Saturday, November 30, 2013

Craft a Happy Advent

Advent is upon us. Christmas lists have been written. The December calendar is filling up. A chill has settled in Georgia. I have just had a week off and it was much-needed. I am tired and worn out. I have so enjoyed this time with the kids to just be around the house. Sure work, housework and home projects, had to continue but we had un-rushed moments where I could just revel in their awesomeness.

There is so much meaning and so many memories we try to pack into the month of December. It is advent, a time of waiting and expectation. As we are awaiting the world's most precious gift, we can get lost in the hustle and bustle of the season. The consumerism. The hijacking of the holiday. But how does a busy, working mom keep traditions, make new memories and have a sense of calm about her? How does she instill the real meaning of the season in her kids?

Well, for one thing, I aim to make it a point to head home as early as I can in the evening to enjoy frosty nights with the family. It also means I'm making it a point to mind our calendar, to carefully choose each opportunity for its teaching and memory-making potential. And avoiding activities that will stress me out and make the A-MOM-idable come out. I also am careful in choosing activities, books and movies that have meaning.

Marking Advent

There are so many ways to mark the days leading up to the birth of Christ. Some more rooted in scripture than others.

As a Catholic, a tradition I grew up with was the Advent Wreath. The wreath is a symbol of eternity, and a reminder that God has no beginning nor end. The evergreen is a symbol of eternal life and a reminder that God is immutable or unchangeable. In the wreath are four candles, marking the four weeks of Advent. Three of the candles are purple, reminding us of the penitential nature of the season. A rose or pink candle is lit for the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday. We typically light these candles at Sunday dinner recalling the day's Scripture readings.

Our Advent Calendar. 
Advent calendars are fun for the kids. I look forward to getting out the advent calendar that my oldest and I made together. In each box holds the promise of something fun to read, do or watch. We fill the little boxes with small treats and an activity for each day. I work in activities we already have on our calendar, some of the activities include:
  • Having hot chocolate
  • Enjoying Hot Cider
  • Watching a Christmas movie
  • Reading a Christmas story
  • Game night
  • Driving to see Christmas lights
  • Baking cookies
  • Doing a craft
  • Visiting Santa
  • Go to a chorus performance
  • Learn a Christmas Hymn
  • Bake fudge
  • Color a holiday scene
This year, I plan to include one of the Jesse Tree devotions I have been hearing about into our observance of Advent. The purpose is to focus on the real meaning and story of Christmas. The difficulty is choosing which  to do this year. They are all awesome, but it would be overwhelming to do it all. I actually had planned to make Jesse Tree ornaments in October but that did not happen.

I purchased this beautiful jewelry holder as my
year-round tree to decorate for the season.
It will make a perfect Jesse Tree
My friend Amanda White put together this wonderful Christmas family devotion called Truth in tinsel. It comes with 24 days of Scripture reading, ornament crafts, talking points and extension activities, plus fun printables and templates. The readings focus on the Annunciation through the birth of Jesus. I think this would be best for families with younger children like mine. I'd like to make the craft ornaments but realistically, I am glad she also includes printables for those days we just can't do it. Maybe each year we can make more to add. I'll keep you posted with how this turns out.

Ann Voskamp has a wonderful new devotional in which she leads us through in her New York Times best-seller The Greatest Gift. It tells the full love story of God starting from creation through the birth of Christ. It has 25 fresh, powerful and awakening Advent readings in a voice only Anne Voskamp can share and features 25 free, co-ordinating, exquisite Christmas ornament downloads. This devotion is for me to focus on the holiday and I plan to do it with my morning coffee.

Ann's son has designed this amazing Cradle to Cross wreath that I so covet! For each of the 24 days of Advent, the candle proceeds through the spiral wreath, Mary, swollen with Savior, following. Come Lent, this same oak wreath then extends to a 40 candle-holder markings, making the profound and visible connection for of the miracle of the God-with-us of Christmas to the cosmic redemption of Easter. Each evening, the candle proceeds one more day around the 40 day journey through Lent, the symbol of Christ carrying the Cross -- and all our Grace-Hope -- towards Calvary. In addition, the wreath set, extended to its 40 days length, may also be used to mark the Days of Easter, the 40 days from Easter Sunday to His Ascension to Heaven. I'm hoping to get this for Lent.

Finally, a Nativity set is also a meaningful tradition in many homes and has been in ours. Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 (a "living" one) intending thereby to cultivate the worship of Christ, having been inspired by his recent visit to the Holy Land where he had been shown Jesus's traditional birthplace. Our Nativity set is one of the most special items we unpack and put on display each year. It was given to us by Chuck's parents.

Events and Observances

Saint Nicholas also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century saint and Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus. His feast day, Saint Nicholas Day is December 6. Traditionally, on the eve of the feast young children put their shoes in front of the chimneys and sing songs. Often they put a carrot or some hay in the shoes, as a gift to St. Nicholas' horse. The next morning they will find a small present in their shoes, ranging from sweets to marbles or some other small toy. I have been thinking of incorporating this tradition in our family to draw the attention away from Santa on Christmas Day while still enjoying the magic and wonder he brings to the season.

Some other favorite traditions we observe are the annual cookie bake at Grammy and Pop's with the cousins, a tour of homes I take with my mom and our close family friends, breakfast with Santa at Church, getting tree ornaments from all the places we have visited and getting new pajamas on Christmas Eve.  We also participate in Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree.

Movies and Music

Movies and music mark the season as well. On Thanksgiving we broke out the seasonal flicks with a viewing of Polar Express. Other favorite movies for this time of year include Frosty, Rudolph
and Its A Wonderful Life.

I love Christmas carols of all kinds and look forward to adding to my collection this year with Kelly Clarkson's new album Wrapped in Red. My favorite Christmas album of course is Kenny Chesney's All I Want for Christmas is all Real Good Tan. I like to have only holiday music on in the car during the month of December.

Books and Apps

I am very excited about a new App called The Nativity Story, especially since my kids are on their devices so much. Readers of this interactive, digital book app can follow Joseph and Mary on their search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. Along the way they encounter a variety of colorful local people and animals. This is a fun and engaging way to share the original story of Christmas. It's designed as a vintage pop-up book, with classic woodcut-style illustrations. By tapping and swiping, kids can help Joseph and Mary find a place to stay. It is interactive. Kids can knock on doors, pull on the rope, ring the bell, open windows, create music and make people talk. It also features optional narration where a narrator can tell the story or you or your child can read it together.

Of course, I always read the Night Before Christmas to the kids. That is one of my favorites!

What are some of the ways you observe Advent?