June 22, 2009

Traditions - Celebrations - Rituals

What are your rituals related to eating, food, holidays, celebrations, everyday moments?
I know that I am a product of my upbringing as well as the environment I created in adulthood. My desire to create unique experiences that leave an impact is important to me. My father taught me a Japanese proverb, "always treat your guests as if you are never going to see them again." Always treat each person with such honor and respect and serve them the very best food and drink you have on the very best China you have. And remember, it's YOUR very best, it doesn't have to be the best that Donald Trump or Oprah can offer. It's your best. And it comes from the heart.

When I was growing up my father insisted on us eating together as a family, especially for Sunday breakfast. He never cooked, but every Christmas Eve when I got older it was the two of us who went to a small town outside of Detroit to buy our Polish traditional foods. And on Christmas Day we celebrated with my mother's Italian clan, with their traditions. However, to this day Christmas Eve is one of my most important holidays. My father made it a special day and wanted me to remember the moment and to remind me where he came from and my roots. The traditional foods that we ate are not as important to me as the ritual itself. And in that ritual I remember so many things. It's about the ritual and having a ritual, it doesn't matter what ritual.

In many countries around the world the food around holidays is so important. In China when you go to someone's home during the Chinese New Year's the simple offering of oranges and peanuts is a traditional offering. It's a very important custom. Something as simple as that is significant. When I was in Koh Samui, Thailand I had the opportunity to meet a German man who was an expert at Chinese tea ceremonies. The way he washed the tea leaves. The way he expressed his passion. The cups he used. The way each of us savored the magnificent tea from China in Thailand is a memory that stays with me years later. The way this man shared with us his wisdom and his ceremony was what mattered.
When I was in Italy for Christmas and New Year's over 20 years ago I remember the 12-course Italian feast. The grapes. The rabbit (which I did not eat!). The setting of this grand table. The wine. The significance of the large family coming together and celebrating. I was invited as a member of my extended family.

In every tradition, every family, every culture, we have rituals. Here in Hawaii one of the special gifts we have is Hawaiian chant and offering a flower lei to the hostess or guest of honor. It's a reminder of the special moment that the celebration signifies. In our every day life we have rituals. We have moments that remind us of who we are and where we are going. They may change over time, but the rituals you have as a family stay with you forever.

In my brother's family of 9 children his wife sees the extreme importance of honoring each child's birthday. As a child growing up she did not have this gift given to her and in being a mother to 9 children it is a priority for her. Each child feels special on their day in a very unique way. And I know that each child will remember that their mother did this for each child. They have 11 birthdays to celebrate a year, including the parents. There's always SOMEONE to celebrate.

Last year I went to my cousin's wedding. She is Italian/Polish and her husband is from Indian descent. It was so amazing. They merged both cultures in the celebration. They honored both traditions. She had a white wedding gown and a special Indian saree. It was so beautiful. They served Indian appetizers, American fare, an Indian dinner and an American dinner. Each tradition was honored with respect as the two cultures merged through the hearts of two in love.

Each moment when you do something, see it as a significant ritual, a tradition you are honoring or creating. Everything we do does matter. It does.

"As we see ourselves as the world, as we see the oneness of life, the whole world become available. Then the Zen cook knows that every aspect of life is an ingredient of the supreme meal."

--Instructions to the cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters by Bernard Glassman & Rick Fields

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