353 | Traditions in the Liturgical Year (Jessica Smartt with Amy Frank)
In this episode, Jessica chats with Amy Frank about how her family has adopted holiday traditions that are based in the liturgical year. In addition to some Advent and Epiphany traditions, they discuss some ways to celebrate throughout the rest of the year.
Amy Frank lives in Grove City, Pennsylvania with her family. She is a longtime homeschooling mom who loves family traditions.
Jessica is a wife, homeschool mom of three, author, and blogger. She lives in sunny North Carolina on a big family farm with chickens, goats, cousins, and lots of mud.
Celebrating the Christian Year by Martha Zimmerman
Memory-Making Mom by Jessica Smartt
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Jessica Smartt Hey, everybody! Welcome to The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Jessica Smartt and I'm one of the many hosts here on the podcast. I'm also the author of Memory Making Mom and Let Them Be Kids, and the creator and founder of Homeschool Bootcamp. Each week we bring in encouraging conversation from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home. While the title is Homeschool Solutions, of course, we don't pretend to have the answer to every question. It's our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ, that you'll seek his counsel as you train your kids in the way they should go.
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Jessica Smartt Hi, everybody. This is Jessica Smartt. I'm so glad to be with you today. If you're like me, you're probably thinking about Christmas. And I have a super special guest for you guys today. I'm really excited to learn from her wisdom. But I have to tell you about my free resource available right now. It will solve all your Christmas problems. It is a ultimate Christmas planning guide for moms. And I basically sat down and thought of all of the things that I need to do for Christmas--figuring you probably had similar ones--and created us a little worksheet with all the checklists, and some awesome podcasts, some gift guides, gift lists, tradition planner. It's everything! And it's totally free. And the link is in the show notes and also at my blog SmartterEachDay.com. And you can find me over at Instagram @Jessica.Smartt. So be sure to find me over there. Now I am going to welcome our special guest. I have Amy Frank with me. She's a real-life friend, and also author, and just does a lot of really cool things. So, Amy, welcome to the show.
Amy Frank Well, thank you. It's a pleasure to be on.
Jessica Smartt Yeah, we're glad to have you. So tell everybody a little bit about your family, what you're doing now. And also, I know you have some experience with homeschooling. I'm not sure actually if it's still current, but give us an update on what your story has been with homeschooling.
Amy Frank Sure. Yeah. So we live in Grove City, Pennsylvania now. We just moved here about three years ago from North Carolina, where we lived for about twenty years. We moved up here for my husband to take a job as the provost at Grove City College, which is very homeschool student friendly college.
Jessica Smartt I have talked-- Yes, I have talked about Grove City a lot. I'm an alum of Grove City, and that's how Amy and I know each other, through mutual connections. And I'm always telling people about Grove City. For sure! 100%! People should look into Grove City. There's not another place like it.
Amy Frank That's right. That's right. Yeah, so we are back here enjoying the conveniences and joys of small-town life, which we are-- We are liking it. We have five kids. Our oldest is twenty-two and he is a student here at the college. Our youngest are both thirteen. And then we have a twenty-year-old and an almost sixteen-year-old. And I have been homeschooling for seventeen years now--right about that. And the younger three are still considered homeschooled because I do about half of their subjects at home. And then, here in Pennsylvania, they're allowed to take classes other places if they want to also. So they're taking a couple of classes at the public school and a few classes at our classical Christian school. But most of their stuff is here at home.
Jessica Smartt That's such a cool opportunity. I wish we had similar ones in North Carolina. Best of both worlds.
Amy Frank Right. Right.
Jessica Smartt Well, good. Okay, so let's jump in about Christmas planning. So I know that you have studied the church liturgical year and I think you've had various projects you've started, or stopped, or finished-- I don't know about that. What initially made you be interested in that? And I guess we should probably explain it--what we're meaning by church liturgical year if someone is not from a liturgical church, what are we talking about?
Amy Frank Right. Yeah. So I did not grow up in a liturgical church, but right after our first child was born, through a series of seemingly random events, we ended up at a liturgical church, and I got my first education there. So being in a liturgical church, they do have a liturgy that they go through every Sunday morning, but then they also have this calendar that they orient around. There are different colors in the church. The priests wear different colors depending on what season they're in. The holidays--originally called Holy Days--they really do consider them holy days. They're really a big deal. So there are seasons leading up to certain holy days and they practice different things depending on which season that we're in. Yeah. So we really liked that, and I realized it wasn't legalistic and it wasn't really dry, as I had anticipated it would be. (I'd kinda seen some things from the outside before.) But we really began to appreciate having that kind of orientation.
