When I was small, I remember having sleepovers at my best friend Sophie's house on New Year's Eve and sometimes on the last nights of other months. I remember being woken up with her mother saying "rabbit rabbit," which, if you said it first before opening your mouth to say anything else on the first day of each new month, would bring you good luck for the next thirty days. It's one of the superstitions I've carried into adulthood, one of the rituals that I enjoy keeping.
For those of us raised in secular households, these rituals can sometimes feel few and far between. The religious basis of my youth was mysterious and scattered. While my father was raised in a large Italian Catholic family and later converted to Christianity, he kept his faith mostly to himself, while my mother took me sometimes to Unitarian church but stressed the feeling of community more than the belief in anything in particular. I went to a Quaker elementary school but didn't feel spiritually touched by the difficulty of keeping silent during Meeting for Worship. When we visited my grandparents in New York, I was overwhelmed by the majesty of 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church, but the context of the sermons often escaped me. I was raised by my mother to understand how religion can be misused to hurt and oppress people, including, largely, women, but I also saw how my father was deeply comforted by it. I spent a long time ignoring this complex and haphazard personal history, but as I get older I feel drawn back into it, wanting to make sense of what I believe and why.
The words, rabbit rabbit, feel sacred and magical, written or whispered, like a spell or a prayer. "Rabbit rabbit white rabbit" appeared first in print in 1954, in Bromley, Kent, near London. It is believed to have originated even earlier in the 1800s. In Yorkshire, the superstition is confined only to the first of March. In Ireland, children traditionally say 'coinín ban' (white rabbit) to the first person they encounter on the first of each month for good luck.
Rabbit rabbit isn't a religious habit. It's a superstition, based on folklore. For me, this feels unapologetically related. For the first time this year, I'm honoring Lent. It's not because I'm suddenly ascribing fully to Catholicism--although it does feel oddly comfortable: I love the pagan roots, the varied and eclectic saints, the importance of Mary reflecting the personhood of women more so than in other branches of Christianity. But regardless, Lent is a ritual, about the giving up and letting go of something loved and taken for granted. We could all do to think about that at least once a year. And rabbit rabbit makes me think about the passing of time, the opportunities there are to start over and do better and wish luck on ourselves and each other. It's not a religion, held fast and fully formed. But it's a ritual, and that's a start.