It was confusing last night. We had a Chinese takeaway. In those days when we would be in the same house on Christmas Eve, Chinese takeaways were reserved for that evening. Last night was only the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, no sign of holly or tinsel.
There were always family rituals when the four of us went on holiday together. We would go on holiday in August each year and would go through a routine for it all to be right, it included walking Dun Laoghaire pier the night before and stopping at the Little Chef at Saint Cleer’s in South Wales as we travelled eastwards. The Saint Cleer’s stop was made more surreal by the inclusion of the Saint Cleer’s waltz – a one person amble around the car park while humming what could be remembered of the Blue Danube. It was very odd, but the authenticity of the trip somehow depended upon it.
Our departure for France took on its own traditions, an evening meal in Portsmouth in a particular pub down on the waterfront, a walk to watch the Isle of Wight ferry come in.
Even summer holidays were not quite proper summer holidays if they were not spent in France, and if there was no buying of back to school stationery in a Leclerc supermarket, and if Sud Ouest was not bought each day to learn the local news.
Why did the things become so important? Why if one element was missing did the experience not feel quite the same?
Many families have their own “rituals”, their own little traditions to emphasise particular moments or particular events.
Returning from a wedding reception, and all the traditions associated with the day, there is a sense of how important rituals are to people. It is through the way we mark special moments in our ordinary life that I have come to appreciate why people, who have gone to church all their lives, like things done in a particular way. We could have stopped at any roadside restaurant, but the Little Chef became the one associated with our holiday memories. Similarly, church services can be done in many ways, but people’s memories of worship, particularly the memories of those who rarely set food inside a church, mean they like particular ways of doing things. Maybe the reason why the church has declined is not that it hasn’t kept up with the times, but because it has so much accommodated itself to the times that neither the faithful nor the loosely connected find anything familiar, any reassurance, any transcendence.