“Nobody Likes the Tangerines”–Reinventing the Liturgical Year

"Nobody likes the tangerines," says the Doctor to Father Christmas

“Nobody likes the tangerines,” says the Doctor to Father Christmas

Sunday morning on our way to Mass Dom commented on the sign at the corner pharmacy advertising Valentines Day merchandise, wondering if people really buy Valentines stuff this far in advance of the holiday. That got us talking about all these secularized holidays and how cut off they are from their roots in authentic Christian culture. How people seem to need these seasonal holidays and how when they don’t have authentic liturgies available they will create them.

I thought of people I’ve known who celebrate, decorate, and even send greeting cards for every “Hallmark” holiday. Thought about New Year’s paraphernalia and the obligatory Auld Lang Syne even if you aren’t Scottish and don’t know what the words mean; Valentine’s Day with hearts and cupids and chocolates; St Patrick’s Day with green beer, shamrocks and cardboard cutout leprechauns; Mardi Gras with colored beads and parades and all the feasting and none of the Ash Wednesday fasting; Easter with bunnies and eggs; Fourth of July flags, fireworks and parades with no reference to the Declaration of Independence; Halloween with ghosts and zombies and vampires but no All Saints Day to follow; Thanksgiving turkeys and not so much on the pilgrims and Indians anymore and who are we giving thanks to anyway and for what?; Christmas with red and green everything and Santa Claus and Christmas Trees, but no Christ Child. Those holidays that we do still celebrate as Christian have two versions now, separated in parallel: the sacred and the secular and many people have no idea that the sacred form even exists. We are cut off from the roots, even if we still hang decorations from the branches.

We create ersatz holidays that have passing reference to the farmer’s world, we yearn to be connected to the seasons in a liturgical way, but most of us are grasping at straws, we have no idea really what we’re yearning for, just trying to fill the emptiness with lawn decorations and seasonal flags. When Halloween decorations appear in September and Valentines decorations sit side by side with remnants of Christmas candy and the first ridiculously early displays of Easter paraphernalia, then these days cease to be discrete days and they become one more shopping “season.”

Even when we are estranged from the rhythms of sowing and reaping, we still hang Indian corn as decorations, tie corn stalks up near the door and set up scarecrows in out yards. Why? Why are these rhythms and celebrations so hard to get rid of? Why do we create new ones when we cease to have connections to the old ones in a post-Christian age?

St George and Killing the Michaelmas Goose

In pre-Industrial Europe the rhythm of the year was tied to the growing seasons but also to the liturgical calendar, to saints days, the original holidays. Last night I was watching Lark Rise to Candleford and in the episode the folk of Lark Rise and Candleford were preparing to celebrate two events: an annual St George play put on for the local squire, and the feast of Michaelmas. (I was a little unclear as to why they were doing a St George play in the fall when the feast of St George falls in April, but maybe the creators of the tv show were taking some creative license?)I loved the way both celebrations were so anticipated and so much a part of the fabric of the community. This, I thought, is how it’s supposed to look.

The St George play was the same one that they had put on every year that anyone could remember. Probably their grandparents and great grandparents had been putting on the same play. The same costumes, the same lines, sometimes the same actors playing the same part for the better part of a lifetime. It was short, simple, and yet it was also the vehicle by which some of the characters worked out current conflicts, new ad libs bringing new comedy and also healing to torn relationships.

I was equally struck by the side plot about the Michaelmas preparations, how everyone was looking forward to their favorite foods: a Michaelmas goose, a plum pudding. I also loved the scene where they recount a bit of local folklore: you’d better pick all the blackberries by Michaelmas because when St Michael threw Satan out of heaven he fell into a blackberry bush and either peed all over the berries or cursed them… and that’s why the berries are inedible after Michaelmas. This explanation then countered by a more scientific observation about mold caused by the shifting weather.

Somewhere along the line most of us have been cut off from most of these sorts of folk traditions that all of our ancestors celebrated in one form or another no matter where they hailed from. There is a contemporary movement among many Catholic moms (mostly the moms, yes.) to revive these traditions. I have found myself following suit at times. We don’t have a special recipe for Lucia bread passed down from Dom’s Sicilian grandmother or challah passed down from his Jewish great-grandmother. Heck, I don’t even use his father’s recipe for red sauce. We follow a few family traditions we inherited from our families, but much of what we do is newly adopted, often inspired by what I read on other Catholic mom blogs.

If you do not come too close

How and why were these things lost? I’m not sure there’s a simple answer and I think trying to find one reduces the complexity of the thing and doesn’t help at all in the great task of seeking to, well, I was going to say seeking to restore what has been lost, but I’m not sure that’s really feasible or if it’s even desirable. But to find a new way forward, a new way to integrate the patterns of liturgy into everyday life, to reunite the sacred and secular into something vital and organic and lived. I suppose that we’re like the speaker of The Waste Land, shoring fragments against the ruins.

I think I’m coming close to what Eliot is getting at in both The Waste Land and also in the Four Quartets too when he writes about dancing, dung, and death in Little Gidding: 



In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
the association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie˜
A dignified and commodious sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.

Eliot, too, feels it slipping away, disappearing from his grasp. What he describes, is it any more real for him than it is for me, or was it for him too a literary image, something derived more from books than from personal experience? I suspect the latter. It had already slipped away.

What can we do, how can we find integration in a shattered world? Our Thanksgiving turkey seems a poor substitute somehow for the Michaelmas goose. And much as I admire the work of the bloggers at Catholic Culture , Catholic Cuisine , Catholic Foodie, and others, Pinterest-type spreads about Catholic culture feel hollow compared to the vision of the good folk of the Candleford post office gathered together around their Michaelmas feast.

It’s not that it’s inauthentic, it’s that it’s a hodgepodge. And as much as my children enjoy the new-to-us traditions of St Nichols Day and St Lucy’s day, they don’t seem really real to me. They feel like play acting. And I think a part of that is it’s going on in nuclear isolation. These aren’t celebrations that we share with our neighbors, they don’t happen in the parish. If my kids mentioned them to their friends, they’d find their friends didn’t share in these same traditions. That’s what I remember from my own childhood. I was the only kid in my Catholic school whose family gave gifts at Epiphany. Most of the other kids didn’t even know what “Epiphany” was.

