Last week on Facebook in our local mom’s group a friend asked what traditions we all had for Advent. I immediately summed up a handful of our traditions in the longest comment I’d left on FB to date. Ironically, the question was asked after a linked article which suggested ideas to keep Advent holy without burning out by Christmas. Since Advent and Christmas are our favorite holidays, we do a LOT in those four weeks plus twelve days. Immediately after posting, I began to fret. What if I unwittingly sparked a FB argument about allowing your children to believe in St. Nicholas/Santa Claus? What if I made someone feel like they didn’t do enough simply because we plan a lot? What if my comment cause someone else to burn out?! And when no one else had time or inclination to post their traditions in the com box that afternoon, I chickened out and deleted it, only to have people respond more the next day and wonder where my post had gone. Comparison is the thief of joy, someone smarter than me once said, and they are right. And I was, after all, being silly and thinking way too hard about it.
So I decided to come over here and wax eloquent about our Advent traditions, because here I can be verbose and often am! :) Those of you who have been following this blog over the last 5 years can probably take a snooze because you’ve seen it all before, and will most likely see it again. So without further ado….
The Sunday before the First Sunday of Advent:
I make the Christmas pudding, keeping up an English tradition. Whether we actually eat the pudding, any or all of it, depends on the year, but I make it anyway. There was one year we forgot to eat it on Christmas. There was last year when we were sick and didn’t eat it until later. Still, the smells of the pudding steaming are quite delightful and it’s a great Advent treat because you have to let it sit for the interim between “Stir-Up Sunday” and Christmas Day. This dessert is obviously not for everyone–it is made with brandy–but it smells good, looks Dickens-ey, and my husband gets to light it on fire. Win-win.
First Sunday of Advent
We get out our Advent wreath, which depending on the year may be the lovely wooden German one I bought several years ago, or the felt toddler one. This year it is going to be both, but the German one will be kept out of reach. We bring out the Advent calendars and I go to Wal-mart and get a small real tree for our Jesse tree. Some years that has doubled as our real Christmas tree–like the year we went to Indiana for Christmas and we put the tree in the van between the two front seats. When it got dark we plugged the lights in and gave everyone some Christmas cheer. Lots of people appreciated it as we passed. It was fun! But I digress. Anyway, the ornaments for our Jesse tree have varied from year to year from ones I’ve drawn myself to ones that I’ve printed from the computer. This year we’re doing these.
A perennial favorite are these sticker calendars. I’ve been using them with the kids every year since Trooper was probably 3 or 4. I like these because the kids get to put the figures anywhere they want, which leads to quite interesting and individual presentations. :) I generally change up some of the numbers so the Holy Family are the last to go in.
We also do a color-a-day calendar of an English Christmas village.I bought the downloaded file from here and just print off a copy for each interested child. I allow them to tape the village to the walls of their room and thus add some seasonal decor of their own styling.
Then the Advent tree my father-in-law made for Trooper’s first birthday goes up as well. I usually put little notes in each door with an activity/prayer request/suggestion for the day to help the kids keep a “giving” mindset.
(Picture taken while we still had wallpaper in the foyer. SO glad that’s gone!)
And then there’s The Goat. In Gavle, Sweden, a 7-ton straw goat is erected every year for the Christmas festivities. A webcam allows you to see the goat in all it’s sometimes snow covered glory for ostensibly from the first Sunday of Advent through New Year’s, but I have only once seen it last remotely that far. This has been going on for 50 years (though not the webcam), and it’s an unofficial tradition for someone to burn the goat down at some point. Why the Goat-watch has become part of my Advent I can’t tell you for sure. I guess chalk it up to my love of the random.
Finally our creche goes out–but not the Holy Family and their donkey. Despite my best efforts to have the kings travel up from the basement from Advent through Epiphany, they usually appear in Bethlehem pretty quickly. More on that in a minute.
Over the years, being a bookworm, I’ve amassed quite the collection of Christmas books for the children. Generally I find we don’t read all of them, so this year I’m doing what I’ve seen other families do and wrap each book so that a child unwraps a book a day, then we read it together.
The Eve of St. Nicholas Day, December 5th.
By this time our Jesse tree readings bring us to Abraham and the promise God made to him that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. So on this day we put lights on the Jesse tree.
We also put our window candles in the window to light the way for St. Nicholas. Our shoes go out either next to the Jesse tree or on our kitchen table (it used to be on the floor in the hall until the corgis arrived), and the children’s letters to St. Nicholas are left out for him instead of being mailed. My parents would practice this tradition for my sister and I (the shoes, at least), and even when I went to college I still received a St. Nicholas package. At college I’d put the contents of that package in my slippers and Mom always put some in for my roommates as well. One year I played St. Nicholas and left a treat outside everyone’s door on our wing of top floor St. Catherine’s. Only one year can I remember not putting out my shoes for St. Nicholas day–and that was the year Trooper was born.
St. Nicholas Day, December 6th
So what do we find in our shoes come St. Nicholas day in the morning? Generally an apple, an orange (or clementine), and some form of sweetie. Mom used to give us peppermint nougats and a walnut, but somewhere along the line I gave my kids the Little Debbie Christmas tree cake. It’s the only day of the year I buy those things. A small gift is left behind for the kids as well.
Upon reading about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s childhood Christmas traditions one year, and how he mentioned a new figure would appear in the family nativity set each year, we began to add to our set as well so each St. Nicholas Day a new person or animal will show up. I plan to have a pretty epic set by the time we have grandchildren.
And some years the kids “add” their own animals from their barnyard set.
St. Nicholas day is also Trooper’s birthday so we celebrate big on this day.
St. Lucia Day–December 13th
In the evening we serve hot cocoa and saffron buns (if I’ve been industrious) or refrigerated cinnamon rolls (if I haven’t). One of the girls will be our Lucia Queen. This year I might find a wreath that will stay on the older girl’s heads. Hmmmm…..
Fourth Sunday of Advent
By now our calendars are in full swing and we have made a lot of homemade cookies and lots of kid-colored decorations.
Generally if we are going to get a larger-than-tabletop tree we do it this day of the year, unless Christmas Eve coincides with this day. On those years we get the tree on the 3rd Sunday. We hold off decorating as long as we can, but it’s usually before Christmas Eve. (sheepish grin) And I will confess, we listen to Christmas music from the First Sunday of Advent through Epiphany (and sometimes earlier, but always until at least Epiphany).
On Christmas Eve the Holy Family appears in the creche scene.
But I think that covers Advent, and if I write any more, I’ll be going into Christmas. ;)