Definition: A family ritual is a set of behaviors that is repeated and that is symbolically meaningful. Family rituals provide families with a sense of identity and belonging. They often stir up strong emotions, and are frequently reminisced about and discussed within the family. Family rituals also provide a sense of continuity across generations. In other words, they are a way of transmitting family values, history and culture from one generation to the next. Another term for family rituals is family traditions.
Perhaps the best example of family rituals are holiday traditions, such as those surrounding Christmas or Hannukah. Families often also have non-holiday rituals that are unique to their family, such as apple picking every fall or renting a vacation cabin every summer.
Family rituals can be contrasted with family routines, which also occur repeatedly but lack the symbolic meaning that family rituals hold. Family rituals are highly important to the welfare of all family members and to the family structure itself.
Fiese, Barbara H., Tomcho, Thomas J., Douglas, Michael, Josephs, Kimberly, Poltrock, Scott, and Baker, Tim. A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration? Journal of Family Psychology. 2002. 16,4: 381-390.