By the Waters of Babylon

I’m realizing this all sounds very gloomy. And I’m wondering how much of this is really just the particular dilemma of the American Catholic Church. Our melting pot means there is no dominant Catholic culture and means that peculiarities brought from the Old Country— really, I suppose, that should be plural: old countries— often failed to take root. Children worried about assimilating or were unable to speak the language of their parents or grandparents, or were ignorant of their own family histories, or didn’t care enough to continue them. Families blending, trying to bridge the gaps between two different native cultures lost what made them distinctive.

And then variations of my own family’s situation: my mom’s parents were converts. My father’s mother was a convert. How much of the culture of their adopted faith were they able to assimilate and pass on to their children? My mom is the only one of her siblings who is Catholic.
My parents certainly passed the faith on to us as best they knew how. But it wasn’t a thick faith, it wasn’t rich with communal para-liturgical celebrations. There weren’t foods and feast days and all these things I see celebrated on the Catholic culture blogs. And I myself, what am I passing on? A little of this, a little of that. It feels a little thicker to me, but not much. Not entirely as satisfying as a universally disliked tangerine in the toe of every stocking, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

We are isolated, cut off, except by the narrow bridges of the internet. This doesn’t feel like authentic culture. It’s an anemic substitute. It ties us neither to our own family’s past nor to our local community. Sometimes I want to weep and join my voice to that of the psalmist:

By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem. . .

I suppose this is what we are: spiritual exiles. We’ve forgotten Jerusalem, forgotten what it means to live in Zion.

The words from the book of Daniel haunt me:

We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader,
no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense,
no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.

But with contrite heart and humble spirit
let us be received;
As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bulls,
or tens of thousands of fat lambs

We have in our day no harvest feasts or mystery plays, no Michaelmas goose to share with out neighbors. But let us… Let us what? Let us be received? Certainly we are received at Mass, but is that enough? Time and time again I hear that it isn’t. It’s not enough to live the faith on Sundays, it must permeate our lives. And we try, we Catholic mommy bloggers. We try to revive an authentic Catholic culture in our domestic churches. But it seems to me we must do more. We must somehow make these traditions live outside the four walls of our homes, we must make our parishes as well as our homes the seats of authentic Catholic culture.

Nobody likes the tangerines

At one point in the recent Dr Who Christmas episode the Doctor sneers at Father Christmas/St Nicholas, “Nobody likes the tangerines.” It’s a curious moment to me as an American, one that made me feel like an outsider: What is that about? I am certain that a British audience would immediately understand a reference to a shared cultural experience. Indeed, Dom looked it up and according to one British newspaper, that the custom of Christmas tangerines can be traced back to12th century French nuns, who gave out tangerines to poor children.

While striving, to revive lost Catholic practices in our domestic churches is a worthy mission, I wonder if it can be too inward focused. The culture of the family is surely paramount, but unless these restorations somehow also feed into making something greater, a living parish culture, I wonder if they might be missing the mark? Although the family is the basic unit of the parish, there must be some coordination, some coherent communal worship and celebration and collective memory beyond just gathering together for Mass on Sundays or we fail to have an authentic parish culture. A parish that doesn’t share a common culture might have plenty of programs but then so does a cruise ship. I fear the atomic family cannot carry the whole enterprise on it’s own. There must be a communal aspect to our para-liturgical celebrations. We must have a collective understanding of something as mundane and universal as tangerines, if only as something that we universally dislike but cling to as a custom we can’t quite bring ourselves to get rid of. There’s something deliciously thick about the custom of tangerines, reaching back to medieval French nuns and forward to alien Time Lords.

But how to create that thickness? I just don’t see how that is to happen. How can you create culture where there is no community? How can you create community where there is no shared culture? How do you get people to invest time in that which they do not value? How do you get them to value that which feels so thin?

On Patrick Frank Day

Is there any hope for restoration? Any hope that we can build something new from the fragments of the old or something completely new and different and valuable in its own right? Is there anything we can do to repopulate our parish life with feasts and celebrations that reach beyond Mass and draw us in to true community?

I guess this has turned into a complaining post. (And probably dreadfully repetitive as well.) It wasn’t really meant to be. Nor is it meant to be a “How do we fix it?” post. It was meant to be a musing on how essential liturgy and the liturgical calendar seem to be to the human psych, so much so that if they are stripped away we will reinvent them. But I keep coming back to that problem of reinvention.

Also, I’m reminded of Robert Hugh Benson’s novel The Lord of the World and the new syncretic pseudo-religion that is created that keeps that liturgy but hollows it of any true Christian meaning. All these customs and traditions must be at the service of helping us to come together as a community yes, but as a community that is the Body of Christ, a community that has Jesus as it’s center. And that makes the whole enterprise seem more vital and more elusive than ever. I don’t have any answers to offer, only more and more questions. But sometimes the first step is asking the right questions, right?

I’ll conclude with a little anecdote about one of my personal favorite made-up holidays, one that was invented by my Sophie when she was not quite three. She started singing this little ditty she’d made up: Boo didda didda dadda, boo didda didda dadda, on Patrick Frank Day.” (to the tune of Did You Ever See a Lassie?) She would solemnly explain to us that this tune meant that Christmas was coming. Patrick Frank Day has now become a family tradition. No, we don’t know when it’s celebrated, but at least we do all sing the song. I’m not sure why I include this here, or what it means. Maybe just that her little song and its explanation seem to capture for me both something of the joy and the yearning for the rhythm of the liturgical year and the universal tendency to invent celebrations.

35 Responses to “Nobody Likes the Tangerines”–Reinventing the Liturgical Year

  1. Charlotte January 13, 2015 at 7:58 am #

    But, Melanie… maybe it’s just too soon for you to see.

    I grew up with strong cultural ties to the Catholic Czech community in South Texas because that is the community my grandparents belonged to and my mother’s generation. But what I saw was most people to whom “Catholic” just meant where you went to Church on Sunday. They didn’t know their faith any better than anyone not in their community. It was also a facade. My grandparents had a simple faith not based on education, simply based on things handed down and because it couldn’t hold up to the questioning and dissent of the children of the 50’s and 60’s, it got left behind. So, I too left that cultural stuff (not the religious stuff) behind me when I started my family because it didn’t mean the same thing to me that it did to my grandparents. My grandmother taught me to embroider because that was the way you decorated cloth back in her day (and helped pass the long dull hours on the farm). I had TV, boom boxes and paint pens to decorate my favorite pair of jeans… I didn’t need to embroider but I always did like learning new crafts so it’s not surprising that I’m the only one of my cousins to still do it today. My grandmother made goulash every week during the winter because she lived on a farm and root vegetables were plentiful. I have four grocery stores within a half mile radius from my house and they are building a fifth.

