Monday, November 7, 2016

Giving Thanks through Rituals and Customs


By Elaine Voci  



Americans love rituals and the month of November brings two very famous ones!  Thanksgiving Day is celebrated annually on the last Thursday of the month to honor the Pilgrims’ first feast of thanksgiving held with their Native American neighbors, while November 2 is an annual holiday known as the Day of the Dead.

While the two holidays differ from one another, they share common elements; for example, both are cultural occasions with long-honored traditions, laden with meaning and memories.  Both intentionally remember those who have died by celebrating their lives and telling stories of how they contributed to family values, traditions and shared family lore. Both provide an opportunity to feel connected to something bigger that extends beyond the ritual, and both integrate a deep sense of gratitude for life’s blessings.

Traditional Day of the Dead rituals include creating altars to honor the dead, laying out food offerings, sharing anecdotes and stories (many are humorous that poke fun of the deceased) as well as cleaning and decorating gravesites. Because the Day of the Dead is a very festive and creative holiday, current customs can also include festivals, parades, and craft-making.  The key purpose of these activities is to make contact with the spirits of the dead, to let them know they are not forgotten and are remembered lovingly by their family on earth. 

Sharing a Thanksgiving meal is a tradition that makes us feel a part of the generations that preceded us. Often, this larger family is represented by stories told about the food or about admired family members. Kids who know their family's stories grow up to be more resilient and better able to withstand the challenges of daily life, while adult storytellers who provide the stories feel like especially valued members of the “tribe.” Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for expressing gratitude about health, family and personal circumstances, and research tells us that when we engage in talking about our gratitude, it brings us a deeper sense of well-being.

The Celebrant Troubadour     
These November celebrations have all the important ingredients of rituals – a prescribed time and place; predictable elements that are repeated year after year (signature foods) and some that are new (new guests, new location, new stories); meaning conveyed through symbols (special flowers or songs); and an intergenerational fellowship that we remember from our childhood and gradually assume more responsibility for as adults.  We do our part, over our lifetimes, to pass this shared heritage along to the younger generation.

Whichever ritual you may choose to observe in your November plans, I hope you enjoy the day, and that you feel like Willard Scott did when he wrote, “Thanksgiving just gets me all warm and tingly and all kinds of wonderful inside.”







Elaine Voci is a life coach, specializing in end of life services, in private practice in Carmel, IN and a graduate of the Celebrant Foundation & Institute class of 2014.   Elaine is the Editor of the Celebrant Blog for the Celebrant Foundation & Institute.


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The Celebrant Foundation & Institute (CF&I) is the nation’s preeminent online educational institute that teaches and certifies people as modern day ritual and ceremony professionals called Life-Cycle Celebrants®. Founded in 2001, the educational nonprofit organization headquartered in Montclair, NJ, is a member of the International Federation of Celebrants.  To date, the CF&I has graduated nearly 900 Life-Cycle Celebrants® who preside over 20,000 ceremonies each year throughout North America, Asia and Europe. To learn more about the CF&I, visit 






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