A group of people with their heads bowed standing in a circle on a stage

It’s that time of year again. Yesterday we put up our Christmas Tree. I love doing this! I love the shift in gear towards the festive season and how it makes me feel. This is the 41st time I’ve seen a Christmas, and every year a tree is in the house.  A. Tree. In. The. House.

We unpacked the baubles that were carefully packed and stashed away last year and adorned the branches of the tree. Some of these decorations have been around longer than I have – delicate gold and red tear dropped glass held by grandparents I never met, some are more modern jazzy numbers that I got in Debenhams a few years ago. There’s a wooden Santa head from my Aunty when I was small, a metal drummer boy and a woollen winter girl in a little red hat who has a loose shoe that desperately needs supergluing back on.  With a glass of red wine on the side and a Spotify playlist of 100 Greatest Xmas Songs Ever playing, the tree goes from nude to an eclectically dressed majesty.  And it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

A woman peering out from behind her decorated Christmas Tree

In this familiar process, I come outside myself briefly and see what we are doing with fresh eyes. What a weird thing to do! What a bizarre tradition it is to take a living plant, hack it down, bring it into your house and hang lots of shiny things off it. And then stare at it like a dumbstruck, joyful Oliver Twist for about 25 days. Then take all the shiny things off, put them in a cupboard for another year and send the tree to be recycled and turned into something new, perhaps a piece of paper or a cardboard box. What a strange tradition!

And it got me thinking about other traditions that we do over and over again, that would seem odd to those that don’t follow them. Rituals have become such a part of the fabric of who we are and how we do things that we don’t even think about them anymore.

The Maydays have some show traditions. When we invite guest players to join us and we explain them, it also gives us a chance to see them with fresh eyes.

Our pre-show ritual is 3 steps:

1 –  We stand in a circle, stare at the floor in the middle and count 1-20 (or as best we can) speaking in no prescribed order. If two people speak at the same time we have to start again.

2  – We build up a ball of hot energy between us in an ‘Eeesah!’.  A what?!  You know, an ‘Eeesah’! Putting our hands into the middle we chant ‘Eeesah! Eeesah!’ whilst grabbing the energy from the middle of the circle and pulling it in towards our bodies. We get faster and louder, ‘Eeesah! Eeesah! Eeesah!’ The whole energetic experience crescendoing into a group climax before softly ebbing away again. We then stick our hands into the circle and, imagining it has a quality of gel or goop, scoop up handfuls and smear it over our faces and bodies like warpaint.

3 – We go to every player and make conscious eye contact with a hand on their back and say ‘I’ve got your back’ – or similar words to that effect.

Then we go on stage, bash out a show. At the end we regroup for:

4 – Circle of Awesome. Where we mention anything we liked about the show, what someone did, funny or touching moments. When the Circle of Awesome feels complete we close the portal with our hands and a futuristic sci-fi noise and push it all back down into the ground.

Then (depending on train times) we go and get a beer.

We’ve done this ritual for every Maydays show I’ve been in for the last 13 years. The tradition is part of it for me. When I perform with other groups I often feel a bit out of sorts without these bookends. It gets me in the zone.

Weird as it may sound, these rituals all serve a purpose.  The 1-20 gets us listening acutely with the whole body and gets us grounded and synced. The ‘Eeesah’ chanting builds up energy, passion and excitement for the show, the warpaint gets us united and ready for battle.  The eyes connect us each individually and reminds us of the trust. The Circle of Awesome closes up what we created and celebrates the work.  I don’t know about you, but the very presence of being in a show means I find it difficult to remember what we did afterwards – a different part of the brain is working when you’re in flow versus memory, so it’s great to land it and finish on a positive note. Even if the show was a tough one – the Circle of Awesome can only contain positive comments because what’s done is done. Rehearsals are for notes, not those raw post-show moments. Tenderness and celebration is what is needed then!

What traditions do you have with your team? I bet they would be a surprise to me!

So, much like the ridiculousness of putting a tree in your house for and dressing it up for a month every year, some traditions may seem strange to those who don’t follow them. If the tradition serves a purpose for you and makes sense, enjoy it!  If you realise you are blindly following rituals that have no value to you anymore, gently let them go.

For me, the Christmas tree tradition is going to continue. I was so excited to get out of bed this morning knowing that the tree was up. Like a 41-year-old child I skipped into the living room singing ‘it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’.

What’s the purpose? It reminds me that the season of love, connection, family and celebration is here. It reminds me that we don’t need to work the whole time and there are other reasons to exist. To take my foot off the gas and be grateful for all that is around. It shakes away the mundanity of the daily grind and says celebrate and enjoy life. It signals the wintery part of the cycle: rest, digest, hunker down, gather in and recuperate. And it makes me giddy with excitement because I’m a massive kid I’ll never get sick of the magic. Or the smell of pine in the morning. Or the chocolates. Oh, I love this time of year! 😉

Author Liz Peters

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