    Everything changes and you have to try to hold on to something if you want it to stay. You have to see the value in it or make it have value. Were some of my “mommy” blogger ideas silly and frivolous, sure. None of my daughters have a particular devotion to St. Agnes no matter how many fuzzy little lambs we made or how many times I told them about the Pope blessing the lambs whose wool will be turned into a Pallium. But I think they would cry if we ever decided not to celebrate St. Lucy’s Day even though the older girls are no longer interested in dressing up. They both literally squealed with delight when I recounted the story of how they each acquired their personal Lucy crowns and promised to make one for each of my future granddaughters. And there is not a drop of Norwegian blood in their bodies! But yes, I laugh every time I see someone post pictures of oranges in their kids’ shoes on St. Nicholas Day because oranges in winter aren’t a luxury anymore and my kids thought they were an odd thing for St. Nick to leave the one year we tried it since we keep a bowl full of them on the table throughout the winter.

    Your kids are still so little. You don’t yet know what is going to mean something to them. That’s why the Catholic mommy bloggers, like myself, like Jessica, like so many others, kind of went out of our way to explore a plethora of different traditions. Because we didn’t know what would stick. Sometimes, it feels a little like “fake it ’til you make it” but you will be surprised when you find out from your children at a later date how much certain things meant to them and what kind of seeds were planted that you never knew.

    Sophie made up her holiday and it became a family tradition… probably because she’d seen other holidays celebrated, right? The family experience is very strong. THOSE are the ties that bind… not community. I’ve never held much interest in shared culture or community experiences because to me those were empty and hollow. They were done because it’s the way they were always done. It’s funny, when I watched that Lark Rise episode, I figured that the St. George play was probably a tradition because the original Squire it was meant to honor was probably named George and that they continued it today (because it was TRADITION!) even though the Squire was now named Timothy. Which is kind my point. (Maybe I watched Fiddler on the Roof too much as a child.) Times change and we have to adapt. The silliness of doing something over and over simply because it’s always been done that way never appealed to me. I want to know the why behind it. Because if the “why” is meaningful enough, it might mean enough to stick.

    My children got a smattering of “forced” traditions, sure. But those that meant the most to them, have stuck. I don’t expect they will continue for generations. It depends on the direction their families take. And I’m OK with that.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli January 13, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

      Charlotte,

      I don’t mean at all to denigrate the kinds of domestic traditions you and I and other mom bloggers are creating for our families and it makes me sad you read what I wrote in that way. Nor do I think we need to cling to tradition for the sake of tradition, not at all.

      But… everything you write is about your family and my family. But as much as the family is basic building block of the Church, we are called to live out our faith not only in the community of the family but also the community of the parish. We aren’t meant to be so isolated from our neighbors and fellow parishioners. People need traditions and people need communities and what we do in our homes is important, but… what about everyone else? What strikes me as thick about the Lark Rise and Candleford traditions is that they bring people together. They create community that is composed of the Timmins family and the Arliss family and the and Terrells, Queenie and Twister and the the Lane household of Dorcas and Simon and Minnie and the Pratt sisters. Families coming together in common celebration, held together by something thicker than just going to church together on Sunday. And what strike me as thin about my own experience in comparison is how very little I know the people who live in my town and who go to Mass with me on Sundays, how seldom we come together outside of Mass in celebrations of who we are as a community.

      The thing is this piece isn’t really about my kids and my family. Yes, I can create a beautiful little Catholic culture for my kids, but how many of the thousand or so other families in my parish are doing the same? How many want to but can’t? How many don’t even know why they’d want to? I’m pretty sure the Catholic ideal is not each family doing its own thing and only coming together for Sunday Mass.

      While it’s true that the trappings of Czech Catholic culture are not enough to pass on the faith by themselves, neither do I think should we set up an either/or binary. It’s not either intentional discipleship or Catholic culture of food and traditions. We need both for a healthy Church. We need both to bring people to Church and to keep them there and to nourish their relationship with Christ. Ours isn’t supposed to be a Jesus and me faith. It’s meant to be lived out in celebration with our neighbors. True, what your relatives have is the trappings without the encounter with Christ, but what many parish programs offer these days is the encounter with Christ without the support of a culture in which to live out that faith.

      I’m NOT saying we need to cling to what is old for the sake of the old or out of nostalgia for the past. I am saying that people feel a hollowness and are trying to fill it and don’t know how and our parishes don’t do enough, can’t be enough because they lack cohesion and community. And I do think we shouldn’t be so quick to write off the power those traditions had to carry people through the hard times, to reconnect them in the times of crisis. Yes, the life of faith has its ebb and flow and people will live out the tradition without it having a deeper meaning for them, those traditions can become hollow. BUT if they are living them out, the meaning which they grew out of is still there for them to rediscover. The ones that are worth keeping, at least, are still rooted in Christ. If we jettison them, then when we do have a crisis of faith, where do we turn? If we throw out those customs people will just fill them with Hallmark holidays and gestures that are so divorced from their roots they can’t sustain life at all.

      Maybe this doesn’t ring true for you because you feel less lack in your local parish? Here in New England the Catholic parishes seem much less anemic to me than those in Texas do. My parish has coffee and donuts after Mass two Sundays a month, a parish picnic once a year, a Christmas bazaar, and a few other odds and ends, but it doesn’t have a community that lives out the rhythm of the liturgical year together in celebrations that reach beyond an hour of Mass once a week. I don’t really know my neighbors and that makes me sad. I don’t even know how to begin to get to know them better. What we have isn’t enough. It’s a slow drip when I need a river. Enough to sustain life, but not enough to thrive. Not enough to bring in more than 12%, 12% of baptized Catholics in our state go to Mass every Sunday.

      Maybe you don’t need more connection with your community to keep your faith strong, and maybe your kids don’t need that either, but what about everyone else? What about what Jenny says below about working moms who just don’t have the time or energy? What about people who aren’t savvy about picking ideas of Pinterest? The domestic celebrations are good and necessary but are not sufficient. The big cultural communal things are good and necessary but are not sufficient. The programs that seek to make individuals into disciples good and necessary but are not sufficient. We need a thickness, a richness, something that bridges the domestic celebrations and the holy day masses, something that does not replace either and does not stand on it’s own, but works with them.

      I suppose you can say it’s a chicken and egg problem, culture creates community and community creates culture. When you have neither where do you start? And, as Jenny says, when you don’t have people who can prioritize it, is there any hope? When everyone is so busy and when we can find our own entertainment on the television and computer without leaving our homes why would we seek amusement in the Church and with our neighbors? Why not just write off the rest of those folks we only see on Sundays and do our own thing at home? Am I supposed to just bake my Lucy bread and put my coins in the kids shoes and go to Mass on Sundays and holy days and just hope that somehow someday an authentic Catholic culture will arise in my parish out of … what? How do we move forward, how do we reconnect with our neighbors? How do we make new traditions that will bring us all together and give us a common identity?

      I’m sorry. I’m just kind of baffled by your comment because you seem not to get my point at all and I’m not sure where I lost you.

      • Charlotte January 13, 2015 at 11:35 pm #

        Wow. I’m really kind of baffled as to how my comments were perceived as being so antagonistic because seriously, I did not intend them that way. And if I missed the point of this post by focusing on the one aspect of it regarding family traditions, I guess other people here and on FB did too because I see plenty of comments about other people’s family traditions. But if this post is really all about community, I can try to focus my attention there. (But it is late so I make no promises.

        Melanie, you know, or maybe you don’t, that we don’t participate in a parish life. The parish that is closest to us is GINORMOUS like cathedral sized ginormous. The priests there are fabulous and faithful and intelligent. We love going there for confession and daily Mass when we can but we don’t attend Sunday Mass there because it is really distracting for the kids, especially when they were little and the place for children was the glassed in Narthex where people let their kids run wild and adults like to hang out and have conversations with each other during Mass.

        Our regular Sunday Mass is at Cistercian. And we have a community there. We chat afterwards. Everyone mingles. One Christmas, the Cistercians set out a giant Pannetone (sp?) that someone gifted them along with juice and coffee. The new Abbot has even hosted occasional coffee and donut times after Mass. We’ve gotten to know quite a few families there but it happens more slowly since there isn’t an organized community. That parish that is closest to us that is so good in other ways though, frankly, it doesn’t do much to support our homeschool lifestyle except allow our group to use their space sometimes even though I think the priests are not opposed to homeschooling and they created a special FHC class for the homeschoolers. This parish has a huge school associated with it… K-8 but they are raising the funds for a high school. It’s hard for a parish with a school that size to be very supportive of the homeschoolers, so I get it.

        But that being said, I probably just don’t agree with your particular take on community and the faith… it sounds like a preference of spirituality. Some people prefer to be more Franciscan, others prefer to be more Benedictine. But that doesn’t mean that I’m keeping my faith to myself or being a hermit. I participate in taking meals to new moms and the bereavement committee that provides food for funerals. I live my life out in the world too as most moms do, being an example to the secular world around us and hopefully pointing the way to the good and the true. Try explaining to the cashiers at Hobby Lobby why you need over 500 skeins of embroidery floss and what a saint pillow doll is. Maybe this is a regional thing. Maybe you are really experiencing a lack of community right now. But weren’t you also the one who wanted someone to come knock on your door and offer help because you felt like you didn’t have time to work on building community? Or am I confusing that with someone else?

        All I’m saying is that it building community takes time and you have to expect that it will also change with the times. It usually takes someone seeing a void and filling it. I saw a void in our homeschool group of kids who like to read getting to discuss books together so I created the book club. So if you see a void, maybe try to find a way to fill it yourself. I bet there are others who feel the same way. It’s not instant and it really can’t be forced. The people in Lark Rise were a community because they were all they had. Our world just isn’t like that today. The only places I still see it are tiny little towns. I don’t live in one of those. And as much as I enjoyed the show, one of my daughters hated it because “Dorcas was always in everyone’s business!” which offended her introverted sensibilities. Don’t forget about that lovely aspect of tight knit communities.

        I have a hard time when it sounds like people are romanticizing the past and that kind of sounds like what both you and Dom are doing. Those ethnic parishes that just sprung up that your husband mentioned below… they also sprung up because people of like cultures liked to circle the wagons and protect their own and they had huge prejudices towards people from other cultures. That’s the reason my great-grandfather went all the way back to Bohemia when his first wife died to marry one of her cousins from the “Old Country” instead of trying to find a mother for his ten kids in America. Only a wife from the “Old Country” was worthy to be his wife, cook his food and wash his trousers.

        Maybe we just have different perspectives. Maybe we just have different spiritualities. I guess we can just agree to disagree on this. No offense intended or taken, I promise! 🙂

        • Melanie Bettinelli
          Melanie Bettinelli January 14, 2015 at 1:35 am #

          As I go back and forth with you and Jen Fitz especially, I’m realizing that there’s a ball of emotion about parish culture that underlies what I’ve been saying. And probably for Dom as well. We’re currently without a parish and not by choice. I’m realizing that I’m not done mourning the loss of our pastor and our parish. I’m not done being sad and angry at having it ripped away from us abruptly and in a way that felt very cold and uncaring.

          Before all that I certainly would have said the same things about the need for a parish culture and not just a domestic culture, but perhaps there’s an edge I have right now, an emphasis that might not have been there before. Or maybe it would. I’ve been feeling in some sort disconnected and homeless ever since I moved to New England. The process of putting down roots has been slow and painful and I’ve already been uprooted and transplanted once before when we moved from the other side of Boston.

          I’m not from here and I there is much about the people here and the Church here that I find alien. It’s not hugely different. But different enough in so many small ways that I still feel an outsider. So perhaps part of what I’m expressing is that sense of alienation, of being a stranger. And given the incredible mobility in the US these days I suspect my experience of that is far from unique. There are many of us wanting to connect but not quite knowing how to do it when this is not our place and these are not our people.

    • Web Editor January 13, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

      Charlotte,

      I think the bit you might have missed was this isn’t about family traditions, but about a parish culture in which families live. Fifty years ago, parishes had Holy Name Societies and sodalities and festivals and dinners and dances and they weren’t programmed and organized by staff, but were organic, being run and driven by the community itself. Parishes back them had specific cultural connections–Irish, Italian, French–even if they weren’t set up to be ethnic parishes, because people would seek others who share their culture and in which they can live their cultural expressions.

      But today, the parishes which have a genuine shared culture are few and far between and so those of who have a longing for those cultural traditions end up trying to capture them on our own in the ways Melanie describes. Our society at large has sought to fill up the same lack on a larger scale with a parallel pseudo-liturgical season. We have Christmas, they have Santa Day. We have Valentine’s Day, they have hearts-and-chocolate day. We have Easter, they have bunny-and-eggs day. There are echoes of the true holiday left, but only just echoes.

      This is the dilemma we see and the root of the problems we have encountered in the parishes we know. In our home parish, they have an annual parish picnic that provides a bit of shared culture, the traditions of the picnic, the camaraderie that it engenders, but it’s not really enough.

      Parish culture is what happens in a parish between Sunday mornings. It’s the stuff of life for a community.

  2. Katherine January 13, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    Before I comment on the post, do you prefer comments here or on Facebook? I debated where to comment and I know some people prefer the conversation on their blog. I don’t know which I prefer yet.

    I haven’t seen Lark Rise to Candleford yet, though it is on my list. I wondered though if a St. George play makes sense for Michaelmas considering the shared slaying of the dragon/devil for both Saints.

    I think the human desire for the seasonal holidays is reflective of a much greater need, the need to connect to something greater than one’s self and be reminded of a purpose and meaning to life. It is the human in humanity to desire God and holidays draw us out of the mundane to remind us of purpose. Holidays of peace, love, thanksgiving, rejoicing, freedom are opportunities to remember, celebrate and meditate upon Truth. Our holidays are hollow, I think, because our religion, as a community, is hollow. And I think a lot of what is missing from our calendar and our culture stems from the loss of faith in people. Without faith, what is a holiday? If you want to revive culture, I think you need to revive faith. When people have faith I think the culture will begin to come back together and community will begin to rebuild. It may be glued together fragments of different traditions but over time the meaning behind those traditions will meld them together. Why did the nuns give out tangerines to the poor? Even if no one now wants a tangerine, the act was one of kindness and love and I think people probably cling to the tradition because it is a concrete reminder of those virtues. A physical reminder of the Truth we all desire: to love and be loved.

    I think American culture feels very thin for many reasons, including the ones you mention, such as our cultural melting pot. Our country is also much younger than Europe so there aren’t those hundreds of years of tradition that you simply don’t want to disregard. There isn’t that anchor that, no matter how rusty, is so buried you don’t want to upheave. When you consider the meshing of cultures, the thinness of our soil, and the loss of faith in Americans I think the decay, unfortunately, in American culture only makes sense.

    I think the way to rebuild the culture is to rebuild faith and I think the only road to doing that now is through Truth. I think the key to the New Evangelization should be (if it isn’t already – it may be, I don’t know) Truth and challenging every human being to pursue the Truth. It will take people along all sorts of paths and some of them painful but if people would only ask themselves what is the truth and take steps to find it, I believe the Truth would speak for itself and faith might begin to be rekindled.

  3. Charlotte January 13, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    So Katherine just stated a small part of what I was trying to say much more intelligently and succinctly. The tradition of tangerines… can’t just be the tradition. It means nothing without the “why”. We give our kids the why when we enjoy these new traditions. Sometimes they understand and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they internalize it and sometimes they don’t. Don’t look at the past with rose colored glasses. People who maintain traditions because they’ve always done it that way, don’t always understand the why either.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli January 14, 2015 at 1:28 am #

      it’s not only about “the kids” that I’m thinking, though. I’m thinking as well about the adults’ need for culture. Culture isn’t just the traditions we create for children. It’s about a community.

      I thought I’d addressed the question of traditions that don’t have a why. Oh yes… ” All these customs and traditions must be at the service of helping us to come together as a community yes, but as a community that is the Body of Christ, a community that has Jesus as it’s center.” The why is important, certainly. I’d say vital. And to that extent certainly the tangerine is a sort of ironic symbol for me to adopt because as portrayed in the Dr Who special it is certainly a tradition that has lost it’s meaning for most. But I’m fumbling toward an explanation of why holding on even to those mostly hollow traditions still give us something communal, something that make us who we are as a group that is bigger than each family doing it’s own thing.

      I agree that faith must be the root, but as I look at the New Evangelization enterprise, I feel like a concerted effort to reinvent and/or reconnect with those cultural roots, with our tangerines, is important. Not just to wait as individual families reconnect to their own heritages but to find ways for the parishes to foster a shared culture that might not necessarily be rooted in particular European heritages but spring up from the unique situation of each parish. And this might in fact be a culture that is new, different, not looking like the old. It should be organic. It’s what happens, yes, when people of faith come together and want more. But i think maybe we can be intentional about fostering the culture at the same time we are fostering the faith and not just wait for it to happen on its own.

  4. Jenny January 13, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    “How and why were these things lost? I’m not sure there’s a simple answer and I think trying to find one reduces the complexity of the thing and doesn’t help at all in the great task of seeking to, well, I was going to say seeking to restore what has been lost, but I’m not sure that’s really feasible or if it’s even desirable. But to find a new way forward, a new way to integrate the patterns of liturgy into everyday life, to reunite the sacred and secular into something vital and organic and lived.”

    I have *a* reason why these things were lost, not that it explains the whole story, but I think it is vital to understand this reason before we could even possibly find a way forward. Of course, I could have a massive case of projection. Mothers with full time jobs do not have time to implement celebrations. I think many of these traditions fell away not from a deliberate rejection of them, but because the people who used to have the time don’t anymore. Some of us can manage little things here and there, but we do not have the time resources to make community projects out of it. We need someone else to pick up that slack. And mostly there is no one there to pick it up. All the others are needing someone to pick up their slack. When every grown adult has a full time job demanding full attention plus family demanding full attention, the community fades to the background as a survival mechanism. When the only adults ever around are the mothers of very young children, who also don’t have time because babies, the community traditions die. The lifeblood of community is people who have been freed from enough outside (or inside) obligations to make it work. Traditionally this has been the mothers of older children and empty-nesters. Now all these people are at work.

    They say that leisure is the basis of culture, but this leisure is only achieved if there are adults doing the work of the home during working hours. When leisure time becomes synonymous with catching up on housework, there is no real leisure and no real culture.

    • Michelle January 13, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

      This is so right. With all these little kids, I can’t even get the Christmas tree down. There’s no way I can throw a Mardi Gras party. But everyone I know has little kids too, or the ones with bigger kids have more activities taking over their lives.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli January 14, 2015 at 1:19 am #

      Jenny I love your points about working mothers and leisure and the basis of culture. Right on point.

  5. Michelle January 13, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    We get together with another homeschooling family for liturgical year activities. So far it’s just moms and kids, maybe someday we’ll expand it. Michaelmas is an important day for them, and this year I learned that in the English tradition, the legend of St George is parallel to St Michael throwing the devil out of heaven. So we read a book about St George that day. Maybe when our kids get older, there will be a play.

