Dad’s fishing stories, Mom’s special Thanksgiving recipes, Aunt Jane’s memory quilts, Uncle Bob’s silly songs, Grandma’s home cures, Great-grandmother’s heirloom jewelry. Celebrating family folklore is one part of preserving your family heritage. What kinds of folklore traditions are unique to your family? What special things have your ancestors given you? What things are reflective of your family’s identity? This month we feature some family folklore activity suggestions for the long, winter days spent indoors.
FAMILY HISTORY – Share stories of family history and ancestry. Ask: What people and events were important in your family’s past? Does your family tree include immigrant ancestors? Invite group members to share a story about a special ancestor. Or, invite someone with a living relative who has an immigration story to share. Encourage participants to show vintage family photos and mementos. For photos, ask: Who are the people in the photo? How are they related? What are they doing? Describe their clothing. When and where was the photo taken? Who took the photo?
STORIES FROM CHILDHOOD – Invite participants to share an event from childhood that they heard their parents or grandparents tell again and again, often at a family gathering. Do other relatives in the family tell the same story in a different way? Next, ask participants to recall a family adventure that they enjoy repeating to their children and grandchildren. Encourage your group to share memories of their grandparents, parents, brothers, and sisters, and other family members. Examples: Who was the oldest family member you can remember as a child? What was he/she like? Tell the story of how your parents met. Share a tale about playing a joke on a sibling.
HISTORY AND THE FAMILY – Recount the major historical events that affected your family. For props, display a 20th century timeline, historical photographs, and old newspapers. Use a news event as a talking point to share the story of a family member. Examples: A World War II experience, or participation in one of the social movements of the 1960s.
FAMILY NAME – Explore the origin of your family name. Ask your participants: Is there a naming tradition in your family? For example: Did you name the first son after the father or grandfather? Who named you? Were you named for anyone? Does your name have significance within the family (religious or ethnic)? Are there traditional first names in your family? Have you ever had a nickname?
SCRAPBOOKS – Display family heritage scrapbooks with old pictures and memorabilia. Invite a scrapbook hobbyist to share a brief history of the scrapbooking tradition. Review scrapbooks of people from different generations. Libraries often have collections of early scrapbooks.
STORYTELLING – Family stories make up the rich treasury of your family’s history. Stories are a way to help younger family members know the history of the clan. They help strengthen family ties. Recollections from the past are often told and retold at family get-togethers. Ask: Do you have any natural storytellers in your family? Do you enjoy telling a story? Invite a professional storyteller to join your group and offer tips for telling family stories. Encourage participants to share some remembrances and life stories unique to childhood. You can elicit a number of personal stories with these openers. “When I was little . . .” “The first time I . . .” “My mother said . . .”“On Sundays, we always . . .” “My favorite place was . . .”
INTERGENERATIONAL – Invite older children to hear the family stories. The youngsters can draw a picture of the story they heard or compose a skit based on the characters in the conversation. Share old-fashioned iced sugar cookies with the group. You can share stories through books as well as family storytelling. People of all ages love tales. Invite participants to share a favorite reading memory. Ask: Did your father or mother read aloud to you? What kind of books did he/she read? Where did they read to you? Did your grandparents read or tell stories from a favorite rocking chair?
ANTIQUES – Visit the local antique store for special props – handmade doilies, pocket watch, vintage hat, doll, teapot, candy dish, locket, baseball cards, old crocks and jugs, diary – to encourage reminiscing and discussion among your group. Is there a story to be told about one of the objects? Ask participants to share some of their own special antiques – by showing or talking about them.
MUSIC – Music is often a big part of the life of a family and can rekindle many fond memories. Ask: What was the first song you remember your parents or grandparents singing to you? What music, songs, or instruments did your family enjoy? Are there special songs your family sings when you have big family gatherings? Did you sing any silly songs or lullabies to your children? Play the song “Thanks for the Memories.” Write the song title on a whiteboard. Ask each person to add a line about a favorite family memory for which they are thankful.
FOOD – Celebrate your cooking heritage by reminiscing about large family meals. What special recipes were passed through the generations? Talk about family heirloom cookbooks as a way to preserve family recipes. Invite a family member to prepare a special dish to share. Be sure to get the story behind the recipe. Ask: What is the origin of the recipe? When was it prepared? Who made it? Are there special ingredients? Has the recipe changed over the years?
TRADITIONS – Special traditions, celebrations, and customs are also a part of folklore. Ask your group to think of a favorite holiday. How did your family celebrate it? Here’s a way to help your participants share the story behind the holiday tradition. Example: St. Valentine’s Day. Ask: What sounds were associated with the event? Are there special smells or odors that you remember? Describe the images you have of the holiday. What kinds of foods did you enjoy tasting? What parts of the celebration did you inherit from your parents or grandparents? What new traditions did you add to the holiday?
FOLK ARTS – Does your family have a heritage of folk arts, like rug braiding, candlemaking, pottery, wood carving, basketmaking, quilting, bead work, or dancing? Handmade folk objects are often passed down from generation to generation. Display some family treasures or heirlooms with the intent of capturing a story that explains the object’s significance to the family. For example, invite a quilter to explain the story behind the design on a memory quilt. Or, ask a German-American couple to talk about the custom of polka dancing at wedding receptions.
Older family members often pass on advice to the young in the form of proverbs. Ask participants to explain the meaning of each proverb listed below. What kind of lesson or message do the proverbs teach? Give an example of a family situation in which the proverb might apply.
- The early bird catches the worm.
- Too many cooks spoil the broth.
- Don’t cry over spilt milk.
- A stitch in time saves nine.
- Loose lips sink ships.
- Put your money where your mouth is.
- Variety is the spice of life.
- Haste makes waste.
- Every cloud has a silver lining.
- Look before you leap.
Share proverbs learned from family members. What are some of your favorite family sayings, expressions, or proverbs?
THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman
This month’s activity newsletter – “Family Folklore” – is an updated classic from 2006. It was written by Sue Hansen and updated by Beckie Karras. © 2006 & 2018 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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