New and old rituals

Traditionally Speaking

I was listening to a podcast last week, and the woman being interviewed was talking about how family and relationship structures were changing, and so our rituals and traditions should also be expected to change.

On the heels of hearing the first podcast, This American Life re-aired a story on Summer Camp from 1998. First-hand accounts from the kids, all loyal participants of yearly summer camp. They recounted ritual after ritual, tradition after tradition, with extreme joy, and also some tears. But all their stories had one thing in common: a deep connection to the place and their fellow campers.

So I got to thinking about rituals and traditions and how they contribute not only to people, personally, but to placemaking, community, and kinship. Rituals and traditions offer a multitude of benefits for communities including:

  • Maintaining real-life relationships among the proliferation of technology
  • A sense of identity for individuals and groups
  • A way to articulate and prove the community’s values, and in turn attract homebuyers with similar values.
  • Continuity and meaning across generations.

So I thought I’d share a few thought starters for how a new community might go about exploring tradition and rituals to create kinship among its residents.

Let’s start with the definition of tradition. I like Wikipedia’s:

A tradition is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.[1][2]  While it is commonly assumed that traditions have ancient history, many traditions have been invented on purpose, whether that be political or cultural, over short periods of time.

And how about “ritual?” Most definitions are religious in nature, but I love this one that Marion, one of our copywriters passed on to me from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings Blog:

“While routine aims to make the chaos of everyday life more containable and controllable, ritual aims to imbue the mundane with an element of the magical. The structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalizes us.

So how might you go about creating new traditions and rituals for a new community? Here’s some areas to consider and some thought starters from Greenhaus and other communities. The thing they all have in common is they are intentional. Rituals and traditions should be rooted in purpose if they have any chance of gaining traction, providing meaning, and ultimately bringing people together.


Stories and past uses of the community’s land are a great place to start looking for ideas.

Honoring its ranch land history, our client, Rancho Mission Viejo, hosts an annual Rodeo for residents as well as the surrounding community. And in Center City Anaheim, today’s beloved food hall once served as Sunkist’s packing house, and each year residents come out to celebrate at the Citrus Festival.


In the Alys Beach community in Panama City Florida, the homes are all white and over 6000 square feet, creating 100’s of enormous blank canvases. The architectural guidelines of the community gave way to their yearly Light Graffiti Festival, where artists project their works of art onto the homes, and residents and visitors spend the weekend touring the temporary art gallery.

One of our fellow Greenhausers takes a yearly staycation in Coronado to reconnect with family. He says they realized it “was truly an escape once we crossed over the crest of that bridge and descended down.” Taking the bridge as inspiration, what community infrastructure can be created to serve as the physical transition from daily habit to intentional ritual? Covered walkways leading to yoga decks? Courtyards with fire pits? Walking paths with inspirational quotes?


Not surprisingly, many of our traditions are around a particular holiday. There’s opportunity here to not only establish rituals around existing holidays, but to create new ones, unique to the community and thereby giving it a greater sense of identity and place.

For example, the 2011 Southwest Black Out was the largest power failure in California’s history, and yet the anecdotes about the candlelit evening, kids playing in the street, and backyard campouts are told with such fond remembrance. Why not make this a yearly tradition? For a community that values sustainability and limiting its energy consumption, it would be an even more likely fit.


Rituals marking the transition between seasons have been present in cultures since the beginning of time – including summer and winter solstice, as well as rituals ushering in spring with a hope for warmer weather or plentiful crops. Likewise, harvest rituals such as wine stomps to celebrate the grape harvest have been known to bring community together.

If your community will be an agrihood, harvest rituals and traditions are natural options. But another way to approach rituals and traditions around the seasons is to consider what activities are possible with the change in weather. Like slip ‘n’ slide parties the day after school lets out for summer. Or camp outs in the community park. Or spring cleaning community garage sales. Or jacket recycling parties whereby kids hand down outgrown, yet perfectly good jackets to younger kids in the neighborhood.


People have been connecting over food for centuries, and these days, everyone considers themselves a foodie. As a result, we’re seeing farm-to-table dinner events, sales offices that double as coffee shops, even entire communities built around a restaurant. There’s tons of inspiration for rituals and traditions around food, but my favorite is this video, part of a Canadian campaign reminding people of the power of eating together.


Sometimes, more private or personal rituals are just as important for a community, because self-care can make you a better person for both your family and neighbors.

Fellow Greenhausers practice self-care through daily meditation, morning chats with kids, nightly dog walks and jotting down thoughts of gratitude on Sundays to be revisited at the beginning of the year.

What sort of space within the community might be created for these moments to naturally happen? Like parent/child swings. Or yoga decks with expansive views. Or a monument with notes of gratitude tied to it with ribbons.

We could all use a little magic amongst the mundane. I hope this inspires you to bring some to your life, your family, or to your community.


[Lindsy Haslam is an account supervisor at Greenhaus. Her daily ritual is coffee and a podcast on the drive into work, which makes the extra 12 minutes since her move, something she now looks forward to.]

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