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.”
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. I created 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.
 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