Wikipedia describes ritual as "compliance with religious obligations or ideals, satisfaction of spiritual or emotional needs of the practitioners, strengthening of social bonds, demonstration of respect or submission, stating one's affiliation, obtaining social acceptance or approval for some event — or, sometimes, just for the pleasure of the ritual itself."
Ritual can be very complex, such as the ritual I observed in preparation for my birthday transition this year, or very small and mundane...like using a special lucky coin for Texas lottery scratch offs. I think rituals are imperative for focus and clarity of intent personally. But in looking at the above definition I would say I more often use ritual to enhance social bonds and to make special connections with the spirit of my family and friends. We are all nudged to be responsible, work-focused adults in this life, with the unfortunate effect of loosing the ability to be grateful, humble, and inspired for where we are in life that sometimes the focus of ritual restores. I do feel a person that does not believe in something bigger than themselves, something majestic and unknowable in life is not really present and awake in the living of it. This does not necessarily mean a belief in God, though some choose that way to acknowledge this. No surprise there are so many rituals observed in religion, it is a natural way of acknowledging the divine spirit. But it is not always necessary ... just go outside, really observe life, really closely listen to people and you will find many things and situations that cannot be explained by science alone.
What I have always been interested in is rituals that develop naturally in people or groups over a period of time. Everyone has food rituals they may not even be aware of (example: eating one bite of each different entree on a plate clockwise, finishing all at the same time. Or eating one entree at a time, or eating the thing you most dislike first and finishing with what you like best.) Watch your friends or loved ones eat sometime, then ask them why they do it that way. Most don't even realize they do it.
Some of my own rituals:
* I have an artist's alter of intention. It actually helps me visually focus on what is most important to me in my life and remind me of lessons learned. Most people have these areas naturally in their homes, though they don't perceive them consciously. An example would be a collection of old jars, seashells, or small stones on a kitchen windowsill over the sink. Unless a decorator did it for effect, there is meaning there.
* I am a big believer in random acts of kindness, small things that make another person's life better or helps them know someone else on the planet is connected to them. I try to do at least one everyday. The best of these are anonymous, but I do them with people I care about as well. From my own experience, small stones cast sometimes cause great ripples in someone else's life. Your influence is wider than you can imagine, and kindness sometimes increases exponentially.
* Before a big creative project, I generally do a clearing and cleaning ritual. I have done this so long it is almost unconscious. I organize, clean, and clear my desk top. When I start doing this (I am in the middle of one of these now) I know something is coming or some work is percolating, even if I'm not sure what it will be. The longer and more involved the process, the bigger the project has been my experience. I have LOTS of studio rituals, I could so write a book.
So these are a few of the things I do as ritual I can think of offhand. I do others involving recognizing holidays, seasons, the passage of time as well. And like everyone else, I do have small "creature" comfort rituals (favorite glass for iced tea, favorite mug) and of course food rituals. Take me to dinner and I'll show you. >>wink<<