The Tapering Off of Tradition
Growing up my family had a lot of traditions that revolved around food, activities, games, movies, gatherings, etc. Admittedly they weren't Catholic traditions, but they brought the family together no less and provided me with many experiences and memories of joy. I loved these opportunities to bake & deliver cookies during the holidays, barricade the street for yearly neighborhood block parties, or make holiday crafts. In fact, not only did I love these things, I longed for them. They were things to look forward to out of the typical/ordinary day to be around others in festivity and happiness. As I got older these traditions changed and in fact most of them just tapered off. Life became overwhelmingly mundane, and as I matured I intuitively saw that time for festivity became dictated, for myself and the masses, by societal norms. Holidays are regulated by big name brands, work schedules, and whatever limitations our very utilitarian world decides for that year. I knew what I had inevitably yielded to by default of going with the culture, but I didn't know how to get out of it. It felt like tradition was tailored to children, and when you're not a child anymore there just isn't much to celebrate unless you have children. It just seemed like there wasn't much that could be done until I was married and had children to pass tradition down to. Through my teenage years and and college I observed the usual holidays, but there was no other communal engagement for celebrating life or faith in the way my heart desired.
A New Experience of Tradition
At the end of college I met my husband and was introduced to his family who also had a wealth of traditions, much of them specifically Catholic. My worldview was broadened as I learned about a culture very different from my own and deepened my understanding of how to live out the faith. We not only spent many holidays with them, but also feast days which I had never seen celebrated before. I could see that I didn't have to wait once every several months to take delight in a holiday! Feast days provided us with more opportunities to come together and gave us the ability celebrate and strive to be like the saints. When we got engaged we immediately discussed tradition because we both valued tradition for its own sake! We knew that we had to take our favorites from both families as a collaboration of culture and heritage. Looking back I can say that I am so glad we did this, and by the way, it's never too late to have that conversation because it has given our domestic church a reason to look outside of itself. In other words, we don't just go home to only focus on each other or our routine, but liturgical living has given us reason to look to God and the Church in our every day life. It was clear that some of the traditions we wanted to continue from both families would need to be adapted to fit our family and much of this we were able to do with our own creativity. This is the nature of tradition by the way, to be passed down while also organically changed or developed to fit a new generation. However, there were some feast days and holiday traditions that we wanted to create for ourselves and like the rest of the world does when in need, I took to Google.
Who is Liturgical Living for?
By doing this I learned that there was a catchy little phrase for building tradition based on the liturgical calendar called, "liturgical living." This essentially means living out the liturgical year of the Church in your home. I found so many amazing resources, lists upon lists... and they were all for children. The more I looked for ideas for adults, the more disappointed I became. I thought to myself, where is all of the Catholic joy and festivity of the liturgical year for married couples, engaged couples, communities, parishes, teenagers, college students, or single people? I thought back to the pictures and writings from centuries ago when Catholic festivals crowded the streets with dancing, singing, food, and friendship. I couldn't help but feel gypped! We no longer live in societies that are fueled with jubilation over Christ, Mary, or the saints. I believe that even the Church herself struggles sometimes to communicate these things beyond the Sunday liturgy and into daily life. Then it hit me, I realized that what I experienced in a small way in my own life, the tapering off of tradition, was a part of a larger scale struggle.
Therein lies the misconception about liturgical living, the idea that living out the liturgical year is primarily concerned with providing Catholic educational resources and experiences for children. Liturgical living should include this, but it should also engage everyone at varying ages and stages of life. Tradition is transcendental in that we echo in our daily lives the Great Feast that is going on perpetually in Heaven! That begins as an interior disposition of the heart and then manifests itself in celebration. Festivity is the physical expression of our love and rejoicing for God and His infinite goodness. I say this not to devalue what is there for children! I whole heartedly and fundamentally believe that children should be taught in the faith not only in CCE, but in the home! Before I got my Masters in Theology I earned a degree in Education with a specialization in EC-6 and I taught elementary children for many years. As a teacher I worked every day to do that in tangible, tactile, and experiential ways for my students as well. We have a duty to provide them with the richness of our faith! However, our society is in desperate need of young people, adults, and whole families who are joyous about life, the conquering of sin and death by Our Lord, and the gift of our faith. I worry that if we don't collectively begin to revive our Catholic and cultural traditions as a community, then the same thing will inevitably happen as I experienced in my youth. At some point the liturgical living which pertains strictly to children will be out grown and there will be no tradition, for tradition's sake! The other thing I noticed was that tradition itself was being defined by the activities that we do, the exterior manifestation. When instead it should be understood as the intrinsic love of God that sparks joy and happiness, this presupposes the former.
