Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stockings and Traditions

Well, it's that time of year again. (There's a phrase I haven't used for at least a few weeks.) The Christmas madness is well behind us and Ayyam-i-Ha is just around the corner. My wife and I have begun asking each other, as we have for a few years now, what family traditions we would like to start. You see, dear Reader, we are in a very unusual position, for we are both the first Baha'is in our family, and that means that we get to consciously decide what traditions we would like to see.

Now having spoken to a number of Baha'is about this, I understand that there is sometimes a visceral reaction against this idea. "What", some people exclaim, "but we have no traditions within the Baha'i Faith." Well, that's not quite true. We have no empty rituals, but that is not the same thing at all.

In fact, it would not even be accurate to say that we have no rituals within the Baha'i Faith, for we do. Of course, that is not to say that we have a formal, prescribed manner of public worship, which I believe is what the Guardian was referring to when he said that we have no rituals. But a ritual can also be a regularly performed pattern of behaviour. Such as Feast. Baha'is gather together once every nineteen days to celebrate the beginning of the new Baha'i month, and there is a prescription to the way in which we do this. There is a set of rules about beginning with prayers, including guidelines about which prayers or readings we are to choose from. This is to be followed by the administrative portion, and then finished with the social portion.

Even the daily obligatory prayer can be considered a ritual, but a personal one, not a public one.

Needless to say, this is not what the Guardian was referring to when he spoke of ritual, nor is it what I am speaking of when I talk about setting tradition.

In my family, when I was growing up, we had a tradition of hanging Christmas stockings on the mantle and waking up Christmas morning with them filled with all sorts of goodies. I still get a smile on my face when thinking of my joy and delight every year at seeing what was in those socks.

Shoghi, my son, is almost six, and I have to wonder what delightful little traditions he will remember when he is my age. What will we have done now that will bring that same smile to his face then. (Ok, that didn't really make verb-tensial sense, but I think you know what I mean.)

Over the last little while, Marielle and I have been talking about this, trying to figure out what traditions we would like to set for our Baha'i family, and so, dear Reader, I thought I would share a bit of out thoughts with you here.

Personally, I'm all for the Ayyam-i-Ha stockings. I love the idea of hanging them up and then, in the nighttime, after everyone has gone to bed, we each sneak down and put a little gift in each sock, including our own. Why? Well, there is the joy of discovery, but it would also help encourage anonymous gift giving, including being generous to your own self.

Marielle, however, pointed out an interesting thing: it's not real. Oh, and it's not that they wouldn't exist, or have any benefits, or even just be fun, but just that we don't hang our socks by the fireplace anymore. You see, many years ago when we people would walk outside in the winter, we'd come home with our boots and socks soaking wet. To dry them, we'd hang them by the fire, for there were no dryers at the time. Now imagine you go to get your socks in the morning to put them on, and there is a little gift in them. How delightful. Today, most of us in these climes have winter boots that actually keep our feet dry. And the majority of us don't have fireplaces, so we sure don't hang our dry socks over those non-existent heating units.

And so, I agree with her. As much as I love the idea, it isn't real.

Sitting here, though, in the early morning, at the breakfast table, typing away, I see Shoghi's winter coat hanging on the handle of the door. Why is it there and not on a hanger? Because it was wet when we came in last night. And my sweater / jacket is usually hanging on the back of a chair for the same reason.


Perhaps we could put little gifts in the pockets. Or in the sleeves.

Whatever we do, we have the bounty of beginning these traditions that will probably be carried over for at least a few generations, and we want to be careful about how we do it.

Hey, now that I think about it, I really like the idea of the Ayyam-i-Ha coat. There are many stories of 'Abdu'l-Baha giving away His coat to someone who was poor and cold. (There is also the story of Him giving away His pants one time, but I don't think I want to go there.) Perhaps we could also have a special coat that we buy specifically to give away, and fill that coat's pockets with little gifts, too.

Just the thought of that brings a smile to my face.

And I think it is the same sort of smile that I get when I remember waking up on Christmas morning and seeing those ashen footprints going from the fireplace to the gifts under the tree.

Yeah. I can see it now. A special coat filled with little gifts, and Shoghi and I going downtown to that place on Pandora Avenue where all the homeless people seem to hang out, and passing out little gifts to everyone for Ayyam-i-Ha. Of course, it also means that we'd have to begin going there now so that we get to know everyone, but that's easy to do.

Oh, and Shoghi's birthday is during Ayyam-i-Ha, and Marielle is out of town at that time this year. Maybe we'll make a day of it. But please don't tell Marielle. She'll probably be jealous.

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