Jessica Smartt And those things are fixed for every church, though. It's like the historical church here. It's not that each church would kind of say like, what seasons do we want to celebrate? Right? Like it's the normal-- Go through the-- When do they say the church year starts? What does it start with? Which feast or holy day?
Amy Frank Well, and there is a little bit of variance, I think, from church to church, but I think a lot of people would say you start with Advent, go up to Christmas, and then there's the Epiphany season. And then there's a little bit of a lull until Lent. And then Lent leads up to Holy Week and Easter. And then we have Pentecost after that. And then there's a long season that they just call Odinary Time until we get back to Advent.
Jessica Smartt So how has your family implemented, over the years, different things to go with the liturgical year? What was it like-- Did you do it at all at once? Were you like, "Okay, we're going to celebrate everything"? Or did you start with certain seasons and then realized it was really life-giving?
Amy Frank Yeah. I read this book pretty early on called Celebrating the Christian Year by Martha Zimmerman, and I went through that book with a couple of friends. And for me, it was very life-changing, in the sense that I kind of did just dive in at that point and say, "Yes, this makes sense." Because she points out that we all do have a calendar that we orient around. And for a lot of people, it's the school calendar. It could just be the Hallmark calendar or a sports calendar. You know, there are things that are ups and downs in all of our lives. And really that's how God set it up, was that we would have seasons. We would have feasting and we would have fasting and we'd have these different-- It's not all just a monotone life. So there are seasons. And so choosing, "What are we going to orient around?" And for me, it made sense. Why not orient around the church calendar as opposed to any of the other ones? And being homeschoolers, we had a lot more flexibility--and maybe the luxury--of choosing that I think. So we just kind of dove in and said, "We're going to do all of it." And what it looked like for us-- I really did hone in on this idea of seasons because, for me, adopting a whole bunch of really good habits and then doing them forever and ever and ever is pretty much impossible for me. I don't follow through. But having seasons where I think, "Okay, I'm going to do these five things, but it's only for this season." That I can do. I can follow through on that. So we jumped on with that. So as far as homeschooling went, whatever season we were in, I was trying to make certain foods and we would do certain crafts or even our worksheets or our read-aloud books, or whatever, would be kind of oriented around certain themes. And that kinda helped me tie it all together.
Jessica Smartt Hmm. I was listening to another podcast. It's linked to my Christmas Guide and I'll link it below. But it was someone from a liturgical background who was talking about how we don't really know how to celebrate well because we actually don't know how to not celebrate well and have seasons of restraint. And in the liturgical year, we-- You know, most of us are familiar with the idea of Lent, and you would give something up for Lent. But that's a real thing. If you're honoring that seasonality, I think also in Advent there's a sense of kind of holding your celebrations until-- We're jumping into the Christmas thing, but-- It made me think of-- I think we are not used to that kind of living, but our bodies almost, in our homes, probably would intuitively benefit from a lot of it. And so let's talk about Christmas. What did it look like for you to do Advent? Did you have a sense of kind of holding your celebrations? Because--and correct me if I'm wrong--but my understanding is that the Epiphany season that's until January-- Is that January 12th? I think. Is the end of it?
Amy Frank Sixth.
Jessica Smartt Sixth! So that's the celebration. And we're used to, a lot of times, December is just all the foods and making everything, going everywhere. But there's a sense to which truly celebrating Advent is a quieter waiting season. Right? And even with your gifts, like, what did that look like in your family? Am I representing that well of what the tone felt like in your house?
Amy Frank Yeah, I think we kind of had we had to blend a little bit. Because you're right that technically the twelve days of Christmas is supposed to start on Christmas Day. And then it ends up on January 6th. The way that-- And so the first couple of years I tried to do that, but functionally the way it worked-- When you have extended family and you have neighbors and friends and people that you're trying to do things with, you know, the buildup is, especially Christmas Eve and Christmas, and then, usually people are exhausted by December 28th and they don't want to do another big event.
Jessica Smartt So I am curious what your blend looked like. Because when I hear it, I simultaneously feel like, "Oh, that's so cool. It would be amazing if all of my community did it." But they don't and December's nuts. So how do you do both?
