It’s Christmas, and just as our Jewish community had to make enormous changes in our observance of the High Holidays, my Christian colleagues are trying desperately to adjust and help their congregants experience the joy and light of Christmas in an entirely different manner.

For many Jews, Christmas means frequenting Chinese restaurants and going to the movies, as these are some of the only venues that are open. This year, the movies are on streaming services and TV, but thankfully take-out Chinese is still available.

All of this got me thinking about rituals, and how they change with time and circumstance. The coronavirus created sudden and extreme issues for all who yearn to gather for religious and secular rituals (which is pretty much all of us).

We had to adjust, and quickly. Synagogues, churches, and mosques scrambled for new ways to bring people together. We knew instinctively that ceasing to meet was not an option. Humans are social animals, and we have created social rituals to experience the Divine.

We know that our experience of God is personal and individual, and yet we yearn to gather to share those experiences, to pray together, to bless God and each other, to bring into our lives the light and lightness that religious ritual provides.

I know that many people scoff at religious rituals. They proudly declare that these are “empty rituals” and that they’re above that kind of thing. But here’s the thing about ritual – every ritual can be empty and every ritual can be full. It depends on you, and whether you choose to participate or not. To put it in more spiritual terms, whether or not you choose to open your heart.

I love rituals, which is a good thing since I lead a religious community. I love the way I feel when I’m with others, sharing something meaningful, something that has the ability to uplift us, to make our burdens lighter, to remind us that we are part of a community that is greater than any one person.

I love other peoples’ rituals too. I watch my Christian friends lovingly decorate their trees, string lights outside their homes, make plans for Christmas dinner and midnight Mass and church services. I love knowing that these rituals draw them closer to family and friends and community.

Even those rituals that are practiced alone bring us into relation with others. This morning, when I  ritualistically blessed and thanked God for the food I was about to eat, I knew that I was not alone in expressing my gratitude. Even when praying by myself, I am part of something that is greater than myself. And that is both a joyous and comforting feeling.