Not only are certain rituals related to meals, such as saying grace or conducting a Passover Seder, but food itself can also be used symbolically. Many cultures offer food on altars, believing that it will give sustenance to the deities. Ancient Egyptians buried their dead with food because they believed that it nurtured the departed spirit. Hindus and Buddhists share this belief, and Hindus often use fruit as an offering. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, an apple, symbolizing nature, is dipped in honey to bring sweetness into the coming year. Native Americans use corn or cornmeal to signify the abundance of a harvest. And when a family moves into a new home, friends often bring bread, sugar, and salt, signifying nourishment, sweetness, and purification.

Of course, many edibles also carry personal meanings. Adults and children often have comfort foods-for example, the healing property of chicken soup is almost universally recognized. Everyone expects food on his or her birthday. Even at very young ages, children associate chocolate bunnies with Easter, turkey with Thanksgiving, candy canes with Christmas. We can use food to represent where we live, where we came from, and its meanings to us and our loved ones. In fact, many of the rituals I suggest in this book use food as a symbol or end with a feast of your favorite foods and beverages. Before employing a particular food in a ritual involving children, however, always consider your child's taste and age; young children don't usually enjoy spicy foods. Most important, think not only about what the food signifies, but also what it means on a personal level. Sometimes, simple is best. For example, I often suggest to parents that they use pizza, ice cream, of a favorite kid dish like meatballs and spaghetti to celebrate if that's what their children love most.

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