Young or Old, Be Festive Out of Love for God
I remember discussing this with a friend who expressed to me that at first she was confused by the way my husband and I lived liturgically, or carried out tradition. She explained, "you don't have children so it's not like there is anything to pass on, but now I realize this is about something more." It's true, there is a deeper meaning to what we have chosen. We love God and each other so we delight in praising Him while on the path to Heaven! It is a gift to celebrate, pray, and enjoy each other and our community out of a shared love for Christ and His Church. This is a beautiful way of living that I hope everyone comes to find, especially as adults that are very much conditioned to focused their lives primarily on work. Lest we forget, we don't live to work, we work so that you can live to give God glory! As Josef Pieper states, "A festival is essentially a phenomenon of wealth; not, to be sure, the wealth of money, but of existential richness."
In addition to this, carrying on tradition means that we are memorializing something that still stands as relevant to our lives today. The highest and most principle event being the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus which we don't just seek to celebrate on Easter, but every Sunday. Additionally, we celebrate saints, Our Lady, and life as a whole which was created as good by God and affirmed in its goodness by us.
We are festive because we love and affirm God and our created life!
We are festive because we want to live a long married life that is full of rejoicing!
We are festive here because we unite ourselves with the festivity in Heaven!
We are festive because we want to respond to God's love with love!
Practical Tips for Liturgical Living as Adults
Practically speaking, we do this in a variety of ways, many of which include our community. It is my heart's desire to share this with our friends and family, so I host as much as I possibly can. I believe that festivity should happen in community and maybe one day so many people will want to join us that we will fill the streets again.
Food is a great place to start! When there is a special feast day invite your friends over for traditional foods, set your table, and play music that fits the celebration. For us, building tradition as a married couple revolves around some of our favorite things like cooking together! I had so much fun doing this that I decided to start providing picture by picture feast day recipes so that families could have as much fun in the kitchen as we do. The beauty of this is that anyone can make this a tradition, engaged couples, families with kids coming back on college break, retired couples, you name it!
Given that liturgical living is an extension of the liturgy itself, prayer must be a vital component. We spend time praying together as couple every day, and we invite our friends to pray with us too! We are very blessed to have musically talented friends so we ask them to chant or sing with us if people are over for a Catholic celebration. This can happen in ways big and small such as hosting people for an evening/afternoon of prayer, praying together as a family before bed, setting up a quick Zoom call with friends, or texting in prayer intentions. Get creative, think about your family's needs and the needs of your immediate community, then collaborate.
Activities can also be fun ways to integrate or build tradition. Our family loves games, this last Christmas we integrated a few hilarious minute to win it activities since my husband's siblings are all older! If you have a bold group of friends you could hold an All Hallows' Eve costume contest at your place. Perhaps you host an adult beverage "drinking with the saints" inspired evening. We love brewing beer, I bought an awesome at home kit several years ago, and we made our own beer for the feast of St. Benedict. Sometimes it's less tied to a specific saint and we just have friends over to hang out on a Solemnity and simply being together becomes the tradition! The point is that you do what works, and then you repeat it and let it naturally grow and change as it continues on in the years to come.
I share all of this in retrospect and out of reflection for where God has called me to in this moment and to encourage you to bring back experiences of tradition to your family life. As Venerable Fulton Sheen says, "Life is worth living!" You were not created for the workaday with a couple of days break to get you rested and ready to go back to the workaday. You were created to experience life and happiness with God now and for eternity. Continuing tradition is a call for everyone to be engaged in these fundamental principles that we sometimes write off with a list of excuses. We were meant for abundant lives and in building tradition and festivity I have found this out of love for Our Lord.
Be festive Catholics for the good of your life, for the sake of tradition, and for the glory of God!