Is it just me, or does September 1st get you excited too? There is just something about the slight drop in temperature, the earlier nights, the smell of leaves and apples, and the sight of school buses on the streets that I find so fresh and energizing. I love it so much that I continue to buy academic year planners even as my days as a student have faded further and further into the distance.
While being out of school didn’t keep me from treating early fall like a fresh start, having a young student in our house (a pre-schooler!) has gotten me newly excited to celebrate this “back to school” season in an intentional way. Over the years I’ve enjoyed reading about other families’ back to school traditions on social media and blogs, and this year, I’m excited to adopt some practices of my own.
Here are three ideas of faith-filled back to school traditions that I’m planning to try this year. If they go well, hopefully they’ll become annual traditions in our home.
Choose a patron saint for the year
In our house, we celebrate a variety of saints’ feast days over the course of the year for a number of reasons. We make a list of all the things we long for that seem impossible and pray to St. Jude — the patron saint of hopeless causes — at the end of October, because St. Jude is my husband’s Confirmation saint and I happen to believe that praying for what seems unlikely is a good practice.
We give our dog extra treats on St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day because we look for any occasion to give extra treats, and St. Francis loved animals. We let our daughters choose a special dessert on the feast days of their baptismal saints, and we add a drop of green food coloring to our milk on St. Patrick’s day.
My thought in general is that more celebration leads to more joy, more memories, and more connection (all things that I want for my family) and that on top of that, honoring saints makes faith fun for children. I’m all in for all of these ends.
This year, I thought it might be meaningful to choose a patron saint for our year. We’ll make a plan to celebrate the saint in a big kind of way on their feast day, but we’ll also integrate the saint into our family’s prayer life, decor and conversation over the school months ahead.
I sort of like the idea of choosing a saint whom we don’t otherwise celebrate and who I would like my family to learn more about (someone like St. Josephine Bakhita), but I’m also open to selecting a saint whose life and message feel particularly resonant at my family’s stage of life and circumstance (for instance, St. Therese of Lisieux).
Memorize a Bible Verse as a Family
One of the aspects of my childhood education and upbringing that I’m most grateful for is the emphasis that a few of my teachers and parents placed on memorizing poems, quotes and scripture. Having words of inspiration and encouragement locked in my memory has served me well over the years, because it gives me beauty to ponder when I’m bored, guidance when I’m at a crossroads, and wisdom to weave its way into my every-days.
While I have no intention of encouraging my two-year-old to memorize a Bible verse, I do think that my three-and-a-half year old is ready. I mean, she’s committed to memory all the songs on her Raffi playlist and knows at least a handful of her favorite books by heart.
I think she can manage a short verse. I’m considering going with the first part of Matthew 5:16 — “Let your light shine” — because what a great message to guide a pre-schooler’s first school year, but I also love 2 Timothy 4:17 — “But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength” — and I think that hanging this print in our living room would be a great way to make the verse a part of our family’s life in a tangible way.
Have a Faith-filled Back to School Dinner
I love the idea of having a back to school dinner either the night before or the night of the first day of school. In my mind, this dinner would involve a little something extra than our usual family dinners (a special dessert? Sparkling cider? Fancy dishes?) and would be a time to set the tone for the year ahead.
I envision sharing some encouraging and uplifting words (or asking my husband to do so), as well as formally introducing our patron saint for the year or our Bible verse. I also think that this would be a fun opportunity to give each family member some sort of “favor” at each of their place settings, because, well, children always appreciate tiny presents.
I’m leaning towards these Marian Prayer Cards or this Holy Spirit pin. I plan to end our meal with a special new school year prayer; I like this one, although I would adapt it to fit a family context.
Thoughtfully considering ways to integrate our Catholic faith into this back to school milestone has given me so much joy, and I can’t wait to share these practices with my family. I’d love to hear any ideas that readers might have for their own faith-filled school year beginnings!