Questions without Notice: Religion and the Family

Jewish Family RitualsFrom time to time, we receive enquiry from students about their assignments on various topics. These questions often address matters relating to religion and spirituality. So we commence a new category, “Questions without Notice”. On this occasion, questions addressed Religion and Family Traditions.

The idea of family is evolving, and modern life with its electronic doo-dads is changing life as we know it. More recently, the Covid Pandemic had parents suddenly become home-schoolers, with students forced to stay at home due school infections. Typical presentations of families today (in media) include single parent families, blended families and families with working parents. Parents often have to set guidelines for children (no mobile phones at the family meal time), family time, and family chores. We look to the effect of religions traditions and families.

Why do families have different religious traditions?

Family rituals and traditions are important to the health and well-being of families. They promote a sense of identity and a feeling of belonging. A ritual differs from ordinary routine by having significance. Traditions are often cultural, ethnic, or faith-based and can be handed down from generation to generation, connecting us to the past.

Parents raise their children in their religion of choice – or no religion. Parents have the right to pass on beliefs (or no belief) – to their children. Traditions make us spend time together without the normal daily distractions because they are planned. Rituals and traditions make sure we do the things we really value, even when we are rushed and busy. Think of birthdays and Christmas. We make an effort to honour our children or family member on their birthday — we make time to celebrate. Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year — yet we plan Christmas lunch and make time to spend with our family.

The family religious traditions are the strongest. There is no one rule for what a family must do with its religious traditions. They may take up their family practice at their leisure.

Jewish Family Traditions

Star of David
Bar and Bat Mitzvah

Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies mark the transition into adulthood for young Jews. At age 13 a boy becomes Bar Mitzvah and at age 13 a girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah. This means that they become responsible for following the mitzvot themselves rather than their parents having this responsibility.


Shabbat is considered a day of rest for Jews. It originates from the Creation story, as told in Genesis, which says that God rested on the seventh day after creating the world. This idea is also found in the book of Exodus:

“It is a sign forever that in a six day period, God made heaven and Earth and on the seventh day he rested.”
Exodus 31:17

The day also connects Jews to their ancestors who were in slavery. Refraining from work on Shabbat is a sign of freedom for Jews.

During Shabbat, Jews are expected to rest and spend time with their family.

On Shabbat, Jews are forbidden by Jewish law from taking part in several categories of work. These include creating or extinguishing fire, writing, and repairing things. Many Jews will also refrain from all other kinds of work.
Shabbat in the home

Shabbat begins on Friday evening at sunset and ends at sunset the following evening.

Celebration of Shabbat begins in the home:

  • The house is cleaned thoroughly before sunset on Friday. As no work can be done during Shabbat, all food required is cooked in advance.
  • Shabbat is welcomed in the home with the lighting of candles. This is usually done by the mother of the home. She says a blessing while she covers her eyes.
  • There is a further blessing by the father, known as the Kiddush.
  • Special plaited bread, known as challah, is eaten.
  • There is another meal to celebrate the end of Shabbat. At this meal, the Havdalah blessing is said.

Christian family Traditions

Christian cross

  • Saying grace at meal times,
  • Worship at Church on Sundays,
  • Family attending Baptism, Confirmations,
  • Taking up Pilgrimages such as The Way of St James, or Pilgrimage to a Local Shrine
  • Observing Good Friday with Hot Cross Buns,
  • Celebrating Easter with Church and Easter Eggs
  • Celebrating Christmas with Midnight Mass and Presents, and Christmas Lunch
  • Also, Christmas is a time for visiting the extended family
  • Participating in Marriage and End of Life events

Buddhist Family Traditions

Dharma Wheel, Buddhism
The Buddhist family traditions are found in family devotions to the Buddha. Common devotional practices are receiving a blessing, earning merit, making a resolution, prostrating, making offerings, chanting traditional texts and pilgrimage.

Buddhists can worship both at home or at a temple. It is not considered essential to go to a temple and worship with others. At home, Buddhists often set aside a room or a part of a room as a shrine that includes a statue of Buddha, candles, and an incense burner. The path to Enlightenment is said to be through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.

One may go to a Temple or monastery and render veneration of the Buddha or other buddhas, bodhisattvas, or saints, which involves showing respect, meditating on the qualities of the Buddha, or giving gifts. Such gifts are often given to the relics of the Buddha, to images made to represent him, and to other traces of his presence, such as places where his footprint can supposedly be seen.

Another important tradition is Exchange with Monks. This tradition is the exchange that takes place between monks and laypersons. Like the Buddha himself, the monks embody or represent the higher levels of spiritual achievement, which they make available in various ways to the laity. The laity improve their chance of Heaven (or salvation) by giving the monks material gifts that function as sacrificial offerings. Although the exchange is structured differently in each Buddhist tradition, it has remained until recently a component in virtually all forms of Buddhist community life.

Earning Merit is earned by showing devotion to the Three Jewels — Buddha, “Dharma” (Buddha’s teachings), “Sangha” (the brother hood of monks) — and doing things like helping out monks, praying at temples, freeing caged birds, tying prayer flags, repeating chants, turning prayer wheels, making offerings and lighting candles, butter lamps and incense burners filled with sandalwood and cypress leaves. Some Buddhists go to markets and buy fish or poultry just so they can set them free.

Hindu Family Traditions

OM, Symbol of Hinduism
Many Hindu rites and ceremonies take place in a temple setting and are directed toward a god or goddess, but by no means do all such rituals take place in the temple; indeed, many Hindu rituals are distinctly domestic affairs, taking place in individual homes. And certainly not all rites and ceremonies are directed toward the gods and goddesses. Virtually every aspect of Hindu life, in fact, is marked by ritual actions, samskaras.

The sixteen major samkaras mark many of the Hindu asramas, stages of life:

Garbhadhanam: the act of conception
Pumsavanam: the expectant mother consumes barley, grain, and curd
Seemantam: ritual in the fourth month of a woman’s first pregnancy
  *the expectant mother is anointed with oil, her hair is parted, and bystanders chant the words “om” and “vyahritis”
Jatakarman: birth ritual performed for a male newborn
  *the baby receives mixture of ghee, honey, and gold
Namakaranam: naming ceremony
  *on the twelfth day after birth, the father repeats the new name three times
Nishkramanam: child leaves the home for the first time
  *usually occurs four months after birth
Annaprasanam: ritual for giving child solid foods for the first time
Choodakaranam: ceremony of cutting the child’s hair for the first time
Karnavedham: ritual for piercing the ears (boys and girls)
Vidyarambham: beginning of learning
  *a child who is between three to five years old receives these words written on its tongue: “Hari sri ganapataye namah avignamastu”
Upanayanam: eight-year-old boys begin wearing the sacred thread (Yajnopaveetam)
Praishartham: studying the Vedas and Upanishads
Kesantham: ritual marking a sixteen-year-old boy’s first shave
Ritusuddhi: ritual associated with a girl’s first menstruation
Samavartanam: the end of formal education
Vivaham: ritual of first sexual intercourse, performed shortly after the wedding
Anthyeshti: funeral rites

Muslim Family Traditions

Crescent Moon of Islam
The traditional Muslim family is an extended family. It usually includes parents, children, grandparents and elderly relatives. Most Muslims believe that extended families mean greater stability, continuity, love and support for each other.

Islam has a tradition of
* Protection and nurturing family members;
* Caring for the elderly
* Muslim parents have a responsibility to care for their children physically and emotionally.
* Islam has a strong family value that children should have respect for their parents.
* The mother is at the heart of the Muslim family and is responsible for teaching children about halal (good) and haram (harmful) in the home.
* The father is responsible for taking the children to the mosque.
* Muslim children are born into a state of fitrah, meaning purity and awareness of God.

Muslim Rituals
Birth: The new baby is welcomed into the world as the father whispers a call to prayer adhann into his or her right ear and a call to worship iqama in the left. This is so the first words the child hears are God’s words.
Naming: After seven days, there is a feast and naming ceremony altasmiya
Circumcision: For males, circumcision will usually follow the naming ceremony although it can be done later, up until the boy reaches puberty
Bismillah: This is the celebration around the child’s fourth birthday when he or she begins formal religious education.
Salat: Salat, or “prayer” is the second pillar of Islam and comes from the Muslim belief that individuals have a direct relationship with God.
Shahada: The word shahada literally means “to bear witness” or “to testify.” This simple yet profound statement expresses a Muslim’s complete acceptance and commitment to Islam
Marriage: In traditional families marriages are usually arranged between families rather than two individuals
Zakat: Zakat, “obligatory charity”, is the third pillar of Islam
Hajj: The Hajj, or “pilgrimage” takes place during the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and lasts about six days.
Id al-Adha: Id al-Adha, also sometimes referred to as “The Feast of the Sacrifice” celebrates God provided an alternative sacrifice and replaced Ishmael with a ram, thus sparing Ishmael’s life. (Muslims trace their descent from Abraham through Ishmael.)
Ramadan: Ramadan is a month long religious affair during which Muslims fast during the day. It marks the month that Muhammad received the Qur’an from God.

Sikh Rituals

Khanda, symbol of Sikhism
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion. Sikhism stresses the importance of doing good actions rather than merely carrying out rituals. Sikhs believe that the way to lead a good life is to:

  • keep God in heart and mind at all times
  • live honestly and work hard
  • treat everyone equally
  • be generous to the less fortunate
  • serve others

Sikh Rituals and Traditions comprise:
Naam Karan. Naming of a Child. As soon as mother and child are able, the family visits the Gurdwara. Joyful hymns are recited and a sacred sweet pudding (Karah Prashad) is prepared and distributed by the family. The reader of scriptures (Granthi) randomly opens the Guru Granth Sahib to any page and reads a hymn from that page. The first letter of the first word of the hymn is chosen and the child’s name is chosen beginning with this letter.

Amrit Sanskar. Sikh Initiation. A sacred ceremony administered by Five Elect Sikhs (Panj Piaray) who initiate a devotee into the Khalsa brotherhood accepting to follow the Sikh Code of Conduct (Rehat Maryada). Holy water (Amrit) made from water and sugar crystals is prepared by stirring it with a double-edged sword (Khanda) in a large iron bowl whilst reciting the five daily morning prayers. When the Amrit is ready some of it is poured into the cupped hands of each initiate to drink and sprinkled into the eyes and hair. This is done five times. The initiate must strictly adhere to the Sikh Code of Conduct for life.

Anand Karaj. Ceremony of Bliss. The Sikh marriage takes place at the Gurdwara in a congregational gathering in the presence of Guru Granth Sahib and commenced according to Sikh rites. Many Gurdwaras particularly in England are registered for solemnizing marriages.

Funeral. Following a death, a full reading of the Guru Granth Sahib is commenced. Sikhs consider life to be transient and regard death as a stage in the journey towards progressive spiritual liberation. Sikhs do not believe in heaven or hell as some interim or final destination for the soul. Cremation is the preferred method for the body. The ashes can be immersed in flowing water or scattered. Public displays of grief and mourning are discouraged. Remarriage is encouraged in Sikhism.

Akhand Paath. The uninterrupted non-stop reading of Guru Granth Sahib. This is performed during occasions marking births, marriages and deaths, enabling the Sikhs to contemplate on the Guru’s teachings.


Rites and rituals have existed at all times and in all cultures throughout human history. They are defined as rituals, or ceremonies, that surround milestone events in a person’s life such as birth, maturity, reproduction and death. Other rites of passage can celebrate transitions that are wholly cultural, marking changes in social position, occupation or affiliation. Whether they take place in a secular or religious context, such rites perform a similar function. They symbolically mark – often actually enable – an individual’s passage from one phase of life, or social status, to another.

The family that prays together
* shares common belief and faith
* share common values of kindness, mercy, compassion, doing good
* support one another with welfare and sharing of goods
* engage in community service activities together

Family bonds in faith and belief lead to the experience of community bonds in faith and belief.




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