This time of year holds so many family traditions for us that make my heart grow warm at the start of the fall. I came to realize recently that these traditions serve as guide posts and memories for my children. I hope they seed a deep core of being cherished that guides through rough patches in their lives. I suppose it really begins at the start or September with homeschooling, but the real fun starts in October.
October is my oldest’s birthday month, and so he always looks forward to that. Our family’s birthdays go one month after another here with a break in January. We have my oldest’s in October; mine in November; then December for my husband; and the youngest has hers in February right before Valentines Day. Our birthday tradition is for each of the children to choose a non-profit to donate to in lieu of gifts. Being away from family, we always had birthday parties with friends. It became apparent quicky that it was easy to get too much. Though I think this is an amazing blessing, we found that gift from family that came in the mail was enough each year, so for their birthday from friends, we ask for a donation to the non-profit of their choice. Then my husband and I match the amount they are gifted, and the child give that money to the non-profit. It has been a wonderful, empowering experience for my oldest in particular. The youngest still wants all the money and all the gifts, but she’ll get there. My oldest has already started thinking about how he would like to help the world this year. That warms my heart.
October also brings the monarch butterflies. Our area is a resting place for the monarchs during their southernly migration to Mexico right before they launch over the Gulf. There is a monarch festival each year, and a monarch tagging program that people that are willing to wake before the sun can participate in. About three days after the first real cold snap which usually happens in October, they arrive, and they are AMAZING. It is a gorgeous sea of orange and black. I’m sure it is nothing compared to Mexico or California where they gather in droves to sleep for the winter, but it’s a beautiful sight indeed. Whatever that day might be, we skip school and go to see the monarchs. Of course we take our cameras. There are often several other species of butterflies with them, but the monarch are the most prevalent.
Another fun tradition in our family is to have a small, intimate group of friends come over for a pumpkin carving party. We’ve done this for several years now, and it’s so much fun. Being in Florida it has to be pretty close to Halloween, because our jack-o-lanterns, when not eaten by the squirrels, last about three days before they collapse in an orange puddle of decay. This is a sweet party of choosing designs, moaning and groaning over pulling out pumpkin guts, carving our orange globes, and roasting and eating pumpkin seeds. Mostly the kids carve, but sometimes the adults get involved as well. It’s a delight to see them all lit up at night.
In November, we generally find a time to go backpacking. This tradition is my favorite and usually done for my birthday around thanksgiving since we are far from family. Hiking into the wood, sleeping outside, heating hot cocoa for the kids, and sitting around the fire are a dream to me. I always feel my most alive while backpacking. It’s not the same as how we did it before kids. There are lots of modifications to accommodate the children, but oh so well worth it. We usually find a terrain that is not too terribly difficult or long for the way in. Then we establish a base camp and do day hikes from that location. I use my youngest’s child carrier backpack as my pack, and my husband brings it on the day hikes so we can make it just a little longer. Each of the children has a pack, but it usually just has their clothes, and of course their pocket knives, and sometimes their eating utensils. In addition and sometimes in lieu of backpacking, we take a trip to the mountains. It’s different, and though we do a lot of hiking, there are apple turnovers, apple picking, and apple cider involved as well. If we are lucky, the brilliant fall follage that comes at that time of year is a feast for our eyes.
A newer tradition for us has been a regional arts and crafts event at the beginning of December. This is how my oldest funds his photography addiction. Several years back he came to me and told me he wanted a DSLR for Christmas. As you might imagine, I laughed. If you don’t already know, DSLR and photography equipment is expensive. We like to keep life simple so we focus on hand-made gifts and limit our spending during Christmas. I told him we would not buy the camera for him, but I would help him find a way to fund it. Our solution was selling his photographs at this event. It has turned out very well for him, and so for the last few years we have printed photos, and he has matted or placed them on cards to sell. If you haven’t seen it, you can check out his blog at here. Even though it is work for him, seeing his photographs in print is amazing, and he always enjoys the work. Though the event does usually fund a new lens, or this year he’s hoping a new camera body, the greatest reward of the event is the experience. We have met many other children displaying their talent. We have met so many people with stories, and encouragement, and leads for further study. It is an amazing event.
My favorite of our December traditions though is our activity advent calendar. I am enthralled by watching my children delve into goodwill and fun of that season. The calendar has an array of activities ranging from the simplest like reading a seasonal book to the more complicated like making a batch of cookies for the neighbors or buying the tree and decorating it. They are often so excited about opening each envelope that they negotiate who will open which one the night before. Everything about it is exciting to me: the planning of the calendar, the stuffing the little notes into each decorated envelope, the excitement of watching them open an envelope each morning, and the joy of the activities. These traditions set a rhythm for the season and fill our hearts with warmth, closeness, and joy. What are some of your favorite rituals of the season?