May 7, 2013

Easter: The Psychological Dimension of Its Customs and Traditions

By Dr. Liza Varvogli

The great feast of Easter (Pascha) brings joyous associations to mind, with the solemnity of Holy Week, the candles of the faithful, the Resurrectional fireworks, the joyous bells, the Paschal lamb and the red eggs, as well as the completely green and flowery beauty of nature. Greek Easter, like most holidays, is characterized by a number of customs and traditions which lead to the the great feast.

Beyond the manners and customs of a place, which we often find diversified in different areas of Greece, every family creates its own rituals and are characterized by their own special traditions.

What are family rituals?

Family rituals are a symbolic way of communication because of the pleasure family members derive from their repetition, and they are established and systematically repeated in time.

Through their particular importance and recurring nature, the rituals have a significant role in establishing and maintaining a sense of a team bond between family members, which is called "family identity".

The family identity is one that offers a stamp of uniqueness and helps in strengthening the relations between family members, as well as maintaining their uniqueness and defines the borders with the other families within the family, with friends, or with the broader social environment.

The sense of family identity is often concentrated in a single phrase "this is how we do it at home", which people use at times when they are faced with new requirements for simple questions, from how to cook a meal to more complex issues such as how to celebrate a particular feast.

Therefore, rituals stabilize the family identity throughout the entire life of the family, clarifying anticipated roles, setting boundaries within as well as outside the family, and establish rules that all family members know as "this is how our family is".

Modern life and traditional customs and traditions

Maybe at first glance it seems like a stark contrast, on the one hand having the demands and pace of modern technologically advanced life, and on the other you have traditional customs and traditions which recall earlier times and different social structures. In reality, however, there can be a highly successful "marriage" with the differing needs of people today.

Family traditions are important for every age group and, indeed, have a different meaning and help in individual psychological functions depending on the age of the family member.

In childhood, family traditions and rituals are particularly important because they contribute to the sense of security, continuity and consistency, which is so crucial for the psychological balance of a child.

These rituals can start from something very simple, such as, for example, a parent reading a book to their child before they fall asleep, to including some ritual much more complex which may take place annually, such as those associated with a great feast, like Easter.

For teenagers, family traditions are a continuity with their childhood on the road to adulthood. The presence of family traditions helps the teenager rekindle their relationships with their family and with their relatives.

Through this psychosocial process, certain expectations for the teenager are set, such as moving from childhood to adulthood, but also creating the conditions to show what is the meaning of family life and of the obligations it entails.

The holiday season and family traditions help the teenager - even the one going through some difficulties and is going through a rebellion - to reunite with their parents and relatives, to once again feel the warmth of family and remember the joys of childhood years, along with the promises they pose, that they can be recreated in other phases of life.

For adults, the existence of rituals and traditions that are kept within the family gives an emotional dimension to the process, since the adult retains what they learned in their childhood home and they carry them into their own home and family.

On the other hand, as adults they do variations and adjustments to family traditions they inherited from the previous generation, somehow putting their own stamp on what they deliver to the next generation, that is, their children.

In this way, family life and tradition continues and the identity of family members is maintained.

For the elderly, the existence of family traditions are an opportunity to reach out to the younger generation, their grandchildren, and to impart some of their wisdom and experience they have gained over the years and in this way to contribute to strengthen family relationships and linkages.

In short, the existence of family traditions are important for the psychological continuation of a family and connecting the generations. Establishing these relationships and traditions that emphasize the importance of belonging to ones family and their obligations to it creates a source of love, personal pride, and a sense of belonging, things that make life in a troubled world more beautiful.

Dr. Liza Varvogli, Ph.D, Psychologist-Psychotherapist is a Research Fellow of the Medical School of Athens University and Harvard University in the U.S.A.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos