At this end of the year, things often start to feel reflective. For many, it’s a time linked to annual pilgrimages to visit friends and family, or of preparing meals and spending hours around a table. We asked nine creatives—authors, artists, thinkers, chefs, filmmakers—to share some of their own rituals. From established traditions to recent rites; from simple daily ministrations to markers of monumental events: intimate ceremonies of love, memory, and attention.
Artwork by Amit Berman
“This morning, my mother reminded me that since I was a little kid, no matter where I was in Greece and if there was a church, I would go into it and light candles. Considering that my mom and dad were both not very religious, it must have been something I did from watching my Yiayia and continued it on my own as I grew up. I still continue to do this today. If I ever find myself at a church in Greece or elsewhere where I can light candles, I take a moment to say a prayer or blessing of my own making, and place it in the sand. I realize that a part of this ritual is still feeling connected to her somehow.”
— Mina Stone, chef and cookbook author
“My husband is Lebanese and in recent years our family has fallen into the habit of visiting his parents’ house on a Sunday afternoon for a feast of fried fish, rice with almonds, tahini, cauliflower, and deep-fried flat bread. When I was growing up in Hong Kong, I used to visit my grandmother’s house every Sunday evening for a traditional Chinese meal and I love that I am continuing this ritual with my own children. The afternoon usually ends with full stomachs and the kids pretending to fly a magic carpet with Jiddo (grandfather) and the adults enjoying a strong Lebanese coffee brewed with love by Teta (grandmother). Bliss.”
— Melanie Cheng, novelist and physician
“The rituals that I most identify with now are the ones that revolve around my writing practice. I have written elsewhere about how Edith Sitwell used to lie in a coffin before the start of the day's work, and that Maya Angelou needed to move to a hotel room, or how Saul Bellow did thirty push-ups. My rituals are very simple ones. In the morning, after my kids have left for school, I go up to my study with a cup of coffee and write 150 words. That is a part of the mantra I preach to my students: write every day and walk every day. Regarding the walk: you are to engage in mindful walking for ten minutes. What is mindfulness, you ask? Well, I read somewhere that the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said that "you should walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet." One more thing. After I have fulfilled the day's goal, I always make a check mark in my notebook. I will note down the date and then make the mark. A good day. I like a line of good days, a row of neat check marks.”
— Amitava Kumar, author and journalist
“Each Mother’s day, since becoming a mother, I take myself to a sea pool to soak up the sun and swim. After my son’s Wednesday swimming lesson we fetch sushi and eat it at the nearby 'rocket playground’ whilst we chat about the resident ibises. Every morning, squished up closest to the window side of the lounge, we share a bowl of porridge with cream and brown sugar. And every evening, we share a bath.”
— Sally Lee Anderson, artist
“I love the idea of rituals, and I keep some. Anxious ones: check the gas knobs before I leave the house. Knock on wood (one two three four one two three four one two three four five times, with fingertips). Reverent ones: visits to the dusty Nyngan graveyard, far from the ocean but close to the river, where plastic flowers barely outlast fresh ones under the beating heat of desert sunlight. I’m always moved to see our names on Grandma’s grave. Her grown grandchildren. Still unnamed are the great-grandchildren, one of them my small son. Grandma’s already an ancestor. I think ancestors are worthy of ritual. For them, I could look to the moon—kiyan, in my ancestors’ language. I don’t speak it, but I’m collecting words.”
— Hannah Debus, writer and artist
“The transformation of the world is illusory.
The world is to be deciphered.
Humanity has never been different from what it is.
The future is an expectation unfulfilled.
There is no historical difference.
Redemption can only be found in repetition.”
— Salomé Lamas, filmmaker
“My seasonal traditions almost exclusively revolve around movies, whether it be ritualistic Rocky Horror viewings at the Rivoli Ballroom every Halloween or an itemized schedule of The Family Stone, The Apartment, and Meet Me in St Louis with my girlfriend at Christmas. I have yet to allow The Wizard of Oz into our annual rotation, largely because I find it rather creepy, which my girlfriend considers a personal slight.”
— Julia Armfield, author
“I was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia when I was young, so I don’t remember much of my time there. Despite spending most of my life in Australia, I still feel a tangible connection and yearning for New Zealand that I do not feel anywhere else—in many ways, Aotearoa is my spiritual home. Growing up, my mother would sometimes remind me that after my birth, she took our placenta home and buried it under a tree in the backyard of our family home. This is a tradition that is practiced by both Pākehā (white) and Māori women alike. In Māori language, the words for ‘placenta’ and ‘earth’ are the same: whenua. By returning the placenta to the earth, a new mother creates a lifelong connection between her child and their homeland. The cycle between mother, child and earth is complete.”
— Alice Duncan, photographer
“As a new mother working from home, I feel paralysed with guilt when I sit down to write. To move through the feeling and into some kind of creative space, I have built a ritual around beginning. Rather than sitting down with the expectation of instant productivity, I allow myself time to activate my senses. I strike a match and light a candle (preferably a scent that makes me feel like I’m in a secondhand bookstore), sip my coffee, listen to the playlist I’ve created for the project I intend to work on, and allow my cat to find a comfortable position on my lap. If I disconnect from the work at any point, I repeat the ritual, following my senses back into the world of the script.”