UPDATED with the bit about Fridays and Solemnities.
Melanie Bettinelli writes about the awkwardness of trying to observe the Catholic holidays throughout the year when you have no community and no traditions for doing so. Interestingly, I knew right away what the story was with the tangerines, though I was scandalized to learn there are people who don’t love them. More for us, I suppose.
Prompted by Melanie’s post, I thought I’d run through what our typical year of feasting looks like. I’m sure I’ll forget a few things. You could go over to Melanie’s place and leave a link or a list of what you do at your house.
Sundays year round: We observe this as a day of rest as best we are able. We generally avoid shopping and such, though with the odd exception. We always have some kind of “Sunday food” on the table, a typical example would be cinnamon rolls from a can and pre-cooked bacon warmed over. (Yeah, I know.) It gets more extravagant for Christmas and Easter, and more restrained during Advent and Lent. Of course we go to Mass.
Holy Days of Obligation: The spouse doesn’t get off work for these, except by coincidence, but the kids and I are pro’s at sitting around eating junk food and goofing off, so we do our part to make up for his lack. We go to Mass, of course.
Fridays throughout the year: We refrain from eating meat as our default Friday penance. Since we live in the US where it is permitted to do so, outside of Lent we might individually substitute some other penance if there’s a reason to do so. We don’t require the children to abstain until the Church does, but the menu is meatless, so it’s already more or less a habit. We don’t police each others’ plates, which would be weird. In choosing meals, restaurants, making plans, etc., we don’t presume that the other abstainers are willing to change penances on demand, which would be rude.
Yes, it is true, I have been known to check the Ordo for
Steak Fridays Solemnities. I mean, doesn’t everyone?
Now, working around the liturgical year:
Advent: I grew up with Advent wreaths and calendars, and we stick with this. We have an odd set of compromises in terms of keeping Advent and Christmas distinct from one another. My mother and older sister were serious about baking Christmas cookies, but it’s skipped a generation on my side. My kids love to bake, so it works out.
We Christmas caroled a tiny bit when I was growing up; before we had children, the spouse and I took to hosting caroling parties, and we’ve kept to it in various forms most years since then. My eldest daughter says it is her favorite part of Christmas. In recognition that our non-Catholic neighbors generally observe Christmas from Thanksgiving until December 25, my rule is that we go caroling no sooner than the weekend before Christmas Eve. Call it O Antiphon Caroling if that makes you feel better.
St. Nicholas Day: The kids put out their shoes, and St. Nicholas delivers candy. We get Speculaas from Aldi. Have I mentioned lately how much I love that place?
Our Lady of Guadalupe: I always buy a candle and put out an icon. Some years we turn up at a feast at church and eat fabulous food, some years not. Neither the spouse nor I grew up with this, but it’s hard to argue with a feast day that involves tamales, so we opt-in when convenient.
Christmas: Dinner and gifts with the great-grandparents Christmas Eve. Santa fills stockings, which you are allowed to open when you wake up Christmas morning, or when you get home from Midnight Mass if that’s where you went, as long as you are quiet about it and let the sleeping people sleep. The stockings always contain mint chocolate of some kind, but lately Santa has taken to putting the nuts and oranges in communal serving dishes on the breakfast table, which prevents mayhem. Santa puts out a light Christmas breakfast to which you can help yourself freely. Those who didn’t go on the vigil go to Mass Christmas morning, then there’s opening of presents Christmas midday, during which time there is eating of a smorgasbord of festive foods and drinking of strong coffee and champagne (alternating, not mixed). We might go to the in-laws in the evening, depending.
During the 12 Days: We try to do something festive each day of Christmas. Make gingerbread houses, cut out paper snowflakes, go someplace fun, eat something delicious we don’t ordinarily get, that kind of thing. It can be extravagant or not, but it’s always something we don’t get to do the rest of the year, or not regularly.
Epiphany: In the past we had an observance at home – a little feasting, some burning of frankincense, final gifts for the season, and perhaps a re-enactment or singing of We Three Kings. This year the calendar did not cooperate, but we did go to an Epiphany party. It was perfect, and I hope it becomes an annual thing.
