Shabbat – Our Friday night family gratitude ritual

I wrote last year about how our family separates Sundays from the rest of the week. I’ve also been writing this month at Families First about cultivating gratitude in our kids.

Every Friday night, we have a little family gratitude ritual in our home that combines both of these themes; marking out time for rest and celebration and giving thanks. It’s something we’ve done since Pigwig was about 15 months old and has become an almost defining feature of our family with many friends and family members having joined us for “Shabbat”.

I’ll describe how we do it below. This is another “before and after” post combining my original description of our Shabbat time with how it works now my kids are 5 and 3. I think it can be fun to see how families develop rituals over time and I’d love to hear about yours (for Fridays or otherwise) in the comments below.

Daddy and Pigwig in 2010


In 2010 I wrote: “The most fun thing we have done lately to divide rest from work is inspired by the Jewish tradition of lighting candles in the home and saying a special blessing as the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday.

We also have our Sabbath candles on a Friday evening just to welcome the weekend and to start to switch off from the money-earning week, even if we have many tasks lined up for Saturday. I bake some rolls in the oven and, at 5pm, our daughter’s tea-time, we take a roll each.

Bread is traditionally a symbol of work so we thank God for the work He’s given us to do and the ways in which He’s provided for us that week. I thank my husband for all he’s done for us that week, at work and at home and he thanks me for the work I’ve done in our home and looking after our daughter. We congratulate our daughter, who doesn’t really understand yet, for all the things she’s learnt and the contributions she’s made around the house, even if that’s just tidying away toys.

Next we each drink a small glass of “wine” (er, that’ll be Ribena for Pigwig!) to represent rest and celebration and to thank God for the weekend ahead. We pray that we use it well to rest, bless others and to enjoy each other’s company.

Finally, I light the two candles and thank God that whether resting or working, we are grateful that He is with us and that Jesus is always alongside us. “Shalom Shabbat!” we say (A peaceful Sabbath). And so, our little family gratitude ritual complete, we start the weekend with shoulders about 3 inches lower and a lot more relaxed.

Tintin’s first Shabbat at 5 days old

This little “liturgy” is barely that, just an informal structure for eyes-open, conversational prayer, but it is a high-point of our week.Currently, this structure is on the back of a postcard which we keep in the fruit bowl. It might be written somewhere more permanent once we’ve bedded it in or it may evolve as our daughter grows. The idea behind starting a family tradition for Friday nights was developed in the book “The Heavenly Party” by Michelle Guiness, one of my favourite books of all time but the liturgy she suggested was more formal and would never work with a toddler around so we free-styled from there.

Whatever you do to mark out a period of rest each week, humans are designed for down-time and I can’t emphasise enough how my old friend Sabbath has rubbed her sweet influence off on me. I can only suggest if you don’t know her, you consider getting acquainted. You may just fall in love.

PS Amendum written in September 2014

Four years and another child on, we still celebrate Shabbat, pretty much as described above but with the children taking a greater part. We still get down the postcard with the liturgy from the fridge – it’s a little dog-eared now! The thank yous and prayers are gutsier and louder than before but each child glows with pride as we thank them for everything from forgiving a sibling to working hard at school to helping with jobs at home.

We’ve experienced some really tough times in those four years – thanking each other as parents for the huge work of keeping a family and household together has played a key part in gluing our marriage together, especially at times when it’s easy to envy the other parent for the joy of escaping to the office or the privilege of seeing our growing children so much more, albeit with accompanying laundry duties!

For our children, it helps direct them towards gratitude, both towards their family members but also towards God.

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Enthusiastic “tinging” in 2013

Our traditional prayer as we light the candles has become “Thank you for work, thank you for rest and thank you that Jesus is our special guest.” This is usually said by the children. Many people have joined us for Shabbat over the last four years and it’s interesting how many engineer to be with us “just coincidentally” on a Friday night! Many who’ve joined us have no faith but are encouraged to say what they are grateful for in their lives. We enthusiastically “ting” our bread and wine glasses against each others before consuming them.

Yes, our little Shabbat tradition has become something that defines our family. I don’t see us dropping it any time soon.

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  1. […] belong, Because a kid from another family just wouldn’t know how to light the candles for Shabbat or where to go for the best blackberries with Grandma and […]

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