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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


ROOS, Vera  and  VAN RENSBURG, Esmé. A review article on types of family rituals and their symbolic meanings for young adults. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2008, vol.48, n.4, pp.477-492. ISSN 2224-7912.

The far-reaching impact of events such as HIV/AIDS and divorce on family structures, together with the prevalence of violence in South Africa, necessitate a new look at the significance of family rituals. Family rituals can be seen as uniquely meaningful family interactions that transmit the family's enduring beliefs, values, attitudes and goals, and provide the family with a sense of stability and a means of socialisation. Family rituals play a role in the establishment of accessible family relationships. They facilitate the development of the identities and emotional security of family members. Rituals are repetitive, are highly valued and have symbolic meanings. They add meaning to family life and can support a family's stability during turbulent times and transition. Healthy rituals in family life may buffer families from the negative effects of environmental stress and serve as a protective factor. Young adults between 19 and 22 years were invited to participate in the research and to describe the types of rituals occurring in their core families, together with their symbolic meanings. Written data were collected and a qualitative data analysis method was applied. The findings indicated that religious activities, family meals, anniversaries, television and family outings were identified as typical rituals. The high incidence of rituals pertaining to religious activities was surprising. It may be due to the fact that the participants were students studying at a traditional, value-driven university. Family meals played an important role in family integration. The physical space in which the meal takes place fostered emotional intimacy between family members. The young adults in this group described annual celebrations and anniversaries as one of the rituals present in their families; with birthdays and Christmas being events that were especially celebrated. Watching television was also seen as an important family ritual. Family outings such as shopping, picnics or going on an outing were also considered significant family rituals. Family outings can have the important function of bonding. The variety of rituals that were identified suggests that the extent of interpersonal contact exists on a continuum. Some rituals, such as watching television together, required little personal interaction, while visits and sharing meals were based on intimate interpersonal interactions. It was clear, however, that the type of ritual performed gained its significance from the symbolic value attached to that ritual. This research found that family members' bonds were strengthened and maintained through family rituals and that a unique identity was developed with which family members could identify. Within their safe family boundaries, family members were given opportunities to develop interpersonal skills. These skills were evident in mutually respectful relationships that benefited the family as a socialisation unit, and were also transferred to the broader context of society. The repetitive nature of rituals contributed to the establishment of a safe and predictable environment, which protected the boundaries of the family and its members so that the various family functions could take place. Forming an identity and developing interpersonal skills such as empathy, respect and an awareness of other people were critical for functioning in any human context. From this research it became clear that family rituals linked different generations to each other, strengthened relationships, emphasised the uniqueness of families and supplied a mutually supportive structure. They also created a predictable environment that gave family members a sense of belonging, and that nurtured self-confidence. Where family rituals were lacking, descriptions were typified by antagonistic and mechanistic interpersonal contact, and little emotional content could be discerned. The lack of emotional content was particularly apparent in family structures characterised by changes such as divorce. The findings of this research have far-reaching implications for upcoming new family structures such as child-headed households and single-parent families.

Keywords : Family rituals; constructive family relations; relationship well-being; personal attachment of meaning.

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