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“Once Upon a Time” – Story-Telling and Feasts by Maria Von Trapp

by Maria von Trapp, Around the Year With the Trapp Family

“ONCE UPON A TIME”

Among the arts that are dying out rapidly in our machine age, the one most in danger is the art of story-telling. In other generations it was quite natural that every mother would tell her little ones a story at bed-time, or when a child didn’t feel well, or on Sundays and feast days.

Those were the times when mothers were really busy, when they had to light a fire in the kitchen stove, to wash their laundry by hand, to shop every morning and carry their marketing home–sometimes over long distances–when they were sewing the children’s clothes and mending and darning in the evening. But there was always time left to tell a story.

There is no substitute for story-telling. The reading of books, privately or aloud, the listening to radio and watching television–all these devices cannot replace one single, live story told around the fireplace or on the front porch on a summer night, or after the bonfire has died down.

Admittedly, it is not an easy art. Many people have found that out and have given up before trying hard enough.

A lot of story-telling has gone on in our house. My husband was a master of it. When he started to tell about his trip around the world in an old-fashioned frigate as a cadet first class, or of his participation in the Boxer Rebellion in China when he was nineteen, or of his adventures in the first newly invented, poorly constructed submarines, we all would sit spellbound, oblivious of time.

Once we spent a delightful summer with Robert Flaherty and his family. He was another master of this forgotten art. Almost every night, on the lawn in front of his Vermont home, he told about his experiences with the Eskimos, or with the South Sea people–again banishing time.

One is always sure of captivating an audience with ghost stories. There are plenty of true ghost stories–one just has to look for them–true because they might tell of an experience with the world beyond.

It isn’t so much what we tell–as long as we are willing to revive this forgotten art. Our Lord gives us an example. Some of the most beautiful stories ever told come from Him–the story of the Prodigal Son, of Lazarus, of the Good Samaritan.

And now we have reached the most important point of all. When sermons or devotional books tell us that the Christian family should fashion itself on the example of the Holy Family, this usually refers to the spiritual life only.

“If there were more mothers like Mary and more fathers like Joseph, there would be more children like Jesus,” it is said, Mary being thought of as the holy handmaid of the Lord, Joseph as the man nearest to God, and the Infant “subject unto them.”

Nowhere have I seen that thought extended to the whole of our family life, calling us to model our recreations, also, on the example of the Holy Family. It is not at all likely that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would have gone to some of the shows in our movie theatres or into any one of our night clubs or the average Broadway show.

It is quite probable, however, that there was story-telling, singing, and discussion going on in the evenings in the little house in Nazareth; and why shouldn’t they have played games with the little Boy and His friends, or listened to music played on the quaint ancient instruments by some neighbors?

Joseph may have read to his family, and whenever they accepted an invitation to a wedding of one of their kinfolk, they certainly participated in the solemn dancing which formed part of any oriental wedding ceremony.

A word from the Book of Wisdom is often applied to Our Lord or to His Holy Mother: “My joy it is to be with the children of men.” Should we limit this “togetherness” to one hasty half-hour on Sundays, from eleven to eleven-thirty?

Knowing that it means such joy for them, let us invite the Holy Family to stay with us throughout the days of the week, throughout the years of our life when we work or pray and also when we play.

Our Life–A Feast

Everything from booklets to tomes is being written, in alarmingly increasing numbers, on one topic the deterioration of family life and what to do about it. As one looks over those more or less learned treatises, however, one misses one phrase–family feasts–and yet that makes all the difference.

Why have homes more and more turned into places where a group of people merely happen to live under one roof, each member going his separate way, sharing nothing with the others? The answer is that they lack family feasts.

Holy Mother Church knows that in all families, no matter how seriously they strive for perfection, how honestly they all want to become saints, there are times when parents or children alike may lose their temper, may give way to selfishness or possessiveness, when the mother makes imprudent judgments, children give in to self-pity, and everybody gets fed up. That may, and does, happen to all of us. Why? Because we are all created alike. We have inherited original sin and we suffer from the scars of the old wound.

But the Church has given us the feast and has taught us how to celebrate, and it is the hallmark of a feast that it cannot be celebrated by a solitary individual. There has to be a group. It is the feast that helps to keep the family together.

This is true from the very beginning of family life. From the weekly celebration of the Day of the Lord, and from the yearly cycle of feasts of Christmastide and Paschaltide, the young parents have learned how to celebrate.

As the children are coming along and witness how beautifully the father celebrates the feast days of the mother–her birthday, her baptismal day, the feast of her patron saint, their wedding anniversary–and when they see with how much love the mother prepares the great days of the father–then the children come to experience a feeling of security which they will need so greatly in later life–the warmth of the nest which the young bird needs before he can spread his own wings.

This is how it starts. The father draws the attention of the children to the coming feast days of the mother, and the mother does the same for the father. The older sisters and brothers teach the little ones. There is always a lot of secrecy around our house in the days before a feast, a lot of whispering and preparations behind closed doors. “Before a birthday, there’s a prickle in the air like ginger ale,” said one of my children once.

In order to keep a record of all the various feasts–no mean achievement in as large a family as ours–my daughter Rosemary has devised an “Anniversary Calendar,” one page of which is here reproduced. (Anyone with a knack for drawing can attempt something similar as a homemade gift!)

“Every effort we make to forget self, to leave self behind us, and to devote ourselves to the labor of making every person with whom we are bound to live, happy, is rewarded by interior satisfaction and joy. The supreme effort of goodness is,—not alone to do good to others; that is its first and lower effect,—but to make others good.” Rev. Bernard O’Reilly The Mirror of True Womanhood, 1893 (afflink)

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In this joyful and charming book, Maria Von Trapp (from The Sound of Music) unveils for you the year-round Christian traditions she loved traditions that created for her large family a warm and inviting Catholic home and will do the same for yours.

Mary Reed Newland wrote numerous beloved books for Catholic families, but The Year and Our Children is her undisputed masterpiece. Read it, cherish it, share it, put it into practice and give your kids the gift of a fully lived faith, every day and in every season.

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