Jackie Gingrich Cushman

ROME -- Birthdays have always been a big deal in my family. When I was growing up, the birthday girl (or man, in the case of my father) would be regaled with a rendition of "Happy Birthday" during breakfast. The special attention continued throughout the day and included letting the honoree choose the dinner menu and being the center of family conversation. Birthdays were not about presents, but about being the center of attention.

Celebrating birthdays is one of the many traditions that our family shares. We also join together on Thanksgivings, Christmas Eves and mornings, and we have celebrated New Year's with my sister and her husband for decades. While some might view traditions in general as stuffy and old fashioned, I think of them as the glue of shared experiences that hold us together. They represent the shared memories of being together at special times in our lives that we can all remember and reflect upon.

Many traditions are serious, but there are also fun ones. Our son and his aunt and uncle have a tradition before eating of taking their knives and forks in hand and banging the ends down on the table twice to signify that they are about to begin eating. My husband and I both check in on our children before they fall asleep, just to say good night, make sure they are all right and say we love them.

Texts between family members end with LU, meaning "Love You." They are only two extra letters, but on some days, it means a lot to get them from someone you love, to be reminded that you are not alone, and you too are loved.

This sense of tradition and ceremony is one of the reasons that I was drawn to the Episcopal faith. The liturgy and prayers repeated weekly provide a framework for the faith and are the scaffolding of my faith. The process of sitting, standing and kneeling at various times helps to focus my mind on God rather than on myself.

The process of ceremony itself transfers us from the mundane tasks of our everyday lives to a different holy place. This allows us to travel to a different dimension -- mentally and spiritually -- without leaving our seats.

So is true of ceremonies not only in church, but also in our everyday lives. Blessings before meals allow us to be thankful to God and to others. The simple act of making tea can become a ceremony when done slowly and deliberately. Everything, when slowed and focused upon, becomes something to savor rather than something to push aside in the usual rush to get through one's day.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.