Creating Family Traditions
One question I hear very often in Parenting groups is “How do I raise my child in our Pagan tradition. And I confess, this question confuses me. If you are a Pagan, and you follow a Pagan tradition, and you are raising children, you are automatically going to raise your kids in that tradition, right? But no. That’s not right because many folks were not raised in the tradition they practice as parents and so do not have the example of our parents to look to. To complicate matters further, many of us feel we must hide our practice and end up hiding it from our kids as well.
To make things worse, many of the activities we undertake as Pagans are somewhat complicated and would be disrupted by the presence of a small child. Whether you Circle with a group, or perform full moon rituals alone, having a child of a certain age in the room has potential to be really distracting. And, frankly, kids don’t do complicated. While your little one might be interested in playing with your ritual tools, he is going to lose interest as soon as you start using them for what they’re meant for and meltdowns are not unheard of in this situation.
That all being said, kids actually thrive on ritual, they simply don’t stand for ceremony. Family traditions are all about rituals and these rituals teach children what is important to the family. So, if you are struggling with a way to incorporate your Pagan religion into your parenting, these rituals are a good place to start.
But what are rituals? Rituals are things you do over and over again in context. For example: Saying a prayer before dinner is a ritual. Decorating a Yule tree is a ritual. Reading a story and/or singing a song before sleep is a ritual. Visiting graves on Memorial day or Samhain (or both) is a ritual. Dressing up and going trick or treating on Halloween is a ritual. Assuming, of course, that you do these things in a similar way every time the occasion rolls around. Or at least 9 times out of 10. The entire collection of these rituals make up your family tradition. You will notice, of course, that none of these rituals are ceremonies. Of course, none of these examples are specifically Pagan either. That is where your creativity comes in.
As I’m writing this, I am assuming that you have some rituals that you’ve been doing for awhile with your family, either with your children or your parents or both. And these rituals may or may not be Pagan in nature. Your goal is to create a ritual tradition but it is not to alter the rituals you and your kids are already used to in such a way as to disrupt things. So, we begin simply by listing several occasions that may already have rituals attached to them:
- New Year’s Day
- Valentine’s Day
- First Harvest
- Second Harvest
- New Moon
- Full Moon
- Morning Wake Up
Begin by looking at each occasion individually and answering the following questions-
- Do we actually celebrate this event? Should we?
- What do we call it?
- What day do we celebrate it on?
- Who usually joins us for these celebrations?
- What food do we usually eat on these days? Who prepares the food?
- Do we usually put out decorations for this event? Who decorates?
- Do we have any special prayers, stories or songs associated with this event?
- Do we have any special clothing associated with this event?
In summary; what do you already do?
Once those questions are answered you can look critically at your practices and answer the following questions:
- Do these activities reflect our values? Are they contrary to them? Are they neutral?
- Do these activities reflect our spiritual beliefs? Are they contrary to them? Are they neutral?
- Do we all enjoy them?
- (You may want to take a moment to write down exactly what your beliefs and values are first, just to keep your thoughts in order.)
For each ritual activity, answer the first two questions and weight them against the third. If an activity reflects your values and beliefs, great. But if you or your kids find it tedious, you might want to think of an alternative activity. On the other hand, if the ritual activity is contrary to your values and beliefs and everybody loves it, you may have to think a little harder.
When looking at the enjoyment question, remember that majority does not necessarily rule here. If Grandma looks forward the Nutcracker Suite every year and everyone else in the family thinks it’s the most boring evening you waste all year, you’re going to have to come to a compromise to make Grandma happy. After all, it’s her holiday too. Maybe you can take turns escorting Grandma each year, or sweeten the deal with a trip to the ice cream shop after the show. Personally, I hate decorating the Yule tree. I know, I know I’m a weirdo. But I do it for the kids. (Actually, they mostly do it. I just drag the stuff out. Of course, I do all the putting away.)
Finally, once you’ve decided what to keep and what to change, it’s time to get creative. Remember though that you don’t want to make major changes all at once. Using Yule again as an example, suddenly deciding to do away with presents because commercialism is contrary to one’s values is likely to result in a very small riot. However, you could say this year we’re going to give to charity one item we already own for each present we get. Or you could say that we’re going to make all of our presents this year from recycled materials. Or both.
“Paganizing” your family rituals can be as simple as inserting a Pagan story, song or prayer into your regular activities.
I could write a whole book on this subject and maybe one day I will. In the meantime, you can find some ideas for family-friendly activities that you may wish to incorporate into your rituals here in my blog.
You may also find some useful ideas in these books:
Celebrating the Great Mother: A Handbook of Earth-Honoring Activities for Parents and Children by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw
Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life by Pauline Campanelli and Dan Campanelli
Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions by Starhawk, Diane Baker, Anne Hill and Sara Ceres Boore