Amy Frank Right, right. Okay, well, there's a couple different things-- Well, one thing, when I started to approach Christmas I was feeling very overwhelmed because, you know, Christmas growing up (and just the way we've always celebrated) it's a very big deal. And Christmas Day is huge. And it's just this big buildup to this big day. And my first response to thinking about how I wanted to do that with our own family was, well: "I want to make it very minimal. I want to cut out a lot of that. I want to make it just about Jesus, and let's get rid of a lot of the gifts and a lot of the events and all these things." But then I thought-- I don't know, somewhere along the way, somebody reminded me probably, that Christians, we have, of all people, we have more to celebrate than the rest of the culture. So we don't want to take that joy away from our kids. It's like, "No, no, we're the serious family. We're not doing all the fun things everybody else is doing." So then I was trying to think, well, how do we do that? How do we really celebrate, and express this joy and this hope that we have, but not go crazy and overwhelm ourselves? So the answer for our family has been to spread out the joy. So instead of everything being December 25th, we have a big holiday that we celebrate December 6th and then we have another one January 6th. And then, in between, we do celebrate Christmas with the extended family and all of that. But it's less because we've already gotten out of the way our stockings and we have our family gifts on a different day and things like that. So that's been our approach to kind of spread it out.
Jessica Smartt So show us what that looks like December 6th. I think I know some of this, but-- And then, did you make this up? I mean, I know January 6th is traditionally celebrated. Like that's a big deal. But December 6th, the implications of that, did you kind of think this all up? Your plan?
Amy Frank It was a combination again. December 6th traditionally is Saint Nicholas Day. So a lot of people celebrate Saint Nicholas Day all around the world. And that is the day that a lot of people have put out shoes or stockings to get gifts. So our family, that is what we did. We decided we're going to do all our stockings on December 6th. We're going to do all of our Santa stuff, everything to do with Santa is December 6th. So I kind of doubled down on that and said, "Okay, we're going to just do it all." So that after December 6th we can put away Santa. We're done with Santa. Now we're thinking more about Jesus for Christmas. But for December 6th we do our stockings, but then we also have a big party that day. We invite friends over. We have usually Middle Eastern Foods, and we talk about who Saint Nicholas actually was and what he did and why he was a good example for us. And then we go out and do candy caning, which we did make that part up! As far as I know, that was not part of the traditional Saint Nicholas Day celebrations around the world. But we go out and do these little stealthy nighttime missions where we try to give to other people and we candy cane their yards. So that has become, I think, our family's favorite holiday. I think when I ask my kids, they pretty much universally say Saint Nicholas Day is the best. And even my oldest son will still come home on that day to celebrate with us. He likes to go out and do the candy caneing and all of that.
Jessica Smartt That's so cool. And that's a tradition I've talked about here on the podcast, but our family has copied it and I think my kid-- We don't do the whole thing--at this point--that you described. But the candy caning mission has become one of our favorite Christmas traditions, for sure.
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Jessica Smartt Your celebration on December 6th, you invite a lot of families to do that, too? Or is that just your family?
Amy Frank We usually invite two or three families, maybe four, depending on how big they are and how many can fit in our dining room.
Jessica Smartt Yeah, I love it. That's awesome. So then fast forward to Christmas, that's just sort of you're along for the ride with family and friends kind of thing? Or do you integrate any special liturgical celebrations on Christmas Eve/Christmas?
Amy Frank Well, yeah, we do. For Advent, the whole season of Advent, we have a few different things that we do as a family. We have candles at the dinner table, which we do not always have all year round, but certain seasons we do. So we do that. We do-- Just during Advent we'll do readings at dinner time-- We've done it kind of differently over the years as the kids have gotten older. But for many years we've done a paper chain, like a construction paper chain, where we take a link off every night, and inside of it is either a name for Jesus or passage to read. And we usually put people's names in there too to pray for. So we have somebody different pray for each night. So we'll do that. Or if our church has a devotional that they put out or something, we'll read that either at dinner every night or just on Sundays. We also--after dinner during Advent we'll gather as a whole family and do a family read-aloud. We usually use the Arnold...
Jessica Smartt Yes, I know. Yes, those are awesome.
Amy Frank Yeah, they're really good. We've done those every year pretty-- Well, almost every year. And that's another thing that we don't do the rest of the year. We don't gather the whole family every night to read. But during these certain seasons we can and we make that a habit, or a priority, to do that. We also, let's see, some years we've had a nightly game. This was before Elf on the Shelf became the thing. We had Mary and Joseph from our nativity set; we the parents would hide them each night and the story was that they were traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And so every morning the kids could come down and try to find them. And we also hid baby Jesus until Christmas morning. So that was another one of those little things that the younger kids liked to do. As they've gotten older, we've switched more to doing--ah, what do we call it?-- "secret servant". Kind of like a secret Santa deal, where everybody draws names at the beginning of Advent and then they're secretly doing nice things for that person throughout the month. And then on Christmas Day, they'll give them a gift and reveal themselves.
Jessica Smartt Oh, that's fun.
