QUESTIONS YOU HAVE ASKED - intentional holidays, part I
Over the years Ive come to see my job in our family as multifaceted. Some of those roles are seasonal and some are ever present. One of the ever present roles is that of creating rhythms. Creating a haven for Doug and the girls - decorating, meals, hospitality, celebrating seasons, service - has become a focus year round for me. We lived without rhythms for about 5 months last year and everything felt so discombobulated. It was temporary and passed, but it made a lasting impression. Those things which I had always done, but without always knowing why, I now understood clearly. With Thanksgiving and Christmas approaching I have already begun planning.
This holiday, for us, has always held the Thankful Jar. I started it when Savannah was a toddler so the girls dont remember a Thanksgiving without it. Any container will due (remember last year a friend made on for me knowing ours was in storage). Ours is an empty plastic paint container which I made a thankful label for. I place notecards and a pen nearby, and for the month of November we drop our thoughts into the bucket. On Thanksgiving we read them aloud. A fun addition to this tradition is having our guests during the month of November drop in their "thanks" as well. We havent always had the luxury of spending Thanksgiving with family or friends. In fact, for many years it has only been the four of us at the table. Honestly, thats not my favorite. It never feels like a true celebration to me when that is the case. Call it the shadowlands of my mind which refer me back to the feasting of Heaven or whatever you wish, but holidays, to me, call for groups. I would have loved to have had a special tablecloth that everyone wrote on every year, or another version of a yearly familial expression - but with 11 moves in 16 years of marriage, that wasnt the Plan for our family. So, I began to seek "groups" to share our seasons with.
Again, when the girls were very small, I began taking them to Serve during the month of November. When they were in school (ages 5 and 7) we went after school to a local homeless shelter, The Samaritan Inn, and read to the toddlers while their parents took computer classes to build their resumes. Watching the girls read to the little ones (when they too were little) was a joy beyond measure. They read of the first Thanksgivings and the meanings behind the holiday. They dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians and wooed the kids. Oh, it was a blast. When they were a bit (7 and 9) older we began to serve meals at homeless shelters - many times I had to be creative, because there were age limitations and rules which excluded them, but most of the time we could find something for the girls to do alongside me. While in Minnesota we took friends and family to Feed My Starving Children (the girls favorite and one we did probably 20 times in 3 years) and the Union Gospel Mission. And now, and probably for the duration of the high school years, we are serving for the week at Camp Peniel. This is the camp I attended as a child, as did my father, and now is the heart of my girls. There is no place on earth they love more than Camp Peniel. So asking them to serve there makes perfect sense. Every Thanksgiving about 400 people show up there for a weekend of family camp and connection, great food and competitive games. I grew up going there both for Thanksgiving camp and for summer camp. It takes a ton of prep to feed the 400 a true feast. So, this is where we serve now - in the kitchen at camp. The same kitchen I have served every summer in for the past 7 years! We will be there a week early to bake pies, prep turkeys and wash dishes, dishes, dishes. 400 feasters will eat the girls favorite Squash Casserole, Sweet Potato Casserole, Tart Cranberry Sauce and Rosemary Rolls! Good thing they know the recipes by heart!
We dont have any special books for Thanksgiving. We dont have any special family readings, although Doug does typically have some special bible readings he shares during November. We do however leave extra space in our schedule for time with friends around the firepit, celebrations in our home and meals with friends both new and old. November is a feasting month in our home and we intentionally try to share that bounty mentality with everyone we know. Even though we are only here for a couple of weeks this year we are still hosting multiple feasts with multiple groups in our life. There is just so much to share! Savannah said those rhythms are the ones she remembers throughout her childhood and looks forward to every year.
So I guess my quick answer as to what we focus on during the month of November: verbalizing our Thanks (thankful jar), and Living out our Thanks (serving together and hosting celebrations of Thanks).
Homeschooling has given us a different level of freedom in the month of December. Not only do we celebrate Advent and Christmas, but we also celebrate Peytons birthday and my birthday, so freedom of schedule is a beautiful thing in the month of December. Ive learned to schedule our year so we have "extra" time in December. In the coming week I will share our traditions and a few recipes. Hopefully something will spark a new idea for your family. In the meantime I would encourage you to think through any volunteering you might want to do, books you might want to read or movies you want to watch. Ive learned that scheduling, planning and reserving early leads to less stress later. And if you are desiring a daily family Advent Reading Series for elementary - middle school age- you know my fav is the Jothams Journey trio (Jothams Journey, Tabitha's Travels and Bartholomew's Passage). Advent begins December 2 this year.