For as long as I've been doing this - for ten years now - I've been striving to find a good balance between focusing on doing (or more to the point, figuring out what the doing entails) and experiencing.
To begin with, in the early days of figuring out what I could do and how I could express myself in ritual as I celebrated the festivals, I concentrated an awful lot of energy on making sure I did stuff and making sure that what I was doing was as authentic as I could make it. Was I doing it all right? In the right order? What if I missed something out that was really important? Over time I learned - with a little wisdom from friends - that perhaps I was concentrating on the details a little too much. I realised that I needed more of a balance between doing stuff and actually appreciating why I was doing these things. I realised I was getting so caught up in trying to make sure I was doing things right that I was getting distracted from actually appreciating the experience.
So from that point I eased off on worrying about the details and focused more on the experiential side of things, focusing on why I was doing all of this, and who for. And I suppose it became easier to do that because I had a little more experience anyway - once I accepted that not everything was always going to go according to plan, not everything would be able to fit in nearly, I realised that I'd managed to figure out a comfortable rhythm and pace for my ritual expressions, and had a better idea of the kind of things that worked for me, things that didn't, and where my own limits were. I was becoming more confident, which helped free up space to concentrate on finding more of a connection with the gods, spirits, and ancestors. I'd finally accepted that it's all well and good trying to fit a bunch of stuff in, but if you try to do so much that you end up too focused on ticking off things on your To Do list than actually appreciating why you're doing any of it, things will always be more stressful than spiritual. Which kind of becomes self-defeating, really.
Things evened out a little and I felt more settled. But then as the kids got older and began asking questions, I realised that while my personal practice was sorted, all of a sudden I was having to figure out how to explain things to the kids and engage them as well. The good thing about all that is that it keeps things fresh. As their perspective changes, so does mine. The hard part is that as they're constantly changing and growing (mentally, emotionally, physically), you have to readjust your own ideas about what they can really grasp, and try to gauge just how much they can take on board at any one time. But on the whole, as a family, we have a good rhythm going when it comes to celebrating the festivals now - I know what I'm doing (hurrah!), the kids know what to expect, and rub their hands with glee at the prospect of yummy food and fun stuff to do. And so on. So that's good. Something's working.
At the same time, I'm still trying to maintain that balance between the doing and the experiencing, as well as balancing the needs of my kids along with my own. As much as we have the bare bones of our festival practices down, I like to add in a few different things for each festival so things stay fresh. It's easy (for me, I guess I should add) to get complacent about what we're doing when it's all been done before, and I don't want the kids to get bored, either. So finding new stuff to do - even if it's just trying out a new recipe or two for the feast, buying new cookie cutters to make different kinds of decorations or treats this time round, and so on - is something I always try to think of, to add to our festival repertoire and make the occasion special.
So for this Samhain, I've started getting things going already. One of the things I like to do for each festival is clean and tidy the house from top to bottom - as best I can, considering I'm not always physically capable. At the moment my back's in an OK state (touch wood) so I've decided to get on with some of the bigger tasks that need dealing with. First off, there's decorating the kitchen, which we haven't done anything to since we moved in, and it was starting to look shabby. So all the dents in the walls have been filled in and smoothed out, and painted over. All of the random crap that accumulates on the kitchen sides has found a home (or been stuffed into a cupboard or drawer if it can't be thrown out, more like), and pictures that have needed a place to hang have finally gone up (including the very tasteful cow-themed coasters I got last Christmas, which I vowed were too good to use and needed to be framed).
Next up is tackling the hallway, which is also looking a little worse for wear as well. We have some more bits and pieces that need to find a home up on the walls, but also, since we're getting to Samhainn, I want to finally get around to making a dedicated space for my ancestors. I'm pretty limited in what I can do there because I don't know much about most of them (my grandad was adopted, my nan won't talk about her family except in general terms, so there are big gaping holes there). Things are a bit less murky on my mother's side, but I don't really know any names beyond my grandparents. I know mum has a fair few photos, though, so I've asked her to send me some. Most of them are pretty crap in quality, but there's enough that I can get started with - if not up on the walls, then in a photo album that I can annotate, or something. My original plan was to put them up in the kitchen, on the wall opposite my wee shelf shrine, but Mr Seren isn't too keen on the idea of eating his dinner in the presence of a wall of dead people (least of all his mother-in-law's relatives, I guess!). So I'll figure something out.
And finally, my nephews are coming up this weekend for a short visit with my mother (it's their half term next week), so I'm planning a Samhainn party for the kids this weekend. With the kids wanting to go guising with their friends at Hallowe'en it's much easier to do the partying separately now. We've yet to sort costumes out for the day, but Tom has a glow in the dark skeleton onesie that he wants to wear for the party and I might get my nephews and Rosie some matching outfits so they can all dress up. I have some pumpkins and tumshies at the ready for carving, and I'm looking up some ideas for vaguely traumatising party food - Frankenstein's finger sandwiches, ghostly fishcakes and "eyeballs" made out of lychees to go in some witches' brew, that sort of thing. Seeing as I was never allowed to celebrate Hallowe'en as a kid my mother will no doubt disapprove, but tough.