Monday, December 25, 2017

Reflecting on our Advent

Towards the beginning of Advent this year, a friend shared with me the very freeing thought that you don't already have to have all your traditions perfectly in place when your kids are young.  You have time for things to evolve and grow and settle.

As it turned out, I needed to hear that this year, because a baby who doesn't sleep in the evenings without being held was not very conducive to finishing the set of felt Jesse Tree ornaments I began stitching last Advent.  {The set, while slightly closer to completion than last year, remains as yet uncompleted.}  In fact, there were a lot of things I might have wanted to do this Advent that simply didn't get done.

I did a lot of this.  Well, more accurately, I did a lot of pacing the house and attempting to get things done with Molly in the Lillebaby carrier.  And occasionally I got the luxury of lying down and holding her as she slept!
And yet, while we didn't do all the things, we did do some things.

We wore purple for the first Sunday of Advent, as we do every year.

We poured our own beeswax pillar candles for our Advent wreath for the first time this year, which was a successful endeavor I will repeat in future years now that I have the supplies on hand!

I filled our Advent calendar with slips of paper once again, and the girls took turns opening the door on the calendar for each day, and finding out what special thing we might be doing that day in our observance of Advent.

We brought out the basket of Christmas books, and with them, the Christmas blankets and pillows, making way for lots of cozy reading time.

We set up our stable, a small bowl of straw beside it, and the girls could put a piece of straw in the manger when I noticed them doing something particularly kind of sacrificial.

{picture from Christmas Eve when we put Mary, Joseph, and the baby into the stable}
We set up our Jesse Tree, and worked our way through a combination of stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible, the Advent Jesse Tree book, and the Bible, hanging representative ornaments on the tree to go with each day's readings.

We celebrated St. Nicholas Day, reading books about St. Nicholas and then practicing our own acts of generosity by filling gift bags with chocolates and delivering them to the doorsteps of a few local friends from church who live near us.  We had so much fun we talked about expanding our endeavors next year to include more friends!  {Actually, we did this on St. Nicholas Eve because I had to work a full day on St. Nicholas Day.  Oh well -- we made the best of it!}

We celebrated St. Lucia Day, the girls in full costume helping me make Lussekatter.  They colored pictures of St. Lucy and we talked about who she was and why her day is celebrated.  We watched YouTube videos of celebrations in Sweden, and listened to St. Lucia songs.

We decorated our house, little by little: a wreath on the front door one day, twinkle lights over the living room window another day, a garland and beautiful decorations on the mantle on another.

We brought the bin of Christmassy pajamas and clothes up from the basement and made particularly good use of all the Decembery things to wear this year.

We did handicrafts together -- I worked on my own knitting projects while the girls did small bits of stitching, and they filled books with their own drawings to give as gifts to their grandparents.

{Nell fondly recalled a handicraft she had done last Christmas, and asked if she could make a few more this year to give as gifts.}
Nathan directed a splendid service of Lessons and Carols (you can watch and hear the whole service at the link there!) at the church where he is music director, and I enjoyed playing in the orchestra while Nell and Ree watched from the front pew.

We read beautiful seasonal poetry as well as books, and I worked with the kids on learning some carols, including refreshing their memorization of the first verse or two of Once in Royal David's City, and memorizing some of In the Bleak Midwinter and See Amid the Winter's Snow, as well as others.

Nell learned about a dozen carols on her violin, and joined my students in playing carols at a nearby retirement facility to share cheer and music with the elderly people there.

Midway through December, we got a Christmas tree, and gradually even managed to get it decorated beautifully.

As Christmas drew nearer, we hosted our annual Christmas party and enjoyed time with friends, carol singing, and good food.

Nell sang in the children's choir for the Lessons and Carols service at our church as well as for the Christmas Eve service.

The girls wore pink for Gaudete Sunday, and we talked about joy, and the light drawing nearer but not yet being here.

{I meant to do the O Antiphons with the girls in the week leading up to Christmas, and I just didn't fit it in this year!  Note to self: do this next year!}

We had a "Shepherd's Dinner" by the starry light of the tree, picnicking on the floor, eating foods we could imagine shepherds would have eaten -- cheeses and dried fruits and such things -- as I read the shepherds' story to the girls.  We wondered aloud what it must have been like to be those shepherds abiding in the fields when the angel of the Lord appeared to them.

The girls liked it so much they asked to do it again the following night, and they brought their stuffed lambs.

All of that brought us to Christmas Eve, a day which this year was two things at once -- Advent in the morning, and Christmas Eve by evening.  It was beautiful, and contemplative, and it was finally here.

* * * 

Among many other wonderful Christmas books, we worked our way gradually through a favorite of mine throughout December.  I read the final bit of Madeline L'Engle's The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas to the girls on Christmas Eve, as they ate dinner by the light of the Advent wreath, all five candles glowing at the center of our table.  Their eyes shone as we finally finished the story, and my own eyes filled with tears for a moment when I read the last line of a book I remember so well from my own childhood: "And the light shone right into my heart."

I felt it then, as a lump caught in my throat - the light was shining into my heart, too.  Despite all the things that were not perfect.

As I read, there was a pile of dirty laundry at the top of my stairs that is probably up to my knees.  And three hampers of clean laundry waiting to be folded.  My dining room tablecloth was dirty from the children who ate three meals at it, and the far end of the table was cluttered with wrapping paper and scissors and tape.  The dough for the pecan ring, an indispensable part of our Christmas breakfast, was rising, and the cranberry coffee cake, equally indispensable, was in the oven.  The dishes hadn't yet been washed.  Our stockings were not hung, because I was waiting for Nathan to get home from work to help me find them.  My high-needs baby was sleeping in the baby carrier on my chest, having refused with adamant screams to be transferred into either her crib or her parents' own soft bed.  On my bedside table was a neatly wrapped up dirty diaper - Merry Christmas to me?

But through the mess and the noise and the clutter, through the fusses and cries of children and in between the moments where I've been less patient than I should have been, the light has shone into my heart.  And that is what I pray for my children, for this family of mine: that the little ways we observe Advent would open a way for the light to shine right into their hearts, too.

{Scenes from our Christmas Eve}:


  1. LOVE this~ My goodness - you have so many wonderful traditions already. We'd like to steal a few if you don't mind.

  2. I love this!

    (I have nothing more clever to say than that. But it was such fun to read, I wanted to make sure I said *at least* that. :) )