Our family has been trying to celebrate the church year for over a decade. As a young mother, my own understanding of the liturgical calendar was very limited when we began our journey of saints and seasons. So we began with the basics of Advent and Lent. But over the years more and more saints and days have become annual celebrations or fasts for our family and I’m so grateful for the way I can see it is discipling all six of us.
I think back on the early years of celebrating and how overwhelming it all seemed at times, and I realize that over time I’ve learned that the key to expanding our traditions and journeying joyfully into the church year is three fold – flexibility, simplicity and repeatability.
Somewhere in our journey into the church year I realized that if we were going to live with an alternative calendar of celebrations to what the rest of the culture uses, we were going to have to practice a lot of flexibility. Aside from the major seasons and feasts (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost), I am fairly certain we have skipped or at least moved every other feast somewhere along the way. Even our family favorites of Michaelmas, Martinmas, Candlemas and our own Saints have been missed when our family was in a transition or a particularly busy season.
At some point I simply accepted that we would need a lot of grace as we travel the circle of the church year. The importance of this for me is that when we do celebrate it is truly joyful and doesn’t become one of the many ‘must get done’ items on my list. Sometimes flexibility also gives us unexpected gift of time.
One of our traditions as a family is to invite others for an All Saints dinner where we all come as saints and play ‘Guess the Saint’. This year we had plans for an All Saints dinner the weekend after the day, but because of conflicts we ended up moving it to the next weekend. We spent the time in between the actual day and the dinner with friends reading lots of Saints stories and crafting different saints in several ways. All Saints Day morphed into a week and a half ‘season’ of Saints, which was truly delightful and all because we were willing to be flexible and move the day.
The second piece to celebrating regularly and with joy is keeping it simple. We have more elaborate traditions surrounding some of the major feast days, but for most days I keep it as simple as I can. Often we share hot chocolate after school or a simple dessert after dinner and read a short story on the life of the saint and perhaps light a candle and pray the collect for the day. As dessert isn’t an everyday thing around here, it garners the attention of my four wee men very nicely while we talk and read. If we are lucky we will gather an icon or printed art piece of the saint and a few items to remind us of their life. And very occasionally dinner or dessert is themed to go with the Saint we are learning about (i.e. fish for St. Andrew’s Day or Indian food for St. Thomas).
The last piece to keeping the feasts is to make things as repeatable as possible. It is important for me to mostly chose things to make or do that last. Instead of spending my time making an elaborate cake depicting the parts of Saint Augustine’s life, I am better off to write out his collect on quality paper and modge podge a great painting of him to a board. These things can be stored and used year after year.
The second piece of this is being organized. I have a cupboard full of shoe boxes labeled with various saints names (often I use a box for a a few saints in the same month) and inside I place items I make, gather or buy to celebrate the day. Usually this is a handwritten collect and perhaps a painting that I’ve printed of the saint and stuck with mod podge to a piece of wood. We have a few favorite books we turn to to read a short stories from the saints lives. I love Lives and Legends of the Saints by Carol Armstrong, The Saints and the Animals by Cynthia Zaria, and Lives and Illuminations of the Saints by Ruth Sanderson. We also have a growing number of picture books about individual saints, which are always so engaging for every age around the table.
Having a cupboard of shoeboxes and and a shelf of books makes preparation for saint’s days we’ve celebrated before something I can whip out moments before dinner. If I want some items gathered for the table my boys love a good scavenger hunt while I cook and we are ready to learn together with only a few minutes of preparation. And of course, this means, that if I do have time, a themed dessert or dinner is possible.
As we observe Advent and the church’s New Year begins, think about what days you want to celebrate in the year ahead and how you can keep those celebrations flexible, simple and repeatable in years to come. Let us keep the feast with joy!
What watchwords help you observe the liturgical year at home?