March for Life: We always go to our local March, except if we can’t (as happened this year, sadly). We’ve made the pilgrimage to DC twice, and I’m glad I did it when I could, and will do it again if the occasion presents. Grown-ups observe the day of fasting and penance on an individual basis, we don’t have a family observance of that.
St. Valentine’s: My mother-in-law buys the kids packets of valentines. The kids go to a party with their friends. I try to get out of it if I possibly can. On the night of the date, the spouse and I let the kids play unlimited video games while he and I have a romantic evening eating very good food. There is either champagne, or dry rosé, or a seriously good vintage red involved.
Mardi Gras: Did I mention the kids and I are very skilled at feasting?
Ash Wednesday: Parents fast, everyone abstains. We go to Mass if we can, which is not every year, but many years.
Lent: We do what the Church requires in terms of penance, and take on additional penance on an individual basis. We don’t have a set of must-do traditions, but invariably we end up at Stations a time or two, or have a good devotional on hand, or do some other Lent-y thing. We don’t have strict rules about forbidden pleasures during Lent, but in general we take a restrained approach to daily life. It’s more a change of tone and focus than a set of formal observances. Because our children have many Catholic friends, this is reinforced socially. We try to schedule feasts that are close to the start of Lent (birthdays, St. Valentine’s parties) for some time prior to Ash Wednesday if possible.
St. Patrick’s Day: We wear green.
Holy Week: We observe some portion of the week, with the goal of making it to the entire Triduum, though actual attendance varies. Typically earlier in the week the kids and I will sit down with a suitable DVD, either a life of Christ or Steve Ray’s Jesus, or something of that nature. We like to host a family dinner, which usually happens on Wednesday, when we roast some lamb (um, one year it was venison), and serve unleavened bread and this-n-that, and discuss what Passover is and how it was observed, and how it relates to our salvation. Good Friday always involves either Mass, or Stations, or a suitable film or other way to commemorate the Passion.
Easter: We prefer to go to the Vigil, and typically do. When the children were young enough that their Mass attendance on Sundays and Holy Days was not required by canon law, we would get a babysitter and make a special evening of it with just those who were old enough. In that way, it became a milestone that the younger ones looked forward to reaching.
In the morning, the Easter bunny comes, and there is much eating of festive foods, bacon chief among them.
We have an egg hunt sometime during the Easter season.
The children and I are quite good about making sure we feast the full 50 days.
Our Anniversary: We have a very nice dinner with the kids. We observe our anniversary as the date of the founding of our family. Soda and dessert are on the menu, which doesn’t happen so very often around here.
Memorial Day: Every year on Memorial Day I am irritated that we don’t have a good observance.
Fourth of July: Fireworks.
Feast of the Archangels: I forget this nearly every year. I have no particular observance to adhere to, but the kids and I are good for an impromptu feast if we remember.
All Hallow’s Eve: Costumes, trick-or-treating. We give out good candy.
All Saint’s Day: In addition to Mass and a suitable amount of in-house feasting, we get together with other families on a Friday close to the date and have a party. The kids dress up as saints and present a short biography of their saints in a Who Am I? format. In preparation, the girls make me help them dig through Butler’s Lives for the most obscure saints possible. So far my record is 100% on find unguessable saints.
Other Random Catholicnesses: We go to daily Mass when we can, which some years is not at all, some years is nearly always, and most of the time varies across the spectrum. Thus we end up with a certain amount of liturgical awareness just from that. Because the kids use Catholic curricula for their school work and get together regularly with other Catholic families, we end up with a steady flow of low-level observances of this feast or that. So what we lack in piety we glean from our more- or differently-devout friends.
Interestingly, some of our observances of religious feasts don’t involve any particular moment of prayer or catechesis. We might just have the party. It’s not that we’re secularizing, it’s that everyone knows the underlying meaning, and it isn’t necessary to belabor the point at every turn. When you grow up in the social set where weekday playdates take into account the day’s Mass schedule, and your spelling book has words like “Crucifix” and “Annunciation,” you just don’t need The Legend of the Candy Cane. Jesus is our Savior, candy canes taste good, and that’s connection enough.