Each Christmas my youngest brother makes a photo calendar for our extended family. It’s become one of our favorite gifts to receive. All my kids fight over who gets to flip through the calendar first, laughing at goofy poses and remembering vacations from years past.
Beyond the big photos splashed across each month, the calendar lets you insert smaller photos on particular dates. My brother adds pictures for each family member’s birthday and each couple’s anniversary. He always finds a funny photo of our oldest brother who died at age 21 (once a sibling, always a sibling, and we like to think he’d still laugh at his eighth-grade photo). He also includes a birthday picture of my twin daughters in the NICU before they died.
With these small but meaningful gestures, he keeps our whole family alive in spirit and before our eyes in the everyday. Each month holds dates that are meaningful to our family, but they stand as mighty memorials to the ones we have loved and lost.
As the Church looks ahead to a new liturgical year beginning with Advent, we have the perfect chance to meditate on the mysteries of how our individual lives weave together with the wider Church. If each family is rightly considered a “domestic Church,” then our own celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries and memorials can become a domestic liturgical calendar, too.
Your personal “holy days” might be celebrated by only a few: your grandparents’ wedding day, the date your child’s adoption was finalized, the anniversary of your sobriety or the day you moved into your home. In addition to these bright celebrations, the calendars of our domestic Churches can hold harder days, too: the memory of a car accident or a house fire, the date of a life-changing diagnosis, the anniversary of a miscarriage or a wedding date long-annulled. Just as Holy Week holds both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we can find comfort knowing that every year brings highs and lows — yet the God of time holds it all.
Adding baptismal anniversaries, first Communion dates or confirmation days to our yearly calendars can help us celebrate the spirit of the sacraments long after the initial graces have been received. My own kids’ baptism days and namesake saints’ days are burned in their brains because they get to choose a special dessert to celebrate. Liturgical calendars are meant to help us both fast and feast, after all!
“Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart,” sings Psalm 90. As we choose or create new calendars for the coming year, we might pause to pray over the blank pages. What joys and sorrows will this year hold? What celebrations, big or small, might we mark within its pages?
My favorite part of my brother’s family calendars is keeping them as a treasure from one year to the next. Flipping back through the pages, we watch babies arrive and their birthdays take their place among our holy days at home. We remember anniversaries long past even as each married couple ages beyond the grinning kids in wedding photos. And we hold tight to our beloved dead, asking them to intercede for us.
Each domestic Church’s liturgical calendar is as diverse as its members, yet still anchored by the great high feasts. As we turn the calendar to a new Advent, may we ask God’s blessing upon our homes and hopes for another year: teach us to number our days.
Laura Kelly Fanucci is an author, speaker, and founder of Mothering Spirit, an online gathering place on parenting and spirituality.