Getting together to can large batches of applesauce was a tradition in my family. For many years, my mom, dad, siblings, nieces, and nephews, would gather on an autumn morning and head out to a local apple orchard. We’d spend the morning picking apples, eating fritters, and drinking cider. Then, we’d pack up our many bags of apples, drive back to Mom & Dad’s house, and get to work peeling, coring, and cutting apples around the big kitchen table while one or two people started preparing for the canning process. And that’s where we would talk.
We’d talk about what’s going on in our lives, about what was going on in the wider world (never really figuring out the solutions to the world’s problems, but always trying), and about the history of our family. Sure, we got together for holidays, but the applesauce days, where we worked together to produce something we could all take home, were something extra special.
Family gatherings and traditions have always been important touchpoints for me. They bring me back to myself. They’ve shown me in the past where I’ve gone off track, and these gatherings always make me feel like I’ve come home.
Even if you don’t agree on everything, the people in your tribe (whether that’s your biological family or the family you’ve created with close friends) tend to share similar values and sensibilities, which can be comforting. Family traditions, especially for young kids, also provide a greater sense of predictability, which can help when we inevitably have to grapple with change and uncertainty in other areas of our lives.
Unfortunately, traditions sometimes slip away as the world changes and we all get “busy” living, especially if there is no kin-keeper (more on that later). And COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on many of our typical family traditions and get-togethers.
It’s encouraging to see people staying connected through technology. I even have friends who say they are closer to their extended families now because they are getting together weekly through Zoom and other online platforms for things like game nights, where before, they would only see their family a few times a year.
For some people, though, trying to connect through video calls is extremely draining (yes, I’m talking about me). For us, a return to family gatherings, when it is safer to do so, will be most welcome.
If there’s one thing COVID-19 is helping, it’s our understanding of what’s truly important to us and how gathering with family or friends regularly helps us hold everything together – both as a community and as individuals.
But, why talk about family traditions and family gatherings on a homesteading blog? Believe it or not, creating and maintaining family traditions are part of a wider set of skills that are critical to homesteading and society called kin-keeping. The person who sends birthday cards, sets up holiday gatherings, and remembers the names of all of your second cousin’s children is a kin-keeper.
Kin-keeping includes activities that are designed to foster relationships and keep people within a group connected. Sociologists say this is work that’s most often taken up by women, both by choice and by default, but it’s also taken up by men. My father, for instance, had a knack for telling family and community history, which is another example of kin-keeping. Honestly, if one person (yes, typically Mom) in your family is doing ALL of the kin-keeping, they’re probably totally worn out from it because it is unpaid, emotional labor. The thing is, if kin-keeping disappears, so does society. So, let’s not let that happen.
Kin-keeping is a skill that is not often talked about when discussing homesteading. Most people say the goal of homesteading is self-sufficiency, and it is to a certain extent, but the term self-sufficiency is a bit misleading. Self-sufficiency is rarely achieved by the individual (Yes, I’m sure they’re out there, but how many people really forage for all of their food and live completely alone in the woods?). Self-sufficiency is most often achieved by small communities and families who work together, combining their various skills. This is why kin-keeping is an essential skill for homesteading. On top of that, kin-keeping at its most basic level (reaching out to other human beings) is an important skill for improving mental health in a busy modern world, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The good news is that kin-keeping comes naturally to some people, so we probably don’t have to worry about it completely disappearing. For the rest of us, the even better news is that kin-keeping is a skill that can be deliberately practiced and improved.
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Here are a few fun ways to stay connected during the pandemic and improve your kin-keeping skills at the same time:
- Mail real birthday cards or small homemade gifts to family and friends
- Engage in “old-fashioned” letter writing
- Set up regular virtual game nights, virtual book club chats, etc.
- Join a social media group designed for people that share your interests (example: gardening group on Facebook)
- Make “in-the-future” plans with family or friends (come up with things you’ve been meaning to try and promise each other you’ll do them when the pandemic lockdown has passed)
- Work on creating a 5-year plan with your immediate family (the people you live with)
- Send a short e-mail or text to people in your family or friend group that updates them on your immediate family happenings
- Start a private extended family group on Facebook
- Work on documenting your family history and creating a family tree
- Order take-out or groceries for your elderly, at-risk, or homebound neighbor
- Share your knowledge and skills with others through virtual workshops
Taking my cue from #5 on this list, “Hey family, let’s get together for applesauce weekend again when all this COVID-19 stuff has passed. Okay?“
What are you doing to stay connected to your family, friends, and community?