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Finding Traditions: Exploring the Seasonal Round

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Bob Jarrell's vegetable garden. Mary Hufford, 1996.
Bob Jarrell’s vegetable garden. Mary Hufford, 1996.

Ask your students if there are certain things that their families do at the same time each year. Do they start working on the garden at the same time? Do they go on vacation at almost exactly the same time? Are  events celebrated with the same kinds of foods every year? These are the sorts of questions folklorists ask when they visit communities to learn about the traditions and activities that make up the fabric of life in the community.

When folklorists from the Library of Congress visited the Big Coal River Valley in southern West Virginia to study the traditional uses of the mountains and the impact of ecological changes on the community, they discovered many seasonal practices that were ingrained in the community.

Seasonal Round of Activities on the Coal River
Seasonal Round of Activities on the Coal River

These seasonal practices synchronize gardening, hunting, and the gathering with the bounty of the forest. The folklorists noted that the mountains in the area supported a seasonal round of activities from tapping maple trees for syrup in the early spring to picking berries in the early summer to beginning to dry foods and gather supplies to support them through the winter at the end of summer and into the fall. These activities are ingrained in the community and passed on from family member to family member. In one interview it was noted that, “‘…The traditions of the people like the heredity…, they do it, the kids are gonna do it and their grandkids are gonna do it…”

Students can read more about the seasonal round and the impact of biodiversity and environmental change on the traditions of the Big Coal River Valley in an article from the online exhibition, “Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia.”

Encourage students to listen to the recording, “Checking the Seasonal Round.” Students can list the tasks mentioned in the recording and when these items are to take place. Compare the list to the seasonal round chart and determine what happens during the other parts of the year.

Ask the students to list activities that they and their families do at the same time each year. Ask the students to consider what might cause them not to do a particular activity or delay it to another time.

Students can interview a parent or grandparent and ask them what activities they did at the same time each year when they were children. Ask if they still do these activities and why or why not. Compare the lists to those generated by the students. What are the same or different?

Students can compare the traditions and activities presented in “Tending the Commons” with those from another folklife collection, “Working in Paterson: Occupational Heritage in an Urban Setting.” What similarities and differences do they see? How does living in an urban environment affect the traditions found in Paterson?

What other traditions are based on the seasons? Explore the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog to find posts and teaching ideas on traditions and celebrations.

Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for the great activity ideas! Is there perhaps a higher resolution image available of the “Seasonal Round?”

    • I’ll check with the American Folklife Center to see if one is available. I’m glad you like the post.

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