Last Sunday evening was the first Sunday of advent. We have some special traditions for advent that we've practiced over the last few years, and we really look forward to the beginning of this special season. We did have a couple of small changes to our routine this year. First, though we have used an advent wreath for many years, in the past we've generally made it from pine and holly branches. I admit, I've never really enjoyed making the advent wreath, and I've lived in fear every year that it would eventually catch on fire as it dries out through the weeks of advent! We've always planned on designing and making a wooden advent "wreath" ourselves, but never got around to it. Finally last year, during the "after-Christmas" sales, I purchased one. I had almost forgotten about it, and was happy to find the box in the attic when we pulled out the Christmas decorations. Every evening during advent, we light the candles and do our advent readings.
We've used lots of resources for advent reading over the years, usually using a "Jesus Tree" or "Jesse Tree." Last year I found one that has become our favorite (I didn't even look for something new this year). This devotional at A Holy Experience captured my heart. (I knew it was the right one when I cried every time I read it.) Below is our version of a Jesus Tree, with the first few "ornaments" already in place. There's a reading and an ornament for each night of advent.
The Christmas tree is Jim's department. In the past, he has never considered a tree to be truly worthy unless acquiring it involved traipsing through the woods with a handsaw. We've spent some long, cold afternoons hunting for just the right tree, finishing up with hot chocolate to warm up cold hands. But for the last two years we've traded all of that in as we've sought to keep the advent season a bit more simple. The last two trees came from....Lowe's. Here's the finished product this year: (Jim wants to add that this is squashing his pride). :)
This is my favorite part of the Christmas decorating; the nativity. We bought this one at a craft sale years ago, and it just fits us. We have a Playmobile nativity that we get out the day after Thanksgiving for the children to play with, but this one plays a central role in our Christmas day routine. Notice that the baby Jesus is absent...but he'll appear on Christmas morning. We'll move the nativity from the mantel to a small table in front of the Christmas tree. It's the first thing the children run to on Christmas morning, with candles all around, flickering in the darkness of the early morning. And we'll read the Christmas story from Luke. And sing O Come, All Ye Faithful. And we'll worship. It's the sweetest part of Christmas day. I've kind of always meant to have a collection of nativity scenes (like Noel Piper), but somehow this simple one has sufficed for many years.World Vision, this year it will likely go to Children's Hope Chest. One pound of black beans costs $.99. One pound of rice; $.85. So our family of 8 can spend less than $2.00 for dinner. Okay, I'll confess; we generally do put a jar of salsa on the table, which makes the beans and rice a bit more palatable for some of the children when the novelty wears off (after about a week). Still, even with the salsa thrown in, it's pretty effective. We all get a very concrete picture of our capacity to sacrifice, give, and impact others. We also have a much better perspective on how much we have...how truly blessed we are. Having beans and rice every night...a luxury to much of the world. And we know that Christmas is coming. Both literally and figuratively, we are waiting for a feast. We want to share it.
Oh, and one more thing...not exactly a tradition, but certainly a familiar occurrence at our house at Christmas time. Someone singing, "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth." When that second top front tooth came out last week (and when A and I were going out to get her the Chick Fil-A peppermint milkshake I promised her if she'd let me pull it out), I was thinking that I'd be sad someday when there aren't any more toothless smiles around here...at Christmas time or any time. But I'll enjoy it while it lasts. Gotta love that smile. :)
- Visiting Bethlehem (or as close as we're likely to come to the real thing!)
- Reading lots of Christmas stories, and in particular John Piper's advent stories and poems. The Innkeeper is one of my favorites, and you can read it or listen to it here, or here (but have a tissue handy if you do).
- "St. Nicking" our friends (on St. Nicholas Day each member of our family chooses a couple of families to surprise with a plate of cookies. The children take turns sneaking up to leave the cookies, ringing the doorbell, and running. This year we even bought a Santa hat).
So far this advent season, the best part has been...the mornings. I'd been struggling for awhile to get up early enough, and I'd really been feeling it. The effects of not having enough time alone with Him. But I've discovered a wonderful benefit of jet lag. When I got home from Ethiopia, my internal clock was such a mess that I was getting up crazy early (one morning I was up at 2am!). I've been able to keep it up so far (well, not 2am, but a reasonable 5:30 or 6), and the time...with the One we're celebrating during advent...has been so sweet. I'm already looking forward to getting up tomorrow...just to be with Him.
Wish I could hear all of your advent traditions...I love, love, love this time of year.