    Our parish held an All Saints day party for the first time in a long time, and while I wasn’t super excited about it, we made a point to go, because community. But we don’t need the parish to organize it – we’ve been to a Michaelmas party and an Epiphany party just in the last few months. Maybe this year we’ll host our own, for what, I’m not sure yet.

    And it might be arbitrary, but we have our first tangerines of the season on St Nicholas day. Makes it a little more special.

  6. Catherine January 13, 2015 at 6:23 pm #

    I have the exact same thoughts. We did St Nicholas day, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and St. Lucy’s day all in one week, and it was meaningful for our family, but it seemed like we were celebrating the feast days of other cultures. Of course it’s the universal Church, but the traditions come from countries other than our own, which offers nothing in the way of Catholic tradition.

    We drive across town to go to a parish that is really trying to re-create a Catholic culture. What we have there is wonderful, but it’s a hodgepodge of people from all over our huge city, not a neighborhood community.

  7. GeekLady January 13, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

    This joins with being hospitable, I think. We don’t have any physically close Catholic friends… but all our friends are very welcome to join us at whatever crazy Catholic thing we get up to. Our d&d group is, entertainingly, the closest of all so they’re in for all sorts of seasonal weirdness. And with a very good humor.

    But really, I plant and nurture traditions mostly to please myself and Mike. Traditions that are just for kids, crafts and projects without a purpose, these get outgrown. But traditions that delight adults leave room for kids to grow into. And it usually doesn’t take much growing, kids love to participate in ‘grown up’ activities.

    David’s first and strongest memory of Easter is my Bread of Easter Brightness. And that delights me more than I can express in words.

  8. Jen A January 13, 2015 at 11:42 pm #

    BTW….there’s a lot of info out there from Waldorf Schools about why a St. George Play is tradition at Michaelmas. Waldorf Schools apparently celebrate Michaelmas (?)

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli January 14, 2015 at 1:18 am #

      Very interesting. Thanks for the link. Yes, Waldorf is very into those seasonal celebrations. The theosophists, although they strike us as being the predecessors of the New Age sort of spiritualism seem to have thought of themselves as being within the Christian tradition. Note how the description of Michaelmas focuses on the seasons and solstices and St George as a myth of good and evil. They seem very into fables and stories and myths from everything I’ve read.

  9. SophieEvans January 14, 2015 at 3:28 am #

    As a single, childless Catholic woman in my mid thirties I really do feel this absence of community in the Catholic church. But there’s even less for people my age and in my situation than there is for families. Not only is there nothing at many parishes (or even in dioceses) for us but most married parents our age rarely speak to us, let alone invite us to come over for dinner or create a community. Saying “create one yourself” to us single people is not helpful just as “create one yourself” is not very helpful to you. The problem is bigger than just individual parishes. We need more ways to build communities. I went to Catholic school and that’s where our community was. These days kids have so many activities away from their schools (how many even go to Catholic schools) and rather than building their community there they have friends from all over. But at least married parents have a chance to meet others. A lot of Catholic moms my age don’t include me in things because I’m not married or a parent so they have decided I know nothing. I’m serious. It’s really hard. I want friends with whom I share a faith and values and yet they don’t want me. So I guess this is a wide problem which also needs narrow fixes. The church needs to help but we also need to do our part to build communities at our parishes.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli January 15, 2015 at 12:13 am #

      Sophie, thanks for commenting. I definitely understand where you’re coming from. I’d love to know more single people at our parish, but you know much of the time I’m chasing five kids around after Mass and by the time I’m able to catch my breath the single folks have fled. But when they do approach and strike up a conversation, I’m so thrilled. And if there were someone at church who did that week after week I could see something growing out of that. But, yes, it would probably take persistence on the part of the other party to really get my attention. It’s not that I mean to ignore single people but, yes it’s easier to talk to other parents, easier to notice them and gravitate toward them, and to use the kids as a pretext to strike up conversations with strangers. But at the same time, talking to me about my kids is a good opening gambit for conversation. Tell me how cute they are or how well behaved or how much they remind you of your nieces or your friends’ kids. And here’s me giving the kind of advice I hate it when I receive so please feel free to tell me to take a hike, but here’s the thing. Inviting single people might not occur to me very often– at least not singles from church, though we do have single friends over for dinner– because I tend to get stuck in the rut of what’s next. But we do love to have single friends come visit us in our home. What if you volunteered yourself to come over for dinner bringing pizza and salad? One of the barriers to hospitality for families is the need to plan meals. I can’t imagine turning down an offer from a new friend who wanted to bring us dinner. And I might even tell them to skip the bringing dinner part and just come on over. Don’t be afraid to invite yourself over, to be pushy, to offer to help play with the kids while mom makes dinner. Is it possible that what you think of as them not thinking you have anything to offer is them assuming you’re social calendar is too full of all that fun single stuff they don’t have time for anymore? If you were in my parish, you might not be on my radar, but if you found a way to signal to me an interest in getting together outside of mass, I’d be really thrilled. For me at least being a parent might open the door to chatting with other moms over coffee and donuts after Mass, but it doesn’t make it any easier to make new friends. But you do make me want to be better at keeping my eyes open for single people who would welcome our hospitality.

