On Family Stories
The shortest path between two hearts is a story
Research shows that children who know family stories have a stronger sense of identity and greater resiliency than those who do not. Family tales provide a much needed sense of belonging – not only to one’s particular family, but to the human community at large.
A variety of family stories over a period of time eventually creates “the family story.” Tales that portray everything from day-to-day life to thrilling adventures all enrich listeners’ enjoyment and understanding of their past. Stories of notable achievements and dismal failures are empowering, especially the latter, which reassures us that life moves on in spite of passing troubles.
Although we may think of children as the primary beneficiaries of such stories, all generations enjoy the sense of connection imparted by a tale well told. One of the greatest satisfactions may come to the shaper of the tale – the one who has summoned the memory and imagination necessary to retell a family tale. We often leave the telling to the family’s elders, neglecting the children and their voices. When we give them a chance, we further empower them and reinforce their sense of belonging.
To share a family tale – and to encourage others – help create a storytelling atmosphere and narrow the topic to a specific subject, time or place. A simple lit candle and a Story Spark – a topic or question written on a slip of paper and drawn from a bowl or hat – can give you a starting point.
Some Suggested Rituals for Family and Friends Storysharing
Storytelling is richest when everyone at the gathering is participating as both listeners and tellers. Oftentimes the most natural setting for storytelling is the dinner table, though any area where people are comfortable and not distracted works. Suggest to all that they share their memories in just a few short minutes. A child’s two-minute “hourglass” from the dentist works wonders for ensuring that all stories are succinct. Encourage your guests to include smells, tastes, colors and textures to help the picture come alive in the minds of the listeners.
Enjoy exploring the rituals below to further infuse your gatherings with memories sparked and shared. Perhaps one of these will become a holiday ritual that continues in your family for generations to come.
Lighting a Candle
Each person lights a candle and tells a little story about a very special relative, friend or teacher who has influenced them in some profound way. If candles are in short supply, one candle may be lit and passed from person to person. If candles are plentiful enough for each person – children as well as adults – to have their own, the ritual of bringing the flame to their very own candle, where it continues to burn while they talk, can deepen the sharing.
Passing the Story Stick
The fun with this ritual begins with the creation of the story stick. The children are entrusted with decorating the story stick using a simple walking stick or tree branch and plenty of ribbon, vine, twine, stickers, pine cones, sequins and the like. Once the stick is in prime form, the storytelling begins. Sometimes it is fun to simply have each person holding the stick share whatever comes to mind. For instance, the recitation of a line of poetry, the remembrance of an event or a question or request asked of another member of the circle may come to mind. Alternatively, the one who starts the stick passing may use story sparks drawn from a bowl or hat to evoke memories to share.
Gift Box Questions
Create a list of fun questions to spark ideas for stories. Write or type out the questions and place them in a decorated box. As a gift idea, create several boxes and tie them up in a ribbon and give one to each of your guests to enjoy at their own gatherings.
Create a Family Storytelling Quilt
One way to make this winter holiday season special is to make a “storytelling quilt.” A storytelling quilt is made up of “story patches”, little shared remembrances of experiences, people and places that make a storytelling quilt in the imaginations of the listeners.
When everyone is gathered in a circle light a candle and say something like: “Let’s create a holiday storytelling quilt as a gift that will warm us for all our holidays to come.” You will be amazed at how simply holding a lit candle draws people’s attention and silence.
Explain that the quilt will be made of story patches…little memories ignited by story sparks. Distribute story spark cards or a list. Pass the candle or a talking stick to the first person who has a remembrance ignited by one of the sparks. The candle or stick is then passed to others who want to add a story patch from the same spark. Continue giving other sparks until the time set aside for the activity is over. An egg timer or the lighting of small birthday candles helps to ensure that each story patch is succinct.
To close the storytelling quilt circle, have everyone join hands and spend a few moments visualizing the story quilt that has been created in their imaginations. Remind everyone that this is an ongoing gift that transcends time and material presents. You may wish to give a small wrapped gift, such as a bell, dreidel or ornament, as a remembrance or spark of the story quilt that you have made together.
Invoking others to join your family gathering
Have each family member “invite” someone from their past to join your family gathering. Pass a candle or talking stick to each family member, giving each person, including the children, a few moments to invite their guest, tell why they wish that guest was present and share a special memory of that person.