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The Heart Of A Family

How do build healthy traditions in a transitory world? Meg Cox´s book will help you do just that.

When my boys were small, we had a tradition. It was called the "Special Day." On that day I would take one of them out for an entire day to do exactly what he most enjoyed, and then go to a special dinner for just us two. This became a home-made tradition. That is a type of ritual that Meg Cox writes about in her eclectic book, The Heart of a Family: Searching America for New Traditions That Fulfill Us. The subtitle reveals that perhaps current traditions don't fulfill. While discussing this lack of fulfillment in one chapter, she argues well for a need to have traditions nonetheless. She examines established traditions from Hanukkah, to Christmas, to birthdays, to Bar Mitzvahs, and discusses their significance today.

Cox seeks to explore other, more meaningful traditions which help modern families adjust to non-traditional, hectic workdays, and disjoint lives. She addresses how one would have traditions which compensate for mom not necessarily being home during the day, or maybe the fact that there is no dad. She interviews some hundreds of families to see how they have created 'traditions' that serve their needs, the needs of the modern, not-necessarily nuclear families.

We learn of delightful traditions for family nights, such as many Mormon and Catholic families celebrate. We learn too of ways to make the adopted child feels at home with an "Adoption Day" party. While never denigrating other traditions, Cox maintains that creating ritual is a good thing which can be done from "scratch." She wanders afield describing the symbolic significance of earth, air, fire and water...which of course hearken back to the ancient Greek understanding of the major elements of the Universe.

More's the pity that a book which argues the virtues of traditions is needed today. Cox has done a fine job in elaborating the various functions of ritual, while occasionally missing the long religious tenets behind some. Indeed, hers is a testimony to the fractured nature of our society, and a plea for its renewed coherence through ritual.

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