Amy Frank So yes. We have little things that kind of build up over the season until Christmas.
Jessica Smartt Then January 6th, what does that look like?
Amy Frank Yeah, so that's Epiphany. And we make a cake every year on that day. I make it...it looks like a treasure box kind of thing because it's to commemorate the wise men coming to visit Jesus. So we have a treasure box cake. We do gifts. Either-- Depending on the year-- Sometimes I'll just get a big family gift that's like a big family game or something like that for everybody. Again, so that I don't have to give them as many gifts on Christmas. They only get a few gifts on Christmas, but then they'll get this other one at Epiphany. Or sometimes we've done it where the kids will get each other gifts and give them to each other on Epiphany, depending on how overwhelming feel like Christmas is going to be. And then we chalk our door, which is a tradition that people have done for years and years, and we discovered when we went to Europe a while back that they're still doing it over there too. In a lot of the countries, you can see...
Jessica Smartt I'm not familiar with this. What is it?
Amy Frank So you write on your front door, on the outside of the front door of your house, you use chalk and you write these three letters: C, M and B. And, depending on who you listen to, that tradition either is the Latin words for "Christ bless this house", or it's the initials of the three legendary Wise Men. And then you put the year, the first two digits of the year on one side, and the last two digits on the other side. So it's just this little symbolic thing that people will have across the top of their front door.
Jessica Smartt Very interesting. So, okay, so that's Christmas. I know this is unrelated to the liturgical year, but I am pretty sure you guys are foodies. Any special food traditions over Christmas?
Amy Frank Hmm, let's see. I hadn't thought about that. Yeah, I mean, we have certain cookies that we make every year. And for Christmas Eve, we usually do more of a charcuterie board kind of thing. Before that was a thing, I guess we just called it "appetizers for dinner". And then Christmas Day is usually with the extended family, so it's a big either lasagna or turkey or something like that. We do cinnamon rolls. We do cinnamon rolls for Christmas. Yeah. I don't know. The St. Nicholas Day Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern I mean.
Jessica Smartt Okay. Yeah. Well, very good. So then as far as the rest of the year, any other big things that stick out that you would say have really impacted your family throughout Lent or Easter or any other parts of the church liturgical year? Things you've done that have been cool?
Amy Frank Um. I do think practicing Lent has been really good for our family. It feels very long. Lent feels very long. But when we have given up things, that makes Holy Week so much more special. And really all the services on Holy Week too, which we're still kind of new to because now we are finally going back to a liturgical church. When we were in North Carolina we were not at one, now we are again. And the way they celebrate Holy Week is just huge here. I mean, there's just service after service after-- I don't know how the priests are not exhausted by the end. But I like that of just this long period of fasting and longing--longing for it to be over, really. But then having this great celebration of Jesus' resurrection. And it just feels, when you have that contrast, it feels much more meaningful, I think.
Jessica Smartt Have you encouraged your kids to give up things? Or do you kind of just let them if they feel led to, kind of thing?
Amy Frank Yeah, it's dependant on the age. And sometimes I have made kind of a family edict, like, "We are not having gluten." Like, I'm just not cooking with, you know, whatever. We're not having sugar. We're not having whatever. And I will-- You know, our meals are just that way so the kids don't have a whole lot of options. But as they've gotten older, they have taken ownership. Of course, every year I'll say, you know, do you guys have any ideas of what you want to do for Lent this year? And somebody will always say, "I'm going to give up vegetables." You know.
Jessica Smartt So sweet of them! That's funny. "My chores. I'm not going to do my chores."
Amy Frank Yeah, exactly.
Jessica Smartt Oh, got to love them.
Amy Frank That's right.
Jessica Smartt Well, very cool. So I love that. And I know traditions are a big thing to you guys. Are there any other that I haven't asked about Christmas or anything else that are kind of fun family traditions? I didn't tell you in advance so you don't think of any, that's okay.
Amy Frank Let's see. One that comes to mind that our kids have always liked is on the first day of school. I always make an apple pie for breakfast.
Jessica Smartt Oh, how funny. Okay, apple pie takes a long time! Are you up, like, really early?!
Amy Frank No, I make it the day before, and we just heat it in the morning.
Jessica Smartt Did you come up with that yourself? I've never heard of that before.
Amy Frank Yeah, I think I did. Yeah. Oh, and before school starts--the first day of school-- I mean a couple of days before the first day of school, we do a treasure hunt. So we talk all about verses from Proverbs where it talks about how "knowledge is great treasure" and worth so much. And so then I hide all their school supplies and all the things they need for the year around the house. And they all go and look for that.
