This week on November 11th, our family will celebrate Martinmas, and as tradition we will mark the feast of St. Martin of Tours with friends around a roast duck…or maybe two. (But only because we haven’t been able to successfully find a local supplier of fattened geese.)
In the past my husband has tried to lead everyone in Martinmas carols and we’ve roasted marshmallows around a bonfire. Germans still celebrate Martinmas with paper lanterns (which we’ve also made to varying degrees of success. Not even going there this year.) And we always retell the tale of how St. Martin, as a solider in the Roman army, sliced his cloak and gave half to a cold beggar he met on the road. Later, Jesus would appear to him wearing that cloak. Later still, Martin would leave military service and ultimately become the bishop of Tours.
As my older children outgrow coloring pages, pictures books and popsicle stick crafts, my husband and I are often left wondering what do we do to mark these special feasts? Sometimes I worry that without baking cupcakes and icing them blue, or creating an M&M rosary, my kids might overlook a Marian feast. Without a cute Advent or Lenten calendar to color, how will we count down the days?!?
My husband and I discussed the matter, coming back to the topic a few times as new thoughts struck us. What we both agreed was that, historically, the Church’s liturgical year, used to be “the year”. It was the way everyone marked time with debts paid, seeds sowed and harvested, and family milestones marked according to feast days. Everyone’s lives, even if they weren’t particularly religious, revolved around the Church calendar. A great example of this culture is present in the book Kristen Lavransdatter. The local church is the heart of the community and it is where people meet to celebrate and mourn. As Kristen grows up, you can see how her years play out in a similar rhythm with no mention of the Gregorian calendar, but of events occurring so many days or weeks before or after a major feast like St. John’s day in June (which our family celebrates too), Michaelmas in September and the long Passiontide and Eastertide liturgies that everyone prepared for and attended.
Today, authors and bloggers write books, posts and create activities for a Catholic community that needs constant reminders of our liturgical heritage in a post-Christian, secular society. Kristen Lavransdatter’s family didn’t need printables or special recipe books. They simply followed the same traditions passed down from generation to generation just like everyone around them. So many modern Catholic families are starting from scratch when it come to the establishment of family liturgical traditions. We’ve got Thanksgiving, Superbowl Sunday and increasingly secular celebrations of St. Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, All Hallows Eve, Christmas and Easter. Most Catholics don’t even know that Pentecost is a more important feast day than Christmas…probably because retail outlets haven’t yet figured out a way to make money from it.
So Tony and I feel even more pressure because we’re laying the ground work for our children, and hopefully their families liturgical traditions. We don’t want our older kids thinking that once you outgrow crafts and coloring pages, there’s nothing more to do, except go to Mass to observe a feast day. After all our brainstorming, here’s some ways we celebrate the liturgical year now that our brood contains tweens and teens.
Hospitality – We often use feast days as good reason to invite friends over. Sometimes it’s a big deal, and we pull out all the stops, other times it’s just for a bonfire or a meal with one other family. But it’s always a good time and it recreates, just a bit, that feeling that we’re not the only ones marking time and celebrating a little differently than the rest of the society.
Special food – St. Lucy bread on December 13th, duck or goose on Martinmas, strawberries for the Nativity of John the Baptist; these foods were selected by Catholics generations ago across the globe. In the days before supermarkets and fast food, special meals were the chief way a family could differentiate a notable day. You simply didn’t have certain things the rest of the season. Although my kids can have sweets or fresh strawberries year round, we love to think about how their ancestors enjoyed these same special dishes.
Processions – Once common, processions are less familiar to modern Catholics. If you attend a parish that holds rosary or Rogation processions, consider yourself blessed and participate! If not, there’s no reason you can’t arrange your own; with others around your parish property or your own backyard.
Special prayers – This month, we’ll pray at a local cemetery and we are praying as a family for specific departed family members each day. We pray novenas for upcoming feasts. During Advent we listen to the O Antiphons around our Advent wreath. Our family prayer life changes with the liturgical seasons; our prayers follow a rhythm but they are never stale.
Pilgrimages – We’re lucky to live near many great Shrines and Churches. You might too. Kids of all ages like visiting other churches, but older kids will appreciate the architecture, history, artwork, etc. just a bit more than their younger siblings. Many such sites often hold special Masses or events.
Corporal works of mercy – Older kids can actually help feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick. We collect food for our local food pantry (usually in the fall), we all clean out our closets to make donations to Goodwill or families we know in need (usually in the spring), and we visit the elderly at nursing homes (typically in Advent.) When all my kids were younger, my job was feeding, clothing and caring for them. Now we can work together to help others.
Advanced read-alouds – We still break out the picture books, but we also read from our missals, from more detailed lives of the saints and other books with reflections on the liturgical year. The resulting conversations may still get silly, but there’s also more meat for deeper discussion as well.
Mass and breakfast on feast day – A tradition my husband starts once each child proves they will sit attentively through Mass is the practice of attending daily Mass and attending Dunkin Donuts on that child’s feast day. The kids look forward to this and if something prevents the annual ritual for taking place on the exact day (once Tony started a new job on Addie’s feast day) the kids are sorely disappointed. It’s a big deal to get one on one time with Papa during the day (and the donuts are a pretty big deal too.)
In addition, we still do a lot of the fun stuff. St. Nicolas still fills the shoes of the older kids and whoever finds the figure in the King Cake on 12th Night is king for the day. A lot of traditions work for all ages and it’s those that the kids themselves remind us of year after year. Coloring pages, toilet paper roll crafts and angels made from snack food? Not so much…but thank goodness we had those ideas when the kids were little enough to enjoy them. It’s helped create a living faith that continues to extend beyond the parish walls and holds it’s own next to state holidays and observances.
How does your family celebrate the liturgical year? What suggestions do you have?
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