One thing that I really enjoy about these early years of being a mum is building our family traditions. There is such a wealth to draw on between childhood memories, the different cultures we’ve been exposed to, and our faith traditions.
The liturgical year, as we practice it as Catholics, fits with the rhythm of the seasons. Advent, that great period of longing, waiting, & preparation comes in those last few weeks of winter when the nights are darkest, and at Christmas we welcome the infant Christ, light of the world, while we notice the slight lightening of the evenings after the Winter Solstice. Easter falls with the first rush of spring, especially here, and the little buds sprouting on empty branches or the green shoots pushing up amongst the brown sludge of winter’s remains provide the perfect setting to meditate on death, life, & rebirth. Aside from these four longish periods in our year there are all the little feasts & solemnities to celebrate, a way weaving our family life into the greater life of the Church. This year, for example, I am going to find a way for us to start marking the Feast of St Anthony, our family’s patron saint.
Of course, being a busy mum of two toddlers it is necessary to retain some reality & prudence when marking out our feasts & fasts. The children are keen to join in with activities, but they have little attention spans & very big propensities for making messes & distractions. There is always a lot that I can accomplish in my imagination, but I’ve found that a less-is-more approach works the best right now. There will always be time to build on our activities as they grow. I know that these are just quick & little ideas, but I’ve found that even a small change in routine is enough to inspire toddlers with excitement & interest. It’s the first step to teaching them to let their faith alter how they live their lives, and it gives us a really fun way to interact as a family.
The Smallest Scale:
Every Sunday is for feasting! I’ve noticed that the Catholic world really loves the post-Mass doughnut, and there is usually no exception in this house (or at least the post-Mass banana muffin for the smallest members of the family). The children aren’t yet involved in dinner too much, because the things I make aren’t high on the toddler approval list, but I do try to shake up their regular eating routine as well & do something fun when I can. David & I usually indulge in some form of Sunday Roast (a great British tradition that I’ve been happy to bring back to Canada—the leftovers are repurposed into another meal or two for following weeks) and I’ve been documenting this on Instragram under #wias (What I Ate Sunday).
The opposite of Sunday, every Friday is for penance as we mark the weekday of Christ’s crucifixion & death. Like the majority of our fellow Catholics, we abstain from meat on this day. We are out in the world enough that it often does feel like a sacrifice – my office’s cafeteria always seems to smell like bacon all day on Friday and there are enough special events involving food on Fridays that it is not always the easy road to take. But I like doing something that allows us to live our faith without having to make a big showy deal of it -- and it certainly has prompted a few conversations with people who know that we regularly are happy to be carnivores. I also think it’s important as a reminder of how lucky we are to be able to choose not to eat meat, rather than having that choice thrust upon us by poverty. Of course, Friday is also our family fun night, so we’ve tried to find a way to incorporate that in—most Fridays we make pizza from scratch. It’s something fun we can do together and which can be easily tweaked to include meat for some but not all when non-Catholic friends & family join us for the evening.
The Catholic world has a gamut of different things to do to celebrate Advent at home. It’s a season of repentance & preparation, that time of great longing when we realise how much we need salvation & wait to welcome Christ at Christmas. In our house:
- David is allowed to start playing Christmas music on the First Sunday of Advent, but we don’t put any decorations up until Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent)
- This year we celebrated the Feast of St Nicholas with chocolate Santas & Christmas pajamas. The kids put their shoes on the window for St Nicholas to fill. We have a little talk about who St Nicholas is and about how he is going to bring presents to help us celebrate Jesus’ birthday:
|Sneaking into their room to put presents on the windowsill while they slept was no small feat!|
- We have been transient for so long that investing in an advent wreath hasn’t seemed prudent. Thus a family tradition was born – each year we make our advent wreath. Ideally we forage on a nature walk for winter greenery with which to weave it, but this year the pickings seemed a bit sparse (although next year I know where to harvest my holly!) so we hit up the dollar store. We aren’t always great with remembering to light the candles, since toddlers + fire are not the best combination and it can be difficult to find a good place to keep the wreath lit, but the kids are always excited to be involved in the project and really love lighting the candles & saying the prayers.
|"Ducks", bows, and bells -- Can you tell that toddlers picked these decorations?|
|We can enjoy fire when Baby Annie's contained. Walter kept telling me that it was hot.|
- chocolate filled Advent Calendars to help us count the days until Baby Jesus’ birthday party.