  10. Katie January 14, 2015 at 9:29 am #

    I find this conversation to be so interesting. First let me say, I’m not in the habit of commenting on any blog, but I just spent the last hour reading all of your entries on Shakespeare and really felt called to respond to this post and some of the comments. A little background, my husband and I are both converts to the faith, him from no religion and me from lifelong Protestantism (I was baptized Catholic). We started attending our local parish, the people are very nice, but I truly did not feel connected (maybe looking for more in the liturgy, schooling, etc. ) I also have a BA in English and spent a year studying in England. Our kids (six of them) have been in variety of educational settings. Currently, our two oldest, girl and boy are at our local Catholic high school. I homeschool our three middles, two in middle school and one first grader, and our youngest is in developmental public preschool (with some significant learning and developmental delays.) Your post really resonates with me. I, like you, have felt all of these feelings of isolation For many years, I felt that we just didn’t belong in any parish. Then I did find some of the mother bloggers writing about traditions, and I think it helped me combat much of the depression and isolation I was feeling. In the last two years, I have been feeling very called to attend the Latin Mass. I find the beauty of the liturgy and music (chant) truly soul solacing, and even though, my older children often balk, I still insist on them attending. I think such beauty is so good for their souls. But even that decision is another point of divergence for us with our ‘local’ Catholic community. But truly I’m okay with that. I think this is a point where God is calling me to look for the places where we can come together. One area I see, is in praying the divine office. Lately, I have seen many Catholic bloggers write about this, and I see it as unifying the both the English and Latin communities – which follow different calendars but can be united in praying the divine office. Another way God recently allowed me to share across different communities as been in Him leading us to a wonderful language arts curriculum. I refer to it here http://www.rfwp.com/pages/michael-clay-thompson/. After many years of frustratingly looking for good curriculum, we started it last year and have been so impressed that I felt called to share with my email address book (including English staff at our local high school.) I guess what I ‘m trying to say it, I completely empathize with your feelings of isolation and lack of community, I also very much appreciate Jenny’s thoughts about everybody is now working. I think we have to be pray to be aware when God is calling us to build connections and build a more common culture one centered on Him. Thank you for writings on Shakespeare. They will help me show my children the beauty of language and hopefully grow in the recognition of the ultimate beauty of Christ and His Church.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli January 14, 2015 at 11:56 pm #

      Thanks for commenting, Katie. I’m so glad you found and enjoyed my Shakespeare posts. It’s a project dear to my heart. I love Latin and I love chant, but I confess I’m much more fond of the NO in Latin than in the Extraordinary form. I wish it were more widely celebrated. I think mom blogs do have a huge role in helping us to form our own traditions and in feeling connected when we’re faced with that radical isolation, but I also think they are a stepping stone and that we need to find a way to use these domestic traditions to try to seed the parish culture as well. I think we need some kind of a road map, some concrete ideas of easy things we very busy mothers of littles can do to help create community when we have very little time and energy and often very little social capital in our parishes. I like your thoughts on the divine office as a ground to start from. Maybe trying to find other people to come together for evening prayer or morning prayer might be one place we could start in building community and culture?

  11. Rebecca Teti January 14, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    Melanie, I’ve been thinking “around” this question for some time. I think you and Dom might enjoy reading Pieper’s “In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity.” It’s not that long and it’s very insightful about what it takes to “feast” successfully. I wrote a little about it in an old F&F piece about Advent which I’ll post at the end of the comment, but you shouldn’t let my little column prevent you from reading the whole essay, which is very rich.

    I’ve also been pondering off and on the relation of feasts to evangelization. I don’t have a conclusion, I’ve just noticed a few things: like, the end of dePaola’s “Clown of God,” and how the old beggar clown is drawn into the Church because of a celebration, one which he’s allowed to join. Or once, in an effort to understand the feast of Christ the King better, I read the encyclical that established it. In it the pope calls for a holy year devoted to studying Christ’s kingship through homilies, seminars and special observances. But then he sets up the feast saying in essence, “Few will read my words, but everyone loves a party.”

    Here’s the paragraph: “For people are instructed in the truths of faith, and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year — in fact, forever. The church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God’s teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.”

    As I say, I don’t what I conclude, but I’ve been thinking about the power of feast days (and other traditions by extension) because of these things.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli January 14, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

      Rebecca, I adore that quote. I want to stand up and cheer!
      “Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year — in fact, forever.”

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  12. GeekLady January 14, 2015 at 5:20 pm #

    I do wonder if there are cultural things we have, like the tangerines, that we just don’t notice until someone asks us to explain them.

    • Jenny January 15, 2015 at 10:16 am #

      Funnily enough even though I don’t really watch Dr Who–I don’t really watch anything– I immediately knew what the tangerines referred to because my grandmother would set out stockings for all of her grandchildren. They had candy and trinkets, but always in the bottom was some type of orange citrus to which all the grandchildren turned up our collective noses, but it was there every year.

  13. bettyduffy January 14, 2015 at 9:18 pm #

    One thing I’ve noticed around here, since my kids are now in public school, is that the whole community rallies around school traditions, the Friday night football game, the school dance, cliques of parents formed by their children’s choice of extracurriculars–ie. band boosters, wrestling club, PTO…

    And there is still a very strong longing to make the traditions meaningful, even noble. But people’s hands are quite tied when it comes to making them sacred. A huge segment of the shopping “seasons” are driven by school parties–those meaningless colors and symbols, are all a pluralistic society can agree upon.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli January 14, 2015 at 11:48 pm #

      Being out of the school loop, I hadn’t thought of school parties as driving shopping seasons and symbols, but that makes so much sense.

      • jennifer January 15, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

        Ok, this is key, I think. I felt out of the loop in our old parish bc the community stemmed from the parochial school which excluded us. HS’ing was not in the school’s (or parish’s) financial best interest so was not supported. Our new parish has no school affiliated with it. I wonder how much that influences the tone.

        • Melanie Bettinelli
          Melanie Bettinelli January 15, 2015 at 10:06 pm #

          A good point about the school. I wonder if we were hooked in with our parish’s school if I wouldn’t feel more connected.

  14. Margaret January 21, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    So many good points: we are a culturally diverse Faith community; we are living in a secularized society, we are mobile, we are overorganized (is that a deliberate attempt to disrupt the togetherness that was much more prevalent when I was a young mother — in the 60’s and 70’s?). When women sent their children to school, but were not working outside the home, it made them available and anxious to be involved in Church, school, and civic activities. Volunteerism was allive and well (with all the rivalries inherent in such organizations that we conveniently forget after many years). There was time to be on the phone eliciting volunteers, to plan meetings, festivities, etc.

    Mothers are much more harried now, including the pressure to have their children in competitive sports, music lessons, tutoring classes. Homeschoolers are always “on duty.”

    Community life suffers.

  15. Melanie Bettinelli
    Melanie Bettinelli January 22, 2015 at 11:46 pm #

    My friend Enbrethiliel who blogs at Shredded Cheddar is having trouble commenting and emailed me her comment. I really like what she adds to the conversation, especially about the vertical component of community and tradition, so I’m posting it here.

    “Melanie, what you write about here is something that I’ve been pondering and mourning for some time. There really is a disconnect between the everyday life of the present and the everyday life of the past, and we are poorer for it–though certainly not because we romanticise the past and have feelings of deprivation. It’s like not having a relationship with your own grandparents. That makes you an orphan, once removed.

