Thursday, February 2, 2017

Looking Back: Advent in Our Home

Advent and Christmas have long since come and gone, but I didn't want to let some of the memories go unrecorded here in our corner of the internet.  If nothing else, I'll probably enjoy looking back on this next December and remembering some of the things we did -- so that we can make sure to do the successful ones again!

We set up our Advent calendar, and as in previous years, I put a paper slip inside each little door with the day's special activity written on it.  The girls eagerly anticipated opening each door and seeing what we would do that day in our observance of Advent and preparations for Christmas.

Beside the Advent calendar, I set up our nativity scene, which remained mostly empty in the early weeks of Advent, save for a few animals.  But I set a bowl of straw beside it, and when I noticed either girl doing something particularly kind or sacrificial for someone else, they would get to go choose a piece of straw and put it into the manger scene to prepare a soft bed for the baby Jesus.  

One simple craft that we did that ended up being very fun and successful was our star garland.  The perfect craft for preschool ages, this one spanned several days as we first painted sheets of paper with Christmas colors (a perfect activity for both Nell and Ree), later traced star shapes onto the papers (I did this) and then cut them out (Nell did this; she enjoys cutting and is getting quite precise with scissors), and finally punched holes in the stars and used a blunt needle to thread them all onto gold twine (Nell did this as well).  

After wanting to do one for a couple of years, I finally got started on our own family Jesse tree this year, making my own ornaments out of felt.  I tried to stay a day or two ahead of our daily readings so I'd have the ornaments ready to hang.  I wish I could say I finished all of them, but I did manage to make a pretty good start and get about half of them made.  Next year I'm hoping to finish and have a complete set that we can use year after year!  I was mostly pleased with how they all came out.

{Except perhaps for the fact that when I finished the one for Moses and the Ten Commandments, Nathan took a look and said, "This probably isn't a good time to tell you that all ten of the commandments were inscribed on each tablet as that was the way a covenant worked..."  Well, whoops!  I should have asked his advice ahead of time!}

We celebrated St. Nicholas Day with oranges and chocolate coins in the girls' shoes, along with choosing some generous activities of our own for the day -- I always think St. Nicholas Day is a good day in Advent to take donations to a charity or food bank, or to give the kids additional chores to earn money for a Samaritan's Purse gift, or something of that nature.

We were all too pleased to find that the purple dresses from Aunt Emily last year still fit (albeit with slightly shorter sleeves and hem lengths, to be sure!), and were again the perfect dresses for Advent attire on more than one occasion.

We walked downtown for the town Christmas tree lighting, which ended up being way less fun for me than I might have anticipated as Nathan had to work late, I was running behind getting the girls ready and loaded into the stroller, and I ended up jogging a mile in non-running shoes in cold temperatures while quite pregnant to try to make it for the initial tree lighting.  Nonetheless, the girls loved seeing it, and on the walk back home, we stopped into a downtown bakery for gingerbread men!

What's December without some snow?  We had a few light snowfalls, and enjoyed playing in even the smallest dustings of snow.

As always, plenty of our special Advent activities involved music -- this is not only {hopefully} enjoyable for the kids, but also pretty much unavoidable since both of their parents are professional musicians kept quite busy with work during December.  A highlight of the season for us is always the service of Lessons and Carols Nathan puts on at the church where he is music director.  The whole family was there: Nathan conducting, myself playing in the orchestra, Ree in the nursery... and Nell was able to sit beside Nathan this year and have a front row seat to see and hear everything!  

St. Lucia Day makes for the perfect evening to drive around and see Christmas lights, which we like to do with the girls in pajamas.  I only have this one picture, and not a good one at that, but Ree's eyes were full of wonder at the arguably garish display of lights on one particular street in our neighborhood.

Another December activity that's become a favorite of mine is making gingerbread pancakes on at least one morning in December.  We use the Martha Stewart recipe online, and they are so delicious I'm tempted to make them year round!  It's nice to have two eager little helpers in the kitchen with me.

December is such a very busy time for both Nathan and myself, and I continue to struggle with staying on top of work obligations while also creating a meaningful season for my children and attempting to keep our home not only reasonably tidy but hopefully beautiful and cozy as well.  We did manage to get most of our decorations up, although this year the outdoor lights and porch garlands didn't happen, and neither did our usual stair garland.  But the girls did enjoy putting up our outdoor Christmas village scene atop the organ.

And we got a tree up, too, of course!  The girls scampered around eagerly while Daddy put the lights up, and then they got to help hang ornaments.

Each year I finish the task by myself after the girls are in bed, hanging the highest ornaments and putting on the finishing touches -- often while enjoying a glass of wine.  I'll admit that this year I felt inexplicably stressed and discontented, saying to Nathan, "It's just not bringing me joy!"  Nonetheless, it was objectively beautiful and we did enjoy it.  I have to work to suppress a bit of cynicism (or perhaps it's the realistic despair of an overwhelmed and tired mother?) in me that whispers, "You're just going to have to put all these decorations and ornaments away again in a month or so..."  Sigh.  Christmas is a lot of work.

I tried to get a few nice pictures, and had even hoped to manage Christmas cards, but that never quite materialized.

I was, however, tempted to just use this charming photo for Christmas cards: real life at our house sometimes, to be sure!

We pulled off our annual Christmas party and really enjoyed the time with friends, which included carol singing, instrument playing, lots of food and general merriment.

Possibly one of my favorite humorous December memories was the evening of the party, as Nathan put an image of a crackling yule log on our TV via YouTube.  The girls then proceeded to watch it with such fascination!  Nell declared to Marie, "Ree, this is a movie about a fire!"  And Ree responded, "Yeah!  I yove it!"

Finally, we spent the last few days before Christmas finishing up some handmade gifts, which included lotions and lip balms, and some hand-stitched Christmas trees Nell did with yarn and burlap which we framed for family and a few friends.

Then it was Christmas Eve!  I took the girls to church while Nathan was working all day at his own church services, Nell sang "Ding Dong Merrily on High" in the little cherubim choir, and I hurried back home to tuck tired girls in bed and make cardamom bread and other foods for Christmas feasting.

In all, looking back, it was a good Advent, I think.  In reality, while I was living it, I felt overwhelmed by the chaos of my home, frustrated that I couldn't keep the house cleaner or get more done, tired and overly busy, and as I always do that time of year, a little sad that Nathan works more in December and it's harder to find time to do things all together as a family.

But then, in the midst of my frustration, I'd hear Nell saying "Purple is for preparation...!" and I'd be grateful for the reminder from my four year old that Advent is not and never will be about already being ready enough.  Thank goodness for that.

{Maybe I'll share some photos of our Christmas season here next, despite the fact that it's already February!}