"Another Native American ceremony, particularly associated with the Northern Pacific Coast Tribes, is the Potlatch. Sandy Johnson writes:

'Potlatch celebrations, lasting for days, are held for initiations, births, marriages, mourning, and installing a new chief. The host family gives away blankets, clothing, artifacts, canoes — it takes years of preparation and can cost the family everything they own. However, what they lose is material wealth, the gain in respect.'

"Seymour and Josie Hyde have decided to hold a ceremony inspired by the Potlatch (though also quite different). The occasion is their decision to give up their house. Now that the kids have moved away, the old homestead yawns as empty as an open mouth. Time to move on. The Hydes have purchased a smaller place in a nearby community. They like the fellowship and amenities, but they know they'll have to make do with a lot less room. It hurts to give up not only the old place but all the treasured possessions that will no longer fit.

"They've decided to make a virtue of necessity. They'll come together as a family both to mourn and celebrate the change. On a lovely Sunday morning, their three kids and their families gather around the kitchen table. After a breakfast of bagels and fresh squeezed orange juice (itself a time-honored family ritual), the ceremony begins.

"One by one, Seymour and Josie gift away their things. One child gets the living-room sofa; another the painting of a seaside village; another the multivolume encyclopedia. Seymour and Joise are no fools — they've consulted in advance to find out what each family member really wants. Sometimes the motive was purely practical (our school-age kid can use the encyclopedia); sometimes more sentimental (I remember the vacation when we bought that painting!). In any case, the presentation of almost every gift is accompanied by the telling of its story. The Hydes are not celebrating a pile of objects, but their family's shared life.

"Next it's time to adjourn to the den, where a number of other items have been gathered ready for pickup by a local charity. Josie and Seymour speak briefly about the organization they've selected. The voice a wish that their gifts bring blessing to the needy. Then it's out to the porch to honor another pile — box after box of trash destine for the junk heap. Mother raises her orange-juice glass in a toast: 'God bless father for finally going at the basement!'

"Now it's time to make the rounds of this lovely old home. Each room evokes a slew of memories. The kids tell of pancake batter on the kitchen walls; hide-and-seek games around the living room furniture; late nights reading in the bedroom with a hidden light. 'Hey, I never knew about that,' Seymour growls. He and Josie reminisce about tired but romantic dinners after the kids were asleep, and stargazing from the porch swing while sipping good red wine.

"Finally, it's time to say goodbye. Josie, Seymour, and their kids say a prayer they've written together: 'Bless this fine house and all that it's given us. We give it back to the bountiful universe. May this house always bless whoever comes within its walls, and may it always have a place in our hearts.'

"The ceremony is concluded."