The Value Of Ritual

Air Date:
Heard On The Morning Show
Stockings hung near a tree
Allison Richards (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The holiday season can be a special time, filled with activities with loved ones, special meals and traditions passed down from generation to generation. These holiday rituals mark important moments in our lives, according to our guest. Join us as we talk with an experimental anthropologist about the power of rituals and find out how these experiences can benefit our lives.

Featured in this Show

  • Anthropologist Highlights The Importance Of Rituals

    The holiday season is filled with good food, gift giving and unique rituals passed down through generations. But where do these customs come from, and how do they impact our lives outside of the holidays?

    “We often don’t realize how full of rituals our lives are,” anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas said. “We tend to think this is something early societies might have done more. But actually, today we have just as many rituals as ever.”

    Whether that means shaking someone’s hand or raising your glass to make a toast, that action has been carried on from one generation to the next, said the author of “An Anthropologist Explains Why We Love Holiday Rituals and Traditions,” an article published in The Conversation.

    Often, there’s no written purpose for a ritual, but its significance on our lives is far-reaching.

    “One of the most important functions of rituals is that they bring people together and create bonds,” he said. Studies have shown that rituals and traditions promote a sense of well-being and belonging and reduce loneliness.

    The holidays are bursting with rituals that engage the senses as well, from the smell of food to the taste of wine to the bright lights on a Christmas tree.

    “This sensory extravagance helps form lasting memories of these rituals and marks them in our brains as really special events that are worth remembering and cherishing,” Xygalatas said.

    Gift-giving is also a powerful ritual.

    “Anthropologists know gift-giving plays a crucial role in building social ties and maintaining those ties by creating networks of reciprocal exchange,” he said.

    But the holidays are not the only time to see the benefits rituals have.

    They are particularly important for children. Research shows that children who take part in family rituals are more connected to their peers and their families, and provide more positive interactions when they have their own children, according to Xygalatas.

    The ritual can be as simple as sitting down for a family meal every day, he said. “It gives a sense of continuity, regularity and structure, but it also gives the sense of the family being one unit.”

    Social anxiety can also be reduced through rituals because of their inherent predictability.

    “We tend to get stressed by uncertainty, and we live in a world that is very complex and very hard to have control of,” Xygalatas said. “It’s unpredictable by its very nature.”

    Rituals give us a sense of control and offer a map through events and situations, he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s an illusion or not, it helps reduce anxiety.”

Episode Credits

  • Kate Archer Kent Host
  • Breann Schossow Producer
  • David Potratz Technical Director
  • Dimitris Xygalatas Guest

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