Since Noah was a pre-schooler, (pre-scholar?), I’ve been meaning to implement a rich, meaningful Advent-and-Christmas season that will delight his heart with magic and romance, opening our home to peace and worship for a lasting impression on his yet-still-forming heart. Now his little brother is four, and I feel I haven’t gotten very far.
But we do have a little by way of traditions, and, on this opening day of Advent, I’ll share them. I am hopeful that I’ll have plenty to add as I get more serious throughout this 2012 season.
First, a back-ground. This is what I remember affectionately about Christmastime when I was a little girl:
- The lights. My dad would pick me up from ballet class, and we’d drive quietly through downtown with its holiday scenes aglow in the early nightfall. I’d be all worn-out and happy. That’s my favorite memory.
- Christmas Eve services. The entire church would gather, in my mind hushed and excited. I remember finally becoming the age when I could hold my own candle. And I remember the whispers, “Merry Christmas!” when we realized our watches read midnight. I still call them midnight services, though I’m coming to realize no one else does — they don’t start at midnight — but as a child, it’s unparalleled, to be part of midnight on Christmas Eve-to-Day, worshiping and singing all together. That’s my other favorite memory.
- Christmas shows, climatically The Nutcracker.
- The tree. We’d go out as a family to load it onto the roof of our sedan. There was an evening dedicated to decorating, and the tree would fragrance the living room for weeks. I’d sit next to it, reading and listening to my silly Wee Sing at Christmas album. And, appropriately symbolic, the glow was always there running out the darkness when I got out of bed.
- Family devotionals on Sundays. We’d light the candles in the Advent wreath, do a reading, sing, and Mom served eggnog afterwards.
- Presents. Anticipation met on Christmas morning. Aaron and I would battle out who could be the passer-outer, and it was customary to go slowly enough that each unwrapping held an audience of the entire family.
- Tamales. That went with present time. Before the big 4:00 dinner, of course.
There are plenty of other things my parents did to make it special, but those are what I remember most. And even though I’m not perpetuating all of the traditions (like a new, fragrant evergreen), they remind me how those pleasures sink deeply into a child’s heart and beg him to ask and remember the cause of such sacred, celebratory treatment. Christmas was magical to me. And it should be.
So though it’s not enough, here’s how we’re starting this year…
Last year, I came across this Jesse Tree devotional by Ann Voskamp. I printed out the illustrations, Mod Podge-d them onto cardboard, and added some glitter pen. We read a brief scripture passage every day, then place the illustration onto our tree.
Today was the opening prophecy of the Savior coming from the line of Jesse (Isaiah 11). I don’t always read Voskamp’s added devotion. Instead, today I flipped to Matthew 1 and read the fulfillment genealogy, from Jesse all the way to Jesus. Some of the names made Noah giggle.
This is our little tree. In the past, we didn’t have space (okay, or motivation) in the apartment for a large tree. My mom gifted us with this little one a few years ago. Jared likes plants. So he planted it. And it’s been around ever since.
I have four of these paper star ornaments, from Ten Thousand Villages (a fair-trade, internationally-sourced, non-profit shop). I like them a lot, and it’s all we do in addition to the Jesse Tree ornaments.
I love paper whites. So after Thanksgiving, the boys and I potted these. I hope they’re abloom on Christmas Day!
I searched for an Advent wreath for years! There aren’t many out there, and the ones I found seemed too commercial for my taste. A lot of people make one, or decorate a simple one with greenery. But I found this on ebay. The original plan was to paint it, maybe black, but now I love the rustic look of it, like old church pews. (I need a center candle for Christmas Day.) The idea is that each Sunday leading up to Christmas, you light one more, in drawing nearer to the Holy Day. As my parents did, I use this time to have a family devotion…
And work on singing a new hymn.
Also, one of my best seasonal memories was “moving the little girl.” I received this painted wood nativity set when I was a year old. It includes other figures, such as three Magi (they’re off in the distance [closer to Babylon?] and thus not pictured), and a little girl. Each morning I would hasten to the piano to move the girl one step closer to the Christ-child. She always got there right on time. The only trouble she caused was when I got married and bundled up the nativity for transport. Apparently, the family was all very fond of her.
Regarding gifting, I’m on the fence. Jared’s side of the family draws names for a secret exchange. We get to buy something special and desired for one person, which is fun. My dad, brother, and I have been gifting each other with edibles, without having ever discussed it. I love that. I am anticipating my dad’s pralines already, and am looking forward to making something of my own to share. With my immediate family, I have two inspirations…
One is this blog post, also by Ann Voskamp. She realized, through her child’s innocent question, that their gift-giving didn’t reflect the object of the holiday, which is celebrating the Lord’s coming as a baby. She expresses some beautiful ideas about choosing charitable offerings as a family. In my vision for us, each member has an amount, “spends” the amount in an approved catalog (such as Compassion or World Vision), and then we “open” our gifts and share them with one another on Christmas Morning. Rather than that, but looking forward to it as a future possibility, I think this year Jared and I will forgo gifts to one another and choose to sponsor something, or someone, international as a family.
I’ve also been considering this blog post, by Jones Design Company. In an effort to simplify and allow room for the sacred, Emily is scaling down to four gifts per child: Something You Want; Something You Need; Something to Wear; Something to Read. At first, I had the opposite response of her personal objective: four gifts? That’s more than I had intended. However, not really. I already have a book for each in the mail. Oh, okay, I’ll tell you. Just don’t spoil it, okay? Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and Day by Day Kids’ Bible. If you’re not yet familiar with Lloyd-Jones, check out the Jesus Storybook Bible. It is unmatched in excellence of expression in storytelling, artistry, and theology. As to Day by Day: last year, Noah was ready to move beyond stories, and I carefully chose his first full-text bible, the ESV Grow!. However, he’s now stuck in Genesis. I try to tell him he can roam about (Proverbs? Gospel?), but he insists on taking Genesis one tiny bite at a time. Day by Day seems like just the right in-between step. So there’s Something to Read. We’re always in Need of school material, so that’s easy. Something to Wear: our tradition has been new pajamas on Christmas Eve. We could do that, or add in something wearable for the morning. And Something You Want. In the past, we’ve let grandparents realize the biggest wishes. It is special, though, to do something special for your special kid.
Those are my ideas. We’re also limiting sweets during Advent to only social gatherings (Advent is traditionally a fasting season, but when surrounding culture is immersed in feasting, I see our only choices are to adapt or become closed-off). And I think we’re going to revisit some scripture memorization practice during December.
I’m happy to have plans evolve, that there’s great inspiration from my childhood as well as motivated people willing to share, and that I can play it out, one day at a time, with two wonderful boys. Happy December!