Building Family Culture Rituals, and Traditions, and Rites of Passage


Culture whether in an organization or family is made up of automatic, repetitive habits, and emotional responses. One of the most common ways an organization does that is through rituals.

And just like in an organization, culture is not created by a one-off team-building exercise and a good orientation day, but in the rituals, and traditions, and rites of passage that are practiced by its people.

These are special things that you do together, and they have special meaning for you.

What are rituals?

A ritual is a sequence of activities that involve gestures, and words performed in a set sequence. Do it regularly. Monthly is great; weekly is even better. By definition, a ritual is done often

The difference between a routine and a ritual is not necessarily the action, but the attitude behind it. For example, a routine is getting up every morning, eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed, and going to work. These things are important, but they are also things that NEED to get done so we do it.

However, rituals are seen as more meaningful practices. Often, there is symbolism involved, and they have a sense of purpose. For example, the special morning kisses or crazy handshakes you give your kids before they leave for school or the words of blessing you speak over your little ones when you tuck them into bed at night.

What is a tradition?

When a ritual has been handed down from your grandparents or other relatives, they become traditions. Regardless of whether they are passed down or you start them on their own, they say, ‘This is who we are and what we value.” We see this in the Jewish tradition of lighting candles on Friday evening before sunset to usher in the Sabbath. We often see this in the way we celebrate holidays.

What is a rite of passage?

A rite of passage can be a tradition, or they can stand alone. It’s a ceremony or event marking a new stage in someone's life, especially birth, puberty, marriage, and death. Typical examples are First Communion which is a ceremony in some Christian traditions during which a person first receives the Eucharist. Or a Bar Mitzvah which is a ceremony for a Jewish boy who has reached the age of 13 and is now able to observe religious precepts and eligible to take part in public worship. It doesn't have to be religious. It could be a celebration on midnight of a 21st Birthday.

Rituals, and traditions, and rites of passage are important because:

  • They give us a sense of shared identity and belonging when they impart family values and beliefs as well as teach cultural and religious heritage.

  • They help us navigate change by providing comfort and security. Through a family move or change or times of tradition, they give us something we can count on.

  • They organize our world and give us a sense of structure.

  • They teach us practical skills.

  • They also give people something to look forward to and something to reminisce about, which has been linked to boosting happiness levels.

Rituals are potent drivers of culture in organizations as well as families. While some of them may be created naturally, they can be thoughtfully designed and nurtured to reinforce your family’s values.

Here are some things to consider as you create your own rituals, and traditions, and rites of passage.

  • Start with your WHY. Designing a ritual that will sustain over time requires that it lines up with your values and beliefs. That’s why this first one is so important…What is it you are trying to achieve? What family values are you trying to satisfy or reinforce in your family?

  • Who is this for? Is this for individual family members or the family as a whole?

  • What does it look like? Generate a list of 3-4 things and figure out which one works best considering your schedule, age of your children, or budget in this season.

  • How often and how long?

  • Who is responsible for it?

Also, consider, is there something you are already doing that works? Can systemize so that it becomes a regular thing? You may be surprised at what you come up with!

Rituals, and traditions, and rites of passage do not need to be costly or time-consuming. The most important aspect is that they are consistent. Be sure to revisit them from time to time as seasons change, so you aren’t just doing them, “...because we have always done it that way.”

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Would you like some help designing rituals, and traditions, and rites of passage for your family?

Download this worksheet that will walk you through your family’s discussion.

Prefer the ease of listening to reading? No problem!

Just click to play to hear this episode of The Family Culture Project. Carl and I share a few of our family’s rituals, and traditions, and rites of passage on the podcast.

Be sure to subscribe to the show in iTunes or your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode.