Last year, I was newly pregnant during the holiday season, and despite early attempts at merrymaking, mostly I just remember feeling extremely sick and tired. The sweet, giggling bundle of love I hold in my arms now was certainly worth all that and more, but this year, I’m so glad to be looking into the holiday season feeling like my normal self.
It should be noted, however, that even my “normal self” tends to get overwhelmed during the bustle and hustle of December. The bustle I don’t mind so much, it’s the hustle that makes me grouchy.
This year, once again, I want to slow down and embrace the peace and joy of this holy season. As the beginning of the Church year, Advent offers a new opportunity to embrace the liturgical year. Once again, we can choose to live The Story, from the manger to the cross. The feasts, fasts, and traditions of the liturgical year allow us to honor, remember, and live the Story. We do this in our churches, on Sundays, and communal worship is a beautiful thing. But even more important, to me, is bringing the faith alive in our homes, with our families. Living the liturgical year is the best way I know to share my faith with my children. The real, tangible elements of celebration: food, decorations, books, etc.: these things kindle the spiritual imaginations of our little ones, paving the way for a deeper understanding of faith to blaze forth when the time is right.
“Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 11:19
Advent is a hard season to keep. With the frantic pace of the world, the unceasing clamor of consumerism, the constant drive for More! More! More!: it’s hard to remember that this is a season of waiting and quiet restraint. Advent is the time to prepare our hearts, a time to make room for Christ. We don’t need more, we need less. Less pride, less greed, less anger, less jealousy, less frustration. May we be empty, so that He may fill us up!
We are waiting. With hope, excitement, and joy we are waiting for the Baby. Our Redeemer came to us as a baby in a manger. Isn’t that miraculous? The Incarnation is so unexpected, so glorious, so spectacular! Only God could have conceived of this grand plan and carried it out. It literally takes my breath away. As we prepare to wait for this wonder, it is my sincere hope that with much prayer and a little mindful preparation, we’ll be able to keep this season with a spirit of joyful anticipation.
Here are my “plans” for Advent. Plans change. With a family of five, three of us age five and under, I realize much of this may never happen. And it certainly won’t match the idyllic visions in my head. There will be sibling quarrels, a fussy baby, spilled hot cocoa, burnt cookies, and tangled Christmas lights. This I know. But our God doesn’t require perfection. Only a willing heart.
- Afternoon walk in the woods to gather materials to decorate our grapevine Advent Wreath (weather permitting)
- Hang up our Moravian Star
- Set up wreath, light first candle.
- Sing “Come, O Come Emmanuel” (chorus only, each night)
- Bring out Advent Story Books: I’ve wrapped twenty-four of our favorite Christmas story books, some old, some new. We’ll open and read one each day, then it will go into the wooden box with the other Christmas books.
- Bring out Advent Prayer Intention Jar: Kate and I are putting this together this week. It’s pretty simple. We’ve come up with a list of twenty-four people (mostly coupled or in family groups)….our closest family and friends as well as a few other things thrown in, like our President and other leaders, our church, community, etc. We wrote each one on a slip of paper, folded it up and put it in the jar. Each evening, we’ll draw one slip out and pray intentionally for those specific people or things.
Daily Family Devotions: December 1 – 24
- My plan is to incorporate this into our current bedtime routine. I’m going to try to gradually move dinner up to about 5:30 (when possible) to make time for this. It will likely change often, but we’re going to make a real effort at consistency. After baths, gather in living room. We will begin with a short Advent prayer (I plan to draw from The Divine Hours, choosing a short prayer or reading to share) Next, we will draw from the Advent Prayer Intention Jar and offer our own prayers for that intention. Finally, we will open that day’s storybook and read it together. *I’m hoping this will work out well with regards to sibling rivalry (a huge issue around here right now!): One child can draw out the prayer request and the other can unwrap the storybook, switching each night. What can I say? I’m an optimist. **Of course I will have some trucks or other small toys for Andrew to play with quietly during storytime, especially since some of these stories are on the longer side.
December 6: St. Nicholas Day
- Because we don’t “do” Santa Claus, I’m looking forward to expanding our celebration of St. Nicholas. The kids will leave their boots out by the fire (along with cookies and milk for St. Nicholas), and I’ll fill them with a few small toys, chocolate coins, an orange, and a peppermint stick.
December 13: St. Lucia’s Day
- I think Kate will like this. We won’t be able to do the white dress, candle wreath on head (although she will want to, especially after we read Kirsten’s Surprise, which I just ordered), but the plan is for she and I to get up early and make cinnamon buns for her to take to her Daddy and brother in bed.
December 21: Winter Solstice
- This will depend on the weather, but the past few years we have done a bonfire on this evening. And I’d like to do a nature tree, decorate a tree outside with birdseed ornaments, etc. We’ve talked about doing this for years, but haven’t managed to do it yet. This might be the year!
A Few Other Things:
- I’m not sure when we’ll put our tree up. I’d like to do it sometime during the first week of December (I know true keepers of Advent wait until the 24th, but that would be torturous to the children. And me!)
- Caroling: Even if this just means going to Nonna and Granddaddy’s and singing for them on their front porch, I think it would be great fun!
- The Nutcracker: Kate and I went last year, and I hoped to make it a yearly tradition for us, but with Ben, that might not be possible this year. We’ll see.
- Grove Park Inn to see gingerbread houses.
- My personal Advent reading: Behold the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey. I’m very excited about this, and it has been a true test of will not to dip into it before December 1st.
So that’s what’s been on my mind lately. I’ve been quietly preparing for this for the last week or so, because that’s what Mama’s do. Not celebrating (yet!), but simply getting things ready, in the hopes that with this preparation, things will run smoothly and we’ll be able to embrace the season with peace and joy in our hearts.
But, first things first! This week brings it’s own festivities. Tomorrow we celebrate the 3rd birthday of a very special little boy. I’m off to wrap up preparations (and presents!) for that as well. And then, Thanksgiving!