Counseling Today, From the President

Traditions and rituals: Our cultural identity

Marie Wakefield November 10, 2006

With the holidays approaching, we are drawn once again to a blend of traditions and rituals. We sing carols from England, decorate trees (a tradition from Germany) and solicit the goodness of Santa, or St. Nick, whose presence originated in Scandinavia and who arrives in a reindeer-drawn sleigh claimed by Switzerland. Some will light a Menorah, while others will acknowledge the symbolism of Kwanza. Then there are those who will simply be thankful for their place here in the world community or recommit themselves to working for peace and justice in our society.

These family traditions or rituals connect us to our past, maintain our cultural identity, affirm our family values and promote healing from loss and disappointment. Within the richness of our American Counseling Association membership, there are a variety of meaningful experiences to share. I asked some of my colleagues in the ACA community what traditions or rituals they practice during this time of year. Here is what they said.

Suzanne Schmidt: Several years ago, my husband and I were beset by discomfort as we approached another gift-giving season. With amazing clarity, we saw that our family and treasured friends were blessed to have all that they needed and most of what they wanted. The search to symbolize our caring not only became difficult but disquieting. Nothing material captured the depth of our feelings. We kept returning to the belief that wealth is found in a free flow of ideas, which we see as both fundamental to human health and the maintenance of a free society. So, to honor the people we love the most, we created a foundation to fund programming on our local National Public Radio affiliate. Now, as we hear the announcer broadcast that a particular segment is funded by the foundation, we smile just knowing that our gift is participation in a legacy that will nurture the minds of future generations.

Janet Wind Walker Jones: The ceremonial practice of my people and those I walk among are strikingly similar, and all connect powerfully to a collective mind-set. Those ceremonies at this time of the year are often about renewal and peace. I have traveled and participated in ceremonies with people of many tribes from North America, Africa, Asia and Europe. A central theme of peace stands out in all of them. I have visited with the elders, and it has been a wonderful experience to share their journeys as they help others begin a path to inner peace. As I connect with my Texas Cherokee people and Lakota sisters, our ceremonies and talking circles are filled with similar conversations about the sacredness that is at the center of all of us and the need to find that center place to move toward world peace. When engaged in sacred ceremony at this time of year, I find common ground across many nations and lands very meaningful for me. It is this mission of peace that has led me to my work within ACA and AMCD (the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development).

Jane Goodman: Tradition! The song from Fiddler on the Roof echoes in my mind. Traditions are essentially communal and personal. This is the time of year I often struggle with my desires to follow past customs, forge new ones and meet the diverse needs of my loved ones. My immediate blended family includes Protestants, Catholics, Jews and nonbelievers. We are coupled and single, gay and straight, and range from 1 to 75 years old. Most of us care about traditions, but since the 16 adults come from nine different growing-up traditions, we have differing ideas about how holidays should be spent. The one thing we all agree on is that it is good to be together and that food is central to celebration. Each year we have to decide whether to celebrate holidays separately ā€” Hanukkah and Christmas in particular ā€” or choose a day in the middle and celebrate jointly. We have learned that some traditions grow naturally, and some have to be created to meet the multiplicity of needs in our family. Our little microcosm of multiculturalism provides challenges to understanding and richness of experience.

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As you recognize the traditions and rituals in your family, take time to embrace the strengths you gain from them. Family uniqueness, understanding, continuity and appreciation are invaluable. May your holidays be enriched by events that connect you to your cultural identity.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you will feel free to communicate with me via e-mail at mawakefield@cox.net or by calling 800.347.6647 ext. 232.

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