A simple guide to festival planning (with worksheet)

V playing with a paper dragon we made. A tutorial and template on how to make your own will be available this Saturday.

In today’s high-speed bullet train world, our lives are accelerating at a blinding pace. Technology blurs our days and nights, globalization flattens the earth. Both are changing our concepts of space and time–we can have strawberries all year round, be on Facebook and Twitter 24/7, and Skype with someone at the other end of the globe. 52 weeks can slip by in one long run-on sentence; by the time we gasp to take in air, we wonder, “Where did the year go?”

The act of celebrating festivals helps us to wind down time and savor the stops along the way. Our ancient ancestors celebrated the rhythms of the earth: the changing of the seasons, the phases of the moon, the turning of the tides, migration patterns of herds, and harvest cycles. It was a time to appeal to the gods and helping spirits, and a time to enjoy life together in the tribe or community.

Why festivals are important
Festivals help to create reverent pauses, or to borrow the phrase, “cathedrals of time.” They help to color the year by infusing special days with feelings and reverence.

But don’t do it out of obligation, it will only be yet another burden on our already full plates. Do it because you truly enjoy it and believe in the benefits of a rhythmic life.

If you’re still with me, lets take a look at how busy parents can create simple yet meaningful celebrations.

Laying Out the Year
The first step is to figure out which festivals are important to your family, and how many you can handle in a year. If you observe a religion, the religious holidays emphasized by your faith would be an obvious place to start. Secular families may focus instead on seasonal celebrations such as the solstices or the equinoxes.

Books such as All Year Round by Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes-Clinton and Marje Rowling (Christian focused) and Festivals Together: A Guide to Multi-Cultural Celebration by Sue Fitzjohn, Minda Weston and Judy Large are a good place to start for ideas. Below are some suggestions for choosing festivals, feel free to pick and choose what is helpful and discard anything that doesn’t suit you:

  • On a calendar, lay out the celebrations that are important to your faith, or have personal meaning to you and your significant others.
  • Write down national holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Once they are all laid out, you might find the calendar getting quite crowded.
  • Start prioritizing your list. If you could only plan four festivals a year (one every quarter), which ones would you pour your energies into? These are your A-list festivals, your “must celebrate” days where you can try to pull out all the stops. Others can be on the B-list; you still celebrate them, but you don’t have to go all out. Maybe you’d even have a C-list, where you may opt to skip them entirely or do only one thing in honor of the day.

As I’m fairly new to festival planning, starting small is key. For us, Chinese New Year and the Moon Festival are two important ones from our culture that we try to observe. Halloween is a favorite of Tig’s–although we haven’t fully celebrated its potential. We also enjoy apple harvest time, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to a smaller degree (I’ve been playing with the idea of observing St. Nick’s Day, it’s more austere and European counterpart). After that, a couple other holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Easter are optional.

A Simple Plan
After laying out your calendar, you’ll need to start planning for the first upcoming festival.

You can start with a brain dump and write down everything you’d like to do. Sit down with your partner and reminisce about any of the fond memories you have from your childhood. What do you remember most? Look at your magazine stash, your bookmarked websites (Rhythm of the Home has some good inspiration), and your favorite books. Don’t hold back.

Once you have all the ideas, it’s time to pare it down. Because this is the Simple Guide, I like to keep my plan on one sheet of paper, which I fold into six parts. Each section is labeled: people, decorations, food, activities (field trips/arts and crafts), music/songs/verses, and books. A pdf version of the sheet is available here.

  • Pick one or two areas that you feel are important to focus on for this particular festival. Are you a food family, or do you really like to deck your home out with decorations? List only a few things in each category. For Chinese New Year, it’s all about food in our family. Everything else plays second fiddle.
  • What will give you the most bang for the buck? What would infuse your family’s memories with the most feeling? For example, smells are often strongly linked with memories. To this day, the heady perfume of paperwhites, or Narcissus flowers, bring back childhood memories of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. Think foods, flowers, scented candles, and drinks.
  • Which items can be outsourced? Can you have some food ordered as take-out? Can you do a potluck instead? Semi-homemade food instead of all from scratch? Can friends bring the drinks or provide music?
  • Instead of inviting your entire party list for all your celebrations, can you invite a smaller subset for each celebration?
  • If time is tight, can you kill two birds with one stone? For example, baking an apple pie can be both the food and activity for an apple harvest festival.

Hopefully, after you pare down your list, you will have a manageable roadmap on one sheet of paper. Talk to your partner and children and divvy up the tasks as appropriate. Get help where you can. We would not have been able to throw a New Years party without Tig’s parents. We are so grateful for the help.

Cultivating Excitement, not Stress
The week before, talk with your children about the upcoming days. Read some books together to get into the mood. Build up to it. Are there other activities that you can scale back during festivals, perhaps less playdates and classes? The whole point is to have fun memories and to cultivate a sense of wonder and enjoyment, not to heap on more stress. If you have in your mind the things that matter most, you can let go of the rest. Some of my childhood memories consists of the murmur of adult voices and laughter as I drift off to sleep.

After the celebration, take some time to debrief with your family. Sit down with your partner and talk about what went well. Which things had the most impact? What would you skip next year? What different activities or foods would you like to try next year? Would you celebrate this particular festival again?

Over time, our family will build up a roster of favorite holidays and festivals. What once felt contrived or awkward will become more natural as the years go by and we get into a groove. We can still fine tune and tweak, but there is comfort to the rhythm. For myself, I’ll be keeping a binder of my simple planning sheets as “recipes” for the next year.


6 Replies to “A simple guide to festival planning (with worksheet)

  1. Thanks for your insightful post. We are just now expanding the festivals we celebrate as a family and I will definetly implement your suggestions.

    1. Hi Lynn, we’re just starting ourselves, and learning along with everyone else, so thank you for your note. (Love the felt chickadee, btw!)

  2. beautiful.
    This is a wonderful wealth of knowledge..presented in a clear way!
    We love year round festivals…they give us so much to look forward to and reflect upon. I also enjoy the crafts/projects that accompany them (i.e- lantern making at Martinmas, earth candles for Candlemas)
    If I had to pick a favorite……this is tough…..it’s probably Easter or Christmas! (see? I couldn’t pick just one!)
    I am loving your blog and spending way too much time on it:) So lovely to “meet” you, friend!

    1. Rebecca, I was so inspired by your Waldorf on a budget post on ROTH–it’s been something I’ve struggled with on principle. Glad you were able to stop by!

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