Rekindle joy throughout the year with family feast days

Variety is an important part of human life. How blessed we are that the Church gives us cycles of feasting, fasting and ordinary times in the liturgical year, as each mode causes heightened appreciation for the others. We need normal, ordinary days; we need times of extra-hard work and penance; and we need times of feasting, merriment and celebration. This is how human beings thrive.

And yet we so often forget to live this way. In particular, while we are sometimes good at self-indulgence, in our atomized and hopeless society, we struggle to find ways to live with authentic celebration and joy.

In spite of our intellectual affirmation of the Resurrection, many of us are tempted to live our daily lives in a state of persistent gloom. It is easy enough to remember to rejoice during Christmastide or the Easter Season, when cultural and Church holidays coincide and everyone is making merry and there are traditions to help us along. But when Ordinary Time comes upon us, often we forget not only to sometimes do penance (I’m looking at you, Friday obligation!), but also to take breaks from the hardships of daily life and remember to rejoice.

Want more Radiant? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

Instead, during the long green periods on the liturgical calendar, it is common for us to go around acting pretty worn down, snapping at each other and our children and generally just being grouchy. As the pressures mount and the days are filled with stressors (bills and strep throat and backaches and cries of “Mom! The dog just puked on the carpet again!”), cheerfulness diminishes and, despite the luxuries of modern life, we can begin to forget that such things as merriment, enjoyment and appreciation exist.

The Church has a solution to this: the many feast days that are sprinkled throughout the year in order to remind us that “we are an Easter people,” as Pope St. John Paul II put it. That said, the reality is that there are so many such feast days on the calendar that the idea of attending to them can be a bit overwhelming. Death by drowning in Catholic liturgical-living Pinterest is no way to go.

This is where your own discernment can come in to help increase joy and celebration in your family life without adding pressures or burdens. You can create your own, specialized, easy practice of celebrating what I like to call “family feast days.”

What is a family feast day?

A family feast day is any day that you wish to mark annually with special joy. For my family, celebrating sacramental anniversaries and the feast days of our patron saints (“name days”) helps to ground us in the reality that we are supported by grace, and that we are not alone but are part of a living Communion of Saints. Faith-based family feast days can include:

  • Baptism anniversaries
  • RCIA anniversaries, if not on Holy Saturday
  • Wedding anniversaries
  • Name days (including confirmation saints!)
  • Special devotion days — the feast days of saints with whom you have a special friendship, or Marian apparition days, etc.
  • Holy days of obligation

You can also add dates that are of importance to your family that are not explicitly religious, if you like, such as:

  • “Gotcha” days for adopted children
  • Mom and Dad’s engagement anniversary
  • The first day of spring, summer, fall and/or winter
  • A late grandparent’s birthday
  • The first day of school each year

How should you celebrate?

The wonderful thing about celebrating family feast days is that there are no expectations to threaten to turn something that ought to be joyful into a source of distress. After all, it’s all well and good to say to someone, “On Christmas Day, just do whatever makes you joyful,” but the reality is that on such a major cultural occasion as Christmas, we do have real duties toward other people (especially relatives), and sometimes we have to accept some extra stress in light of this. But family feast days can be freely designed with only the people within your own four walls in mind.

For example, if you and your household enjoy choosing, giving and receiving gifts, you might mark a child’s baptismal anniversary with some sort of special religious gift. What a wonderful thing to do! On the other hand, if buying (or receiving) gifts is a source of stress for you, you may find that you prefer to write a little card or have a special plate that you use for breakfast on each of these days, or do something like lighting the person’s baptismal candle at dinner. These are all equally wonderful!

In other words, while some people give gifts on name days and always have rainbow sprinkle whipped cream chocolate chip cheesecake pancakes on the first day of spring and do all sorts of special things for their family feast days, in your own family, you can do whatever you like best and find to be easiest. In my house, for example, on each of your feast days, you get to pick dinner and dessert, and everybody says Happy Feast Day to you a whole bunch of times throughout the day and is very happy for you. Dad might find time to play an extra game of chess with you, or you might discover someone has made your bed for you while you were lingering over your coffee.

And that’s it. You don’t get the moon.

But gosh, we’re happy on that day, and we all have a little spring in our step. And although it requires very little of the rest of the family to arrange to pick up a special gallon of ice cream from the store or give a few extra hugs, it feels very special to the person who is being celebrated. Everyone needs a little pick-me-up every once in a while to be reminded freely and happily that they bring their family joy. This is what makes people feel loved.

So I encourage you to consider trying out these little family feast days, celebrations that are characterized by freedom and enjoyment but are free from burdens and overexertion. In my own family of six, we have around 20 of these days sprinkled throughout the year. They are minor, but they are special to us because they are about the gift we are to each other, not just on holidays but in the midst of all that is ordinary as well.

And you can’t beat that for rekindling joy.

@Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.