Jessica Smartt So I would be really worried that something would not be found and I would not remember where I put it. Like somebody's biology textbook is stuck somewhere.
Amy Frank There is that risk, yeah!
Jessica Smartt I guess you got to make notes. We do the back-to-school fairy--who is a relative of the tooth fairy kind of thing. But it's like a fun school supply. I made the mistake a couple of times of getting too fun of a school supply and it was way major distraction for the first day of school. "Put that down and do your work." So now the fairy tweaked her options. Now it's usually something they can do during morning time reading, some sort of like a sensory-- And actually I'll just throw this out there as a freebie for anybody listening, we are also this year doing a trick-or-treat fairy because I hate Halloween. All the candy's gross. But our old neighborhood is like a really wonderful place, and we love everybody, and we haven't seen them in a while. So we're going and we're going to walk around. But I was like, "Hey, guys, do you want to, you know, give me?"--I did not make up this idea. Somebody else did.--But I was like, "You can give me all of your candy and put it under your bed. And then they'll be like a surprise, a present instead." And they were actually pretty excited about that. So I thought that was kind of a win-win.
Amy Frank That is for sure.
Jessica Smartt The trick-or-treat fairy. Because nobody needs all of that candy! I'll take the Reese's out and then throw the rest away. Mom needs the candy! Anyway, well, thanks so much for chatting with me. I did want to say you always have so many different projects you've worked on. One--and I can link to it--is that you and your husband created this Gateway program for young men. And I can't remember if you said it's available now. I know I asked you at one point. But it is the most fantastic idea of, about the age twelve/thirteen or so, gathering a bunch of boys and their dads. And you and your husband basically wrote the program that my son then went through, and it was probably one of his favorite things so far that he has done, period. So thanks for your hard work on that. And do you have the link yet up and running of where people can find that? Or maybe they can reach out to me?
Amy Frank Yeah. I don't have a good link. We have the books that we can send people, but we don't-- Yeah, I have not taken...
Jessica Smartt Well, you guys can just email or message me and I'll connect you. I mean, it's certainly a program that it's not-- I feel like it's not really that complicated to reproduce, and you could tweak it for your community. But basically each week a dad takes-- They meet once a month, or this is how we implemented it-- And one of the dads would talk about a practical life skill and then also a spiritual life skill. And, you know, they would go learn how to clean a gun or change a tire or something. So you could kind of tweak that. But such a cool project. And then I'm reading right now your Bible study that you wrote on Martha, which is so cool--the idea that Martha's kind of gotten a bad rap, but maybe she has some good things about her. So any plans to publish that?
Amy Frank I don't know how to do that, so probably not.
Jessica Smartt Well, you got to just get this stuff out there. It's so great.
Amy Frank Well, I was going to mention, we do have a Gateway for girls now also.
Jessica Smartt Oh, okay. That's awesome.
Amy Frank Yeah, we're doing that.
Jessica Smartt Okay, so they can reach out to me and we can maybe figure out how to-- I'll set up a little warehouse for you.
Amy Frank I appreciate that. Thank you.
Jessica Smartt In my spare time. Haha.
Amy Frank Haha. Yeah. Right.
Jessica Smartt Well, thank you so much for joining us, Amy. I think we've covered a lot of bases, and tell me again the book that you recommended that kind of started your journey. I'll link that in the show notes. What was the one--or any other resources--that you might recommend people looking into if they're interested in this?
Amy Frank Okay. Yeah. The book that I really liked was called Celebrating the Christian Year. It's by Martha Zimmerman. And then another resource: One of my good friends and I decided to do a project for one year where we tracked through the church calendar and the different things that we were doing with our families at home. So we kind of took turns writing different things out, and that is all now together on a blog called TheCelebrationProject.blogspot.com. So that's out there if anybody wants to see what we did.
Jessica Smartt Okay, I will check it out. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. It's been so fun and I'll link to those resources. And thanks for sharing your wisdom.
Amy Frank Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for asking.
Jessica Smartt All right. We'll see you.
Amy Frank Okay. Bye bye.
Jessica Smartt Guys, thanks so much for joining us this week on The Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share because you deserve healthcare you can trust. To learn more about Medicare and why over 400,000 Christians have made the switch go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. That's GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast and leave us a review, and that'll help other homeschooling parents find our community. And finally, don't forget to tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom. That's @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode.
Jessica Smartt Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year, offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the U.S. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. Hopefully I will see you there. And don't forget to check out my books, Memory Making Mom and Let Them Be Kids, in my Homeschool Bootcamp course. You can rock homeschooling and I can help! Check the show notes for all of those resources.