My mother was a cultural anthropologist, and I majored in that field in college, so ceremonies and rituals have always been a part of my life. Add to that my Catholic upbringing and you have the makings of a girl who truly understands the value and symbolism of rituals.
I was reminded of this at a wonderful teashop in Cos Cob. Tea is the latest hot (and cold, for that matter) ingredient in both food and drinks, as well as a focus of entertaining. I have always been a fan of tea and all of the ceremony surrounding it.
All of us have rituals passed down from generation to generation, and this recent photo shoot ("The Great Infusion," on page 114 of the current issue) brought back some very special memories of my mother and father. When I was younger, my parents would often take me to tea at the Plaza. I can still remember being in my Sunday best in that beautiful setting. Multi-level carts, filled with goodies one prettier than the next, stood ready for all to see. Choosing one treat always proved impossible for my sister and me. Tea was poured from a silver teapot and strained into a china cup. I fell in love with the grandeur of that simple act. As I got older, the tradition of having tea was one I shared with my mother. While suburban Westchester couldn't rival Central Park South, after a tough day at school, I could always count on Mom to have a cup of tea and some sage advice.
When my daughter turned five I took her to Manhattan to experience the same ritual. Through her eyes I was again taken back to those early years when I, too, was dazzled by all the trappings surrounding tea. Times change; the Plaza is being turned into condos. Each time I pass it, however, I remember those very special moments sitting and enjoying every detail of this ceremony.
As the final bell of school sounds before summer vacation, many Americans begin rituals that they hold dear. Whether it is a summer at sleep-away camp (as it was for me) or a visit to Nantucket (our family tradition for the past 16 years), we all engage in rituals to help give meaning and consistency to our lives. Whether the ritual is simple or grand, it is the act, performed consistently, that defines who we are.
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