When we first got together in our mid-twenties, we (and our friends) were in the habit of celebrating about 3 holidays: Thanksgiving (big potluck), Halloween (costume parties) and Christmas. Beyond the required family Christmas, we also often did things with our friends, especially during the years when I had no family close by (potluck dinners, staff parties, secret Santa gift exchanges).
When we had kids, it became more fun to revisit old traditions and holidays that had fallen by the wayside. Over the years we’ve added more and more (starting with Easter), and in the last year we decided to make a specific effort to focus on traditions and festivals in a mindful way.
This decision was precipitated by some of the things we learned about Waldorf school when we began to investigate Rain’s options for Kindergarten earlier this year. According to Waldorf educational philosophy, rhythm is an important aspect of human life:
When more people depended directly upon nature for their living, their lives were, of necessity, more rhythmic. They recognized that the rhythms of their days, their weeks, and even the seasons of the year supported them by yielding to them what they needed to live.
Beyond the Rainbow Bridge – Nurturing our Children From Birth to Seven
For young children marking the seasons and festivals throughout the year is an important way to incorporate rhythm into their lives. This becomes increasingly important as we live in a society that is more and more cut off from the natural world. Though we chose not to pursue Waldorf education, the focus on rhythm throughout the year has enriched our family and homeschool life. We’ve made this a priority year round, but today I will just mention a couple that come to mind immediately.
One of our cherished birthday traditions began the day my oldest was born. We had made a blueberry pie to cook during our homebirth with the intention of sharing it with our midwives before they went home. Rain was born at 7:00 am. Every year, my husband takes the morning off work so that we can begin Rain’s birthday with blueberry pie for breakfast.
Two years ago, I made a deliberate decision to start celebrating Valentine’s Day with my then 3.5 year old son. It was a reaction against the glut of commercial, trademarked characters (Dora, Spiderman, Sponge Bob, etc.) on store bought, throw away cards that was coming home from preschool. It was a reaction against the fact that cartoons aimed at children seem to often contain love interests when 4 and 5 year olds don’t need to be obsessed with having a girlfriend or boyfriend. It was even a reaction against all the people who hate Valentine’s Day for the way it makes single people feel and for the fact that it is so commercialized. I thought that at least while Rain is young I would like to teach him that Valentine’s Day is a day set aside to tell or show people in your life that they are special to you, whether that’s a good friend or a family member or your mate. I also wanted him to understand that Valentine’s Day can be about chocolate and cards but that it can also be about a thoughtful gift, or ideally using creativity and imagination.
Rather than buy cards for his friends, we gave out pictures of Rain. We also celebrate as a family: heart shaped pancakes for breakfast or making jam sweetheart cookies together. We’ve also done things like hang dozens of hearts from the ceiling on strings or leave a trail of hearts on the floor leading to a hiding spot with a gift.
Christmas can be pretty tricky to work out as a couple. We have had to figure out how to incorporate each of our individual traditions to try to create a meaningful holiday for our kids. Thankfully, Santa didn’t figure too prominently for either of our families so we don’t really do Santa for our kids (other than as a fun story). We start running into trouble when it comes to present opening. My family is Mennonite and we follow the eastern European tradition of celebrating on Christmas Eve. We usually went to an early church service, came home to a yummy meal, candle light, Christmas lights and spent a quiet evening opening presents and devouring Christmas baking. This often went late at night so the next morning we would all sleep in before finding our stockings on the end of our beds. I loved the cozy darkness, twinkling lights and calm of opening gifts at night. As an adult, I love avoiding the ungodly early rising of kids who are too excited about presents.
My husband’s family practiced the more North American style Christmas on Christmas morning and after 8 years of marriage, we still haven’t been able to figure out what we should do with our kids. As a result we do about half and half with no rhyme or reason. I imagine we’ll figure it out eventually. In the mean time, we’ve tried to come up with our own unique traditions including a homemade advent calendar, switching to cloth wrapping rather than paper, watching A Christmas Story every year and more recently buying presents according to the little rhyme: Something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.
Overall, I think that it’s probably a work in progress. We’ll try out ideas and some won’t feel right for our family. Others will resonate with us and probably start happening year after year. Our kids are still young (and we’re still waiting for one to arrive). I look forward to watching how their input shapes our traditions and holiday celebrations over the years. Years from now, we will all have played a part in the activities and festivals that are the fabric of our cherished memories. And I am so glad that we made the decision to put more effort into marking more holidays throughout the year.
What holidays stand out for your family? Did your traditions come about naturally or were you mindful of how your family created them?