Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This Is the Day the Lord Has Made

The most prominent and enduring family tradition that we celebrate happens every Saturday night. As Christians we take the third commandment seriously and set aside Saturday night to Sunday night as a day for rest, recreation, worship, and occasionally a work of mercy. To begin this special time period, we come together for a ceremony performed before the evening meal on Saturday night. It resembles the same ceremony that our Jewish brethren perform for their Sabbath—candle lighting, songs, prayers, wine and Hallah bread with cheese. The bread is a special recipe that has eggs in it, and is braided and baked with an egg wash on it to give it a special shine. I made it for years, before my daughter got interested in baking. Now she has taken over making it, about six loaves at a time, so that we don’t have to bake as often. We freeze the extra loaves for upcoming weeks.

We try to make a point not to do work during this twenty-four hour period, although homework sometimes still needs to be taken care of. Even with schoolwork, we encourage the kids to hold off till Sunday evening if possible. We also don’t shop on Sundays unless some unforeseen circumstance, like unexpected company, requires it. Any shopping is usually limited to medicine or essential grocery items, like milk.

The central event of our family life happens on Saturday evening. Having celebrated the Lord’s Day ceremony together, we have the finest meal of the week, followed with the best dessert we can come up with. Then comes family time. What do we do, and how do we decide what to do?

In the beginning, when the children were younger, my husband and I would just decide what the activity would be. We try to avoid just watching a movie together, but we don’t entirely eliminate that option. For one thing, we love certain movies, and have the lines memorized from our favorite scenes. Our family will throw a movie quote into a conversation on a frequent basis, and we all yuck it up when someone gets just the right intonation and voice quality to mimic a favorite character: Inspector Clouseau, Rambo or Rocky, Steve Martin or John Candy roles. We choose the video option from time to time, but not back-to-back weeks in a row.

We play many board games, but some of the games are ones that we invented ourselves. For instance, when the kids were very little they liked to play “Shepherd and the Sheep.” It was a simple role-playing game. Dad was the shepherd. Mom was the wolf. We traded off on these roles. The kids were the sheep that the shepherd had to protect. The wolf went off and hid in a mostly dark house, and the shepherd would lead the sheep around and protect them when needed. Very simple, short and sweet, and bedtimes were early back then.

By the time the kids were in their teens the invented games got more sophisticated. We have played most often a homemade version of Jeopardy. Everyone goes off and thinks up a category and writes five answers with questions for it. Our oldest son has always played the role of Alec Trebek. Then we come back together and divide into teams. There are no fancy buzzers. When you know the answer you yell “beep”, and Alex discerns who yelled first. You can’t give the questions to your own answers, so each team is equally handicapped. The category writing is one of the more enjoyable parts of the game. We can personalize the categories into things like: Favorite Family Vacations, Favorite Movie Quotes, and Desserts We’d Like to Have Again. The first time our youngest played, he picked for his category “Jams”, and he wrote out all the answers and questions. The first answer was “It is red and has strawberries in it.” That was probably one of our favorite games, because the youngest clearly got a kick out of making an important contribution.

Another invented game was “Tabloid Headlines.” We all secretly wrote down three or four made-up tabloid headlines. As each was read off, we had to guess who wrote it. The headlines were very creative, and got some of us laughing uncontrollably. Example: Woman Gives Birth to Frank Sinatra’s Head: He sings beautifully proud mother exclaims. Another version of this would be to throw in some real tabloid headlines collected in advance, and figure out which were real and which were fakes. I’m in the process of collecting some real doozies now.

We have also made an evening out of listening to music. Everyone is allotted ten minutes of music time and they select something they enjoy listening to. We all take turns sharing our favorite selections. Dad plays the Beatles, Mom brings out the classics (by request opera sopranos are not allowed—sorry opera fans), there’s rock and roll, some country and folk tunes, and Final Fantasy orchestral pieces. Even some movie sound tracks make it into the line-up. Ten minutes times seven people make for a nice evening’s entertainment, and an appreciation for what other folks like to hear. It also helps some of us get better at Encore, a commercial boxed game of singing song lyrics.

Once we had a conflict to solve. A few members wanted to watch an important post season baseball game for family time, and the younger children definitely did not. So we decided to create a sports bar. The television could be on, but refreshments and some “casino” type games would be available in different parts of the room. You played the games to win refreshments. Everyone was happy. The baseball fans were willing to play a little game to get some popcorn and pop, and the younger ones had a chance to have fun setting up the room and planning the games. Once the casino games were all played, with the television on the whole time for the fans to stay in touch with the game, the younger ones were happy to eat their popcorn till bedtime and watch the game too. It was one of our better compromise situations.

There are lots of ideas of what to do for a fun Saturday evening together. Some of the ideas will flop, but if Saturday night is established early as a non-negotiable family time together, even the flopped ideas will be forgivable. Whatever is decided on, it should play into the strengths and interests of the family, and maybe even stretch those interests into new areas. It should also be something that bonds the family instead of bringing out areas of tension or weakness. That is not to say that tempers are never lost on Saturday night, or that no one ever has to play something that bores them. But if everyone knows that every Saturday the family will be together, and that the goal is fun, closeness, and a celebration of family life, eventually even the foot-draggers will be won over. Figure that the commandment to keep the day holy unto the Lord has been kept.

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