrons but also attracted negative scoring.

  • arriving home. Not just shuffling in and getting straight into the jobs but taking a moment to arrive, greet each other, be present
  • Having a cold shower after a family struggle – you are immediately nourished by fresh energy
  • The checkin and checkout of meetings: To get a sense of the feelings that are in the room, to see the development of the meeting, to get a closer feeling to what happens


There are potential downsides to rituals that the group were aware of, mostly around coercion and falseness:

  • when a ritual is felt more as a constraint rather than an event to look forward to
  • When the ritual itself becomes more important than its original intention
  • When everyone pretends

The group agreed on some strategies to avoid these risks

  • rituals must be considered as occasions – not obligations
  • Distinguish between personal rituals and traditional rituals. Maybe knowing our own reason for participating makes a difference too. It’s not the ritual that has meaning in itself, it is we who choose to bring it meaning (or just go through the emotions)


Ah. Let’s hope that we can all remember these wise words in our hearts during the Christmas and other seasonal festivities

  • a ritual that encourages me to think of the rhythm of life, the tides, the seasons, the births and deaths. Get a sense of perspective and stop obsessing about my own trivia
  • a ritual that encourages us to look within hearts and also at our global connectedness
  • A trueness-ritual … perhaps … like this: If I was born in Ohio, now i would be this, if i was born in Kabul, now i would be this, if I was born in ….
  • A ritual that includes time for deep reflection in a safe environment
  • pause to think about the meaning of what we do
  • It’s not about the stuff – or the stuffing! It’s about the meaning. I can choose for it to be meaningful or I can choose for it to be a chore. Right now I am hoping to have the presence of mind to choose meaningful.
  • Relax, be authentic, thoughtful of others

Full Summary

Click on this pdf file to see all the comments 1112 Rituals full report

Christmas Thinking Tank Results 07.12.2008

Kids want happy families not presents, yet adults feel the pressure to spend!???

In December for the first time we ran two Thinking Tanks. One for under 16s and then one for adults. Children talked a lot about families, the sparkle of decorations and the feeling of excitement. Adults talked about the over-commercialisation of Christmas but recognised it only works because we buy into it. We concluded with some great ideas to buck the trend.

It’s not the way we want it

The general conclusion was this Christmas had lost some of it’s spark for adults. For some that was the declining religious significance while the majority rued the seemingly irresistible commercialisation of the event  – almost 60% of adults felt Christmas had less value today than when they were young.

  • Pity it as been turned for many people into a purchasing circus over the last 15 years
  • [I feel a] bit of guilt, as we are not celebrating it as it should be celebrated

What we like

The positive aspects of Christmas for the adult group were mostly around feasting—good food and wine, shared with family and friends. There was nostalgia for a simpler era when presents were homemade and there wasn’t the same pressure to spend.

  • human beings need rituals, especially those to do with change

In the young people’s group, the emphasis was also on family, though food was hardly mentioned! 60% of them felt that Christmas was most enjoyable for families (surprisingly, 20% thought turkeys!)

When the young people got to make a wish for Christmas, they went for peace, snow, health and love. Much lower scores for i-pods and quad bikes.

Offered a wish for the world, less environmental destruction, poverty and racism were unanimously supported.

  • racism to stop
  • don’t waste the world
  • people to recycle

When we forced the issue by challenging participants to limit to a £50 budget most adults chose to spend it on food. And many thought they might even enjoy it more

  • More. Because the reason to come together is not the gifts, the food, …. it is only the friendship
  • More value. Will have to be creative and invest personal time to find the right present and please the recipient

Hope for the future

In good Dickens tradition, at the end of our discussion we considered future Christmases and whether we might find ways to increase their value. 50% felt this would be possible.

Some of the more popular suggestions were:

  • I’m a great fan of the “random acts of kindness” school – if we ALL do it, it encourages others!!
  • ensure that we see giving of their time and presence as valuable as presents
  • maybe if we include a personal promise (eg to read a bedtime story, get home from work in time) in each Christmas card we send, word will get around

When the young people came up with their suggestions for improving Christmas they recognised adults need some help with enjoying themselves:

  • but adults are part of the family (!)
  • help each other more on Christmas day – my mum always says it’s exhausting
  • I think a lot of the magic that is “created” at xmas is FOR children – and maybe adults should enjoy that more, seeing children happy and excited
  • I think if it could be made a bit simpler and be more about being with people and showing the nice side of life, rather than consumerism all the time, it would be loads better.

The final word comes from the children’s debate on how to improve Christmas for everyone:

    be nice and share

Join the debate

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