Empowering Holiday Rituals

In a year full of uncertainties and the continuing need for social distancing, the holiday season in 2020 may not feel very festive. You may feel that there is not too much to celebrate about 2020 and may choose to forego in this holiday rituals altogether! If you do that, however, you might be missing out on an opportunity!

Because of the events in your life, you may feel like you have little to no control, but by engaging in rituals, you are making the choice to empower yourself, no matter how small it may seem.

A ritual is an act or series of acts performed in a customary way. Rituals may be as elaborate as a ceremonies marking events (like a wedding to mark the start of a marriage), or as simple as having a cup of coffee in the morning to start the workday. Rituals bring us a sense of comfort with their predictability through repetition. Rituals are also performed with intention, which can serve to bring about a desired outcome that we want to achieve. Rituals can also provide us with a sense of closure. Psychological theories examining the purpose of rituals have postulated that they serve three main purposes 1) Regulate emotions, 2) Prepare us for some type of action, and 3) Social connectivity (Hobson et al., 2018).

Holiday rituals typically consist of family gatherings, specific meals, decorating homes, and (for many), engaging in religious rites. While it is true that the holidays in 2020 may not be celebrated exactly in the same way you have celebrated in years past, engaging in the holiday rituals that are within your control may still bring a sense of comfort. This year, your holiday rituals may be done with the purpose of closing out this year and welcoming the new year with a positive outlook. Perhaps you can create a new ritual for yourself to leave negativity in the past and enter into the future feeling lighter and stronger.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Make your favorite holiday meal. If you have leftovers, gift them to your neighbors.
  • Put up the holiday decorations and listen to holiday music while you do it.
  • Call your loved ones and friends that you have been meaning to reconnect with.
  • Try a new holiday tradition that you have not done before. For ideas, search the internet for New Year’s Eve traditions from around the world and see what you find!
  • Clean your house and throw away things that you know you need to let go of.
  • Write down the negative events that you want to leave in the past and then burn that sheet of paper (in a safe place, of course!).
  • Think about what change you want to make for 2021 and visualize that goal. Make an effort to engage in that visualization each day.

It is your choice. Are you going to give up on the holidays this year, or are you going to take it back and use it to power you into a better place for 2021?


Written by Delia Silva, PsyD. Dr. Silva is a neuropsychologist at Pacific Neurobehavioral Clinic, PC.


Hobson, N. M., Schroeder, J., Risen, J. L., Xygalatas, D., & Inzlicht, M. (2018). The psychology of rituals: An integrative review and process-based framework. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 22(3), 260-284.