"It would not be Carnival without dancing." ~ from Around the Year with the von Trapp Family
Those who know us know that we put effort into embracing good old customs when we discover them. We would not have foreseen traditional dance as a potential mainstay, but now we find ourselves learning the tunes and practicing the steps in living room and hallway, dining room and kitchen alike, as we prepare to leave off of festivity for the upcoming penitential season of Lent. One of many resources for us over the last couple of years for "good old customs" has been the charming and quite informative recollection of traditions by Maria von Trapp. Long enamored of The Sound of Music, and with our discovery of the Traditional Latin Mass and all the ancient rituals, devotions, sacraments, and calendar, it has been easy to delve into this book and try to make some of that famous old-world singing family's pastimes our own.
In addition to the Liturgical focus, we have also recently made great progress on our long-desired Mary garden. Last weekend (on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, no less) many helping hands came joyously together to hammer out in very short time some projects involving serious physical labor. A friend with a loader helped us not only reattach many purple martin houses that had been blown off in storms over the last year - it was a tricky task with a raised bucket and long ladder and assembly line of people handling good wire and hanging nests - but, more importantly, accomplished the digging component so we could erect a stone retaining wall below Our Lady's feet where our Fatima statue stands in front of the fig tree in our back yard. It is before this spot we kneel to pray our rosary at each gathering at our home, and we have long wished to make the space more special. The stones had been gathered over time (and more were gathered on the day) from our woods, with children and adults alike hefting the rocks gladly by hand or in a wheelbarrow. This past Saturday morning we were working against time and making many petitions that the rain would hold off, and it did. The skies opened in a downpour only after we had placed the last stones and were standing back to evaluate the wall midday, Deo gratias! On a simple level, we have done some hard work before enjoying a bit of leisure. The garden will be enhanced with many features - shrubs and flowers and finishing touches - between now and Easter; for now a great purpose is served in giving Our Lady a greater place of honor. But what has our Mary garden to do with dancing? Perhaps nothing obvious, but at least subtly there is a connection between giving glory to the Son (the one from Whom dancing - really enjoying the bounty of life - takes true meaning) by honoring His mother (the one through whom we receive the gift of life in Him) and our upcoming preparation for the greatest feast in the Church.
This year, to kick off Lent with emphasis, we are hosting a Carnival gathering the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday. From the von Trapp book and from any quick perusal of old Church customs, it is plain to see that Holy Mother Church leads us through formative seasons, feasts and fasts, joyfully exuberant times and spare penitential times, all for the good of the soul and to keep us hinged in reality and Truth. Yes, what we eat and drink and the habits we daily keep are related to the state of the soul! Carnival is traditionally the period between Jan 6 and the Tuesday evening before Ash Wednesday, a time of feasting and revelry, especially dancing (the art of which is all but lost). On the Lenten practices, Maria von Trapp spends many lines describing her realization of the lamentable easing up of the old fasts and penances in order to accommodate for modern man, who (it is surmised) is not built for tough times. Nay, she asserts and we agree, that cannot after all be true. For the evidence of the good practices of old, surely also good for us now, is too much. The spiritual and physical benefits both of giving up meat and other rich sustenances for a time is overwhelming and besides, and this is the point that resounds with and inspires our family especially, she sees the immediate fruits in the von Trapp family and faith life so clearly that she needs no further study or convincing. Pancake Tuesday and Easter eggs, roast lamb and chocolate treats, all take on a manifest significance once we realize that people used to give up not only meat but eggs and all dairy for the entirely of Lent. We all know that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and it makes sense to do without the things we enjoy for a while in order to truly enjoy a celebration later - moreover and more importantly we gain mastery over our wills, become more dependent on God to sustain us, and grow in virtue and humility when we mortify our bodies. In weakness we realize His great, abiding care. Advent too is a "little Lent," a related time of holding off and preparing for a greater celebration. All this to say we should gratefully embrace these good-for-the-soul traditions.
And so, our family plans to have a party revolving around traditional dance (to live music!) and carnival games and, of course, vast quantities of delicious food. With friends of good will we will celebrate the bounty of God's gifts, and then bid adieu to the good things together, "Carnivale!" (Farewell, meat!) Using up the leftovers and enjoying the carnival remnants til Fat Tuesday, we will then put away the feasting ways and take on the sparer ones - doing without, praying, sacrificing, giving alms, performing penance, atoning for sins - to join Christ in His passion and prepare properly for the Resurrection, when we will dance again. May Our Lord and Our Lady help us on our way!
On this little homestead our family aspires to work the land and hand on the Catholic Tradition, walking in wonder and learning to live by the fruits of our labor, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, who guides us to Him.