Start a New Tradition

We celebrate Christmas in our family. One of the things we enjoy is decorating the tree together, sometimes it’s team tag, other times we’re around the tree together. Our ornaments are old and every one has special meaning to one of us.

For families who have been locked up together working and going to school at home, the thought of having everybody together during the holidays may not be as inviting as it was this time last year. So how can you make the time special without the opportunity to gather with extended family, visit holiday displays, go shopping, meet friends for fun or travel to new places?

Virtually, sure. But most of us have had our fill of virtual. And parents who are conscientious about screen time for the kids, painfully realise that all cautions about appropriate amounts of screen time are out the window with virtual school.

Maybe it is time to ramp up, return to, or introduce the time-honored tradition of storytelling with the family instead of watching something together in the evening. “Storytelling is universal and is as ancient as humankind. Before there was writing, there was storytelling. It occurs in every culture and from every age. It exists (and existed) to entertain, to inform, and to promulgate cultural traditions and values.”[1]

You may tell a story that the family has read together and loves, retell a movie or television program, or make up a story. You can also tell a family story. If you’re afraid the kids will say, “Oh, not that again,” maybe you’re not telling it as a story. Think of something that happened to you as a child growing up, something won or lost, something important. Or think of a family legend passed along in your family. Think of telling it around a campfire with the drama of dark setting in. Think of spinning a yarn based on fact handed down, adding your own take.  

One of my family legends is how family members fighting for the Union during the Civil War slipped home to check on the women and children. They were reported.  William Clarke Quantrill’s men, including Frank and Jesse James, raided the farm. They routed out the men and killed them. Then, to the horror of the women and children, they even pulled the featherbeds out of the house and dragged them through yard, scattering feathers everywhere. I borrow from the story in writing an episode for Chapter 10, “No Time for Tears,” of The Black Alabaster Box.

The family story is mildly interesting if you stick to the facts. But when told like a story, a real “Once upon a time” story, the tension builds. Neighbours didn’t trust neighbours. The men didn’t tell anyone when they enlisted in the Union Army or when they came home. It was that dangerous. The story starts to build. The storyteller adds details about the wild Missouri border with Kansas, the lawlessness and mistrust. Some details may be true and others are part of the life taken on by a story in the telling. (The James brothers were well known to my ancestors and they rode with Quantrill’s men, but were they there on the scene? I’m not really sure, but it sure makes a good story.) Family stories may or may not have a happy ending. The story of Quantrill’s men doesn’t. But it carries family values and it kept me listening as a kid.

Find it hard to keep people focused while you’re telling a story? Sometimes drawing, coloring, or doing a craft activity like working with playdough helps people to listen. In pioneer days, everybody helped with tasks like knitting stockings or mending while someone told the story. That’s something else we could borrow from time-honoured traditions. Keep the hands busy. Follow the link to download FREE coloring pages based on illustrations from The Last Crystal Trilogy to keep people busy and focused if you don’t have a mending pile. There are several choices from easy to challenging.

Who knows? You may develop an important family tradition.


[1] National Geographic (January 2020). Storytelling and Cultural Traditions.   The article is kid friendly and includes several traditions of storytelling that may be of interest to the whole family.c

When Favorite Characters Die

After one of my friends finished reading The Black Alabaster Box, she e-mailed me.“I loved it. . . I must say that you are very brave, because I couldn’t kill off some of my favorite characters.”

It’s true. Some of my favorite characters experience the harsh reality of life on the Santa Fe Trail. Two die of small pox and four are murdered. (I won’t say which ones–you’ll have to read the book to find out!) I was terribly sorry to see them go. But I was determined to be true to a history in which few people traveled the trails without being witness to or experiencing its grim realities. And, while an author is in control of what happens, sometimes it feels as if the characters and context are calling the moves.

I don’t recommend the Trilogy to youngsters under about ten-years-old. It can be a great read-aloud for a nine-year-old, within the safety of family or schoolroom.

Disease was arguably the greatest killer on the trails, although many people were shot by accident. People drowned in dangerous river crossings as well. Traveling west was not a six week-long camping holiday.  And the greatest threat to wagon trains was not American Indians, though there were instances of violent clashes between wagon trains and native tribes.

Youngsters are exposed to an enormous amount of violence on their devices, in movies and on television. But it is one thing to see Batman and Robin going “Bif!” “Pow!” “Shezam!” as they kill off the bad guys and quite another to think about what you’d do if someone in your own family died.  

A good story can raise important and difficult issues in ways that can be discussed thoughtfully and with sensitivity at school or at home. It can become a cataylist for “What would you do if…?”

 A wise teacher will suggest that if her students have not talked through the “What would you do if?  question with their parents, they should do so. It is psychologically important for children and young people to know that should the worst happen, their parents or caretakers have made a plan for how to deal with it. Of course, disaster is not predictable. Plans can be disrupted. It isn’t possible to forsee the future. Hence, discussions are all the more important. Children should know “go-to” people they can rely on, how reach them, and if circumstances prevent them from reaching their “go-to” people, safe contacts.

It is hard for author and readers to accept death of favorite characters in a story. It is even harder to face the certainties of death in the midst of life. But we do it as part of living and learning how to go on.  A good story can help us along the way–especially if a caring adult is there to share the experience when favorite characters die.