Tradition, Symbolism and Ceremony… and the New Year

By Natalie Rivera

During the transition from one year to the next, cultures across the globe observe holidays that celebrate this transition, as well as a variety of other historical or religious dates.

These traditions are carried forward year after year as a way of commemorating the past and connecting the community. No matter what religious or cultural background you come from, your traditions bond you to your tribe.

There are also universal ceremonies practiced around the world, such as weddings, funerals, and the welcoming of babies, however in each culture a different tradition exists for the celebration.

These ceremonies provide us a framework for integrating the new and embracing the significant changes all humans experience.

The Power of Symbolism

So, why are humans so inclined to uphold traditions and practice ceremony?

The answer is that symbolism is hard-wired into our brains.

The brain’s main function is to organize and categorize information to help us understand the world. This is why humans communicate in symbols. Symbols are a simple way of expressing a greater meaning. For instance, letters, words and numbers are all symbols. Every culture also has its own sets of symbols that represent different experiences and perceptions that are learned and shared. Rituals are a series of symbolic actions that trigger thoughts and emotions within participants.

Symbolism is incredibly powerful to the brain because it cuts through the complexity of language (which itself is a series of symbols) and expresses the core meaning in a way that speaks directly to the unconscious mind. This is why throughout human history people have been using symbolic ceremonies and traditions to establish common beliefs, values and customs.

We might all use different symbols and practice different traditions, but we all do it for the same reason:

Symbols give us a sense of identity and purpose.

New Year, New Beginnings

As I mentioned, the transition into the new year has become a universally celebrated occasion. Even though there is no real change from the last day of one calendar year to the first day of another, humans like to assign meaning to this day.

There is something magical and liberating about the idea of a new beginning. The new year symbolizes an opportunity for redemption, a fresh start, a higher aim. It is customary in most countries around the world take time to reflect when approaching year’s end and then set life goals for the year to come.

However, one of the most powerful symbolic activities that one could do during the new year is a releasing ceremony. Only when you let go of past mistakes, heart aches, or limitations can you really be free to take the first steps in the direction of your new year goals, your new life.

And, so in honor of this time of tradition and symbolic transition, I would like to share a powerful releasing ceremony that I encourage you to use this new year.

You can complete this exercise alone, visualizing yourself going through the process. You can combine the activity with a burning ceremony, in which you write down what you’re releasing or what your new goals are or both. Alternatively, you can get together a group of people and complete the ritual together, each taking turns at the center of a circle.

Regardless of what you celebrate this time of year or how you welcome in the new year, take advantage of the power of the collective symbolism and allow this new year to be a catalyst for your life.

Change isn’t hard and it doesn’t take a long time. Change happens in a moment. ONE MOMENT.

And that moment takes place when our brains make the switch from the old to the new—when a decision is born—which is almost always triggered by a symbolic action.

A Tribal Releasing Ceremony

I heard once of a tribal ceremony that illustrates the importance of letting go of the problems we become attached to and the limitations we use as our excuse for not moving forward.

These stories we tell ourselves about why we’re not enough, why things don’t go our way, or why we can’t do what we really want are just stories. By releasing them, symbolically, we free ourselves from them.

In this tribe, when a community member has a problem, a grievance, or a complaint—in other words a story of his or her limitation—the entire tribe comes together to support this person.

The tribe gathers in a circle and the person with the sob story stands in the center. He or she is asked to tell their story 3 times.

The first time the person tells the story the tribe responds with words and gestures of affirmation and support. Even hugs! They acknowledge the story and show empathy for how the person feels.

The second time the story is told, the tribe again offers support.

However, the third time the story is told, the entire tribe remains silent and turns their backs away from the individual at the center.

This turning away signifies their acknowledgement that the story has already been told, and now it is time to move on. The individual in the center of the ring is forbidden to speak of it again.

Some people may believe this practice to be extreme, but the truth is that we remain tethered to our pain, problems, and perceived limitations as long as we continue to tell the story of them.

So, my challenge to you is to release your limitations. Let go of your problems and your pain. Don’t just make empty promises to yourself that this will be the year you will change. Create a ceremony for yourself that symbolizes the end of the old. No turning back, you are going to let it go FOR GOOD.

Tell your story of limitation two more times, and that’s it. DONE.

And this time it won’t just be the beginning of a new year, it will be the beginning of a new chapter in your life.

Your story can always be changed. But, often it takes a powerful symbol for your brain to know you mean it.

Natalie Rivera is a firestarter, speaker and entrepreneur. She is passionate about empowering others to GET REAL and live authentically. Aft er a decade of living a life that wasn’t hers and developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Natalie let go of everything and completely transformed. Through her journey to healing she rediscovered her true self and greater purpose—to inspire others to transform their lives. Natalie “retired” from the rat race at 24, put herself through school as a freelance designer, created a non-profit teen center, and later created Transformation Services, Inc., which offers motivational speaking, curriculum development, life coaching, event management, and publishing. She is also the Publisher of Transformation Magazine. Visit

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