A few years ago, we asked our children what they thought were some of the reasons we are very close as a family. One of the answers that they had in common was “Family Sundays.”
When I was growing up, Sundays had a usual flow to them. My mother would put a roast and potatoes in the oven just before we left for Mass. We would return home to a delicious aroma, have our main meal and then go “visiting” at the home of relatives. We always remained in our Sunday best, which I remember well because I detested the white tights which squeezed my legs and always seemed to creep down, requiring constant discreet readjustment.
My brothers and I have many funny memories of those visiting days – tasting Uncle Paul’s awful homemade wine and managing to sip just enough to be polite, only to have him delightedly refill our glasses! We laughed at the time his own daughter, Cousin Phyllis, dumped her glass in the plant when he went into the kitchen to get us a snack! Visiting cousins or receiving a visit from paisanos (good friends who were like family) our own age was always a treat, for then we could run and play.
We never questioned why we were visiting, for at the time this seemed to be most people’s routine. Sunday was set aside for family.
When Den and I were married and beginning our own family, we decided that we would continue the tradition we had both experienced of keeping Sunday as a day for worship, rest and family activities.
With five young children, our Sunday activities had to be budget-conscious, and sometimes involved a monthly get together with aunts, uncles and cousins to celebrate those who had birthdays, so our kids had the “visiting” component.
On other Sundays after Mass, it became a great joy and anticipation for all of us to plan what we wanted to do together. One of our favorite places to visit was a nature center. We would bring a bag of sunflower seeds and find the path back into the woods where the chickadees usually were. The children loved to feed the chickadees out of their hands, so they would spread out and stand very still with an upraised hand containing several seeds. I remember our son Peter feeling frustrated because the girls would get lots of birds, and I would remind him that he had to stand very still – a pretty difficult task for him!
Other summer Sundays might find us hiking through a gorge, visiting local historic sites, feeling the mist on our faces from Niagara Falls, climbing giant boulders left from glaciers, attending a county fair or other festivals, and enjoying many glorious opportunities to explore the great outdoors. Once we found a “natural swing” formed by vines growing between two trees. This made for a delightful ride!
Winter outings in upstate New York were more challenging to plan, but would sometimes find us bowling or pretending we were in the Garden of Eden at the Butterfly Conservatory.
Sundays gradually became our oasis from the rest of the week. No matter how crazy things had been, no matter the challenges of the week, we headed out together on Sundays, and we were refreshed and restored. I often stepped back from what we were doing on our family outings and simply watched the children at play. I remember many times thinking to myself how truly blessed I was by what I was seeing – people whose souls were so dear to me and who were such a part of my life’s journey. At those times, I experienced the fullness of motherhood, and any of life’s problems or concerns that may have troubled me paled in comparison to the joy I felt.
These were times that Den and I were able to savor the gift of family, and delight in all that God was giving us through our children.
We usually paired some type of treat with our outings, and Den and I would chuckle at how the children sometimes forgot where we had been on any given Sunday, but reminding them of what they ate could often trigger their memory.
It went something like this:
“Do you remember the time we were in that beautiful woods and Peter tried to put the beetle in his pocket and take it home?”
“You remember – after we left there we stopped at the little ice cream stand along the road and you had that frozen banana covered with chocolate and nuts…”
“Oh yeah – that was fun!”
Den and I are deeply grateful to our own parents for teaching us this tradition of Family Sundays. Although we no longer have any relatives who make wine, I’m sure our children have their own funny memories from these days. Even now we continue to make plans with whoever will be with us that day.
And since Sunday is the Lord’s day, I think it would please Him to know what we do with all those memories we have created from carving out this time together. Like Our Blessed Mother, we treasure and ponder them in our hearts.