    Community isn’t just “horizontal,” meaning the people who are around you now. It’s also “vertical,” including people who are now dead and people who have yet to be born. We can be surrounded by a very vibrant “horizontal” community and still feel that something is missing–because unless we have the “vertical” dimension, something will be missing.

    Finally, Charlotte’s point that not knowing the “why” of a tradition makes it meaningless strikes me as too materialist a measure for tradition. Tradition and community life are more than just the sum of all the practices and people who happen to be there. Instead, tradition and community exist as abstract, universal goods that we strive to make the material world match up with. If the material world is matching it, although we don’t (as in the case of traditions that we practice blindly every year), then the fault is in us and not in the traditions. Getting rid of them for something more meaningful (when it would be so easy, especially today, to learn their significance) is actually damaging to community–and I daresay, an Orwellian move against history. “

  16. mandamum January 26, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

    I will probably carry this around with me chewing on it, Melanie, but a thought or two if I can articulate them now:

    1) I think some of the disconnected-ness comes from being strangers in a strange land as Catholic Americans. The US doesn’t have an English-speaking Catholic background, and the US has barely any of its own background, when compared to 12th-century French nuns. ANYthing we introduce will be either borrowed from another’s culture (our own predecessors or others’) or just made up out of whole cloth. And unless it “goes viral” one way or another, it will not be part of the greater culture – just ours.

    2) Some of the loss is not accidental. Traditions give us roots, and ancestors. Such people are less easy to sway to the zeitgeist. Some people with agendas would seek to break down families and social institutions, so that there is no society structure but the state (“When a child opens his eyes, he should see, not the face of his father, but of the state” – Rousseau) and thereby no small-scale societies to mess up the large vision of the society-makers. There is a similar way, I think, that some people with agendas would prefer to cut us off from those who have gone before, forcing us to re-invent all things or just throw up our hands and take the hollow saccharin-candy (or Turkish Delight?) we’re offered in place of genuine culture. I think you’re right that this pre-dates us: Eliot points to it, and also CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man. And I think it links up to Enbrethiliel’s point about cutting us off from history.

    oh…one last thought
    3) I have been struck more and more lately by the loss of a common… how to say. “Cultural Grammar”? I know others have referred to this more clearly. The common language of scenes/books/characters that allows us to refer to a traitor as a “Judas” or “Iago” and make a point by quoting a bit of a scene to paint the whole, characters and all. As we lose this common background, it makes any communication much more laborious, and leaves us speaking entirely past each other too often. Again fragmenting our society. I think the loss of “the Tangerine” is related to this.

    4) Building a culture takes years, and I don’t think we can see it in action because it moves too slowly. You may not feel your mom-blog-pinterest-created efforts count as “tangerine” traditions because you’ve made them up instead of inheriting them, but for the one that rings true with your kids, it will become the Bettinelli “way of doing” and give them roots, even if no one else understands. Even if no one really likes eating “that Christmas cookie” or making “that pilgrimage that’s freezing cold” or what have you. And eventually the culture will be built up anew. But we in this time of winter yearn for the light we lack.

    My aunt gave me, when I married, a typed list of all the secular and sacred feasts that she and my grandparents marked. They were not Catholic, but I think they had a strong sense of the need to be connected in this way. In her list she included little ways to mark the feast on the table, with decorations and foods. And backgrounds. So the first day back to work after twelfth-night – for both men (Plough Monday) and women (Distaff Day) were also marked in some places. By giving me the list, she provided me with a way of making a structure to the year, and of plugging into my family background, even though my immediate family hadn’t celebrated all/most of those days.

    aaaannd… nothing like having the greater society turn its back on you, to force you to band together as a recognizable sub-culture with specific “ways we do” things. Like a secret club. Like the Mass Rocks in Ireland.

    I think, as I type this, that much of this cultural structure ties us not only to the Liturgical year, but also to the Natural year as the seasons turn and the moon waxes and wanes. And many people nowadays want to transcend nature and not allow it to “oppress” them with the way things are. So maybe even recognizing the natural rhythms is something ignored, something to avoid (or even something to suppress). When I read the Eliot piece you quote, the feeling I get is always one of being part of a grander rhythm and music – a sort of dance – where my part echoes previous themes, with variations. I am not the first nor the last to form a new family, grow old, and pass on, and this is good. The steady and steadying rhythm of nature.

    Back to work – thanks for sharing the discussion. I appreciate that Dom chipped in too –I can see you have been mulling this together. I’m sorry being parish-less was the immediate impetus 🙁 That can be a lonely place to be.

    • Melanie Bettinelli
      Melanie Bettinelli January 26, 2015 at 7:46 pm #

      Thanks, mandamum, it’s nice to have other people to mull over the big questions with me. To me this is one of the great joys of blogging.

      I love your aunt’s typed list. Being able to go back and retrieve those connections and even to revive what might otherwise have been lost, what a gift!

      I’m realizing that this is one reason I cling to my particular family’s tradition of giving gifts at Epiphany as well as receiving gifts at Christmas. I do value traditions that aren’t just my own but that are shared and that connect backwards. They connect my children to my parents.

  17. Kori February 9, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    I really relate to what you are saying here. I love all the Catholic families I see trying to reclaim the traditions of the past, but without a strong Liturgical life and Church community there is something important lacking. I fear these families will become isolated communities unto themselves and then when the birds leave the nest (maybe not this generation, but the one after) all will be scattered and lost again.

    I am fortunate to have a Church community that does foster strong traditions. What is frustrating to me, however, that even still some families prefer their “domestic monastery” to what is offered at Church. Many of the festivals and liturgical traditions my parish has tried to foster have fizzled because the prevailing attitude seems to be that it’s too hard to take young children to Mass etc. in the evening or when they don’t “have” to be there. I completely understand this as I fight that temptation myself. Yes, I love, for example, our Candlemas tradition but as I got the 4 year old and the 1 year old ready for a 7:30pm Mass and contemplated all the difficult bedtimes that would result later that week I wanted to give up. But I persevered and we survived and it was a beautiful experience none of my children will ever forget. http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2015/02/candlemas-at-mater-ecclesiae-berlin-nj.html#.VNfTJUIxZEg

    We are blessed that we have a community that at least strives to live out the model of the Parish and the community acting as the basis for the home and family. This is because we are a mission Parish and therefore an intentional community. I know from your blog that you have no attachment to the Latin Mass, Melanie, but one of the strengths inherent in that community is that 90% or more of the people who attend are making a strong personal choice and often a sacrifice to be there. I wish that were true for those in the Novus Ordo community as well.

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