Friday, December 2, 2016

Advent Week-by-Week: Week 1~ Letters to Santa, Advent Wreath, and Play-doh

Welcome to my Advent Week-by-Week series. This is where I recount for you what we're doing and what we've actually done for each week in Advent.  I hope to share our joys, activities, thoughts, words, and hopefully what we've learned. I'll keep it honest and real, because this season isn't about being perfect. So along with all the rest, I'll share our missteps and challenges as well.

To kick it off, I want to discuss and define the word "Advent." Advent is easily my favorite season of the year, because I do have good memories of celebrating this season and lighting the candles on the Advent wreath growing up. The word "Advent" comes from the Latin meaning "Coming." It references the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Thus it is a time to prepare for the coming of our Lord.

In the movie, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the Grinch's heart grows three sizes in one day.  I think that is exactly what the season of Advent is for: the purpose of Advent is to joyfully anticipate the birth of Jesus. We have to give our hearts room and time to grow. It isn't penitential in the sense that we should punish ourselves (although, yes, the color purple represents penitence); it isn't the Christmas season technically, yet, either. But, to keep Christ in Christmas, and to keep ourselves from a Grinchy attitude, is the purpose.  We can remember to give generously and prepare thoroughly, to do the things we did as kids, to celebrate in a meaningful way (American though it may be).  Just as John the Baptist said, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord," so we are building up the joy, but we are not technically celebrating Christmas yet!

To me, this means lighting candles- on the Advent wreath, singing and humming "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," teaching this to our children, attending Mass services, remembering the Feast Days of December (St. Nicholas, Santa Lucia, and more!), going to Confesssion, doing the Scripture readings, and preparing our hearts to make room for baby Jesus on Christmas Day and on the twelve days of Christmas. I can hear you saying, "yes, but do we really need Advent?" I can think of two analogies to illustrate that the answer is "Yes."  

First, I think of my daughter who recently did something so typical of a 6-year-old. We were getting ready for bed, singing nursery rhymes joyfully, and caught up in the exuberance of the moment, she popped in a piece of bubble gum, just as I asked her to brush her teeth.  It made me imagine a child shoveling their mouth full of sugary candy right before getting into the dentist's chair.  It would be inappropriate. This metaphor corresponds to the idea that we aren't to get caught up in the materialism of the age or the season. While some are packing away their junk from Black Friday, others are whimsically pulling out one solid brass wreath in which to place candles. The light of Christ.

Again, a metaphor strikes me. If you are going to a feast, do you tuck away little snacks in case you get hungry?  On our way to Alabama for Thanksgiving, I was worried that I would feel ill on the drive. I bought a package of donuts and a biscotti at a coffee shop, and stealthily hid them away from my kids the night before we left. It made me laugh, because I knew that once we got to Alabama, the tables would be laden with fruit, spilling from a cornucopia, and the tables would be overfull with all kinds of goodies and food. The thought of hiding away snacks on our way to a feast made me laugh. It is the same with Advent. The generosity of God cannot and should not be rivaled by our trips to the mall or too many Christmas cookies before Christmas! His goodness should not have to compete with materialism or wrongful feasting! Our thoughts of "provision" and "decor" must make him laugh! The hay in a manger was enough decor for him! The idea that December is already Christmas is like shoveling our mouth with sugary snacks, instead of making room for him in our hearts.

It's easy to cover Advent over with a list of generalities, the number one being "Slow down. Stop talking. Stop shopping."  But when you stop saying "What if we did this?" And when you stop shoveling snowfulls of "Not yet, not this year," you get to a place where you're grown up enough to not show the Advent traditions to the door- yet. Now let's talk about what we actually did this past week! In honor of 7 Quick Takes, here are seven things we did! (To say that we've mastered Advent would be untrue, but we're trying to better understand the Spirit of the season!)

We did go ahead and get a Christmas tree the Sunday after Thanksgiving (First Sunday of Advent). However, we're trying to be really intentional about turning on the lights at special times- Sundays, when we light our candles, and Feast Days, and then on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

We did glitter play-doh. This is a big hit with the kids every year! I pull out my Mom's old vintage Christmas cookie cutters, get Christmas-colored playdoh, and get the kids to add their own glitter.

One thing that's fun is that you can go ahead and teach kids the story of Christmas during Advent. Not pictured: camel and star cookie cutters, etc! I used the cookie cutters to tell the story of Christmas, then they were inspired to make cut-outs with the shapes they heard in the story. We keep it on cookie sheets and pull it out several times over the first week of Advent. I think it's a good warm-up to baking Christmas cookies! ha! It's an already-but-not-yet type thing. :0)
We set out the Advent Wreath. It took me a couple of attempts to get it 'right,' but I added some greenery and ended up buying a new Christmas candle to light on Christmas day (I'm not sure if this is just a family tradition, or if others do this one, too).

We hung our Advent calendar. It has scripture reading for each day of December leading up to Christmas day. It has been fun to have the kids take turns opening them each day, and the readers in our family can help read the verse.

We wrote letters to Santa. This is a great way to practically prepare for Christmas! We made these homemade envelopes after working very hard on our letters. They decorated them with markers and do-a-dot. It is very hands-on, and it's a helpful thing to do during Advent! It helps you with your Christmas shopping! I'm unabashedly a last minute shopper.  I do reference the lists they make quite a bit. Shhhh! ha.

We set out the Advent books, so that the kids can pick them up and look at them any time during these months of Advent. ;)

Finally, number 7. We did an Advent lapbook-inspired craft. Without stressing yourself out, Mamas, here is a simple way to do a lap book without doing the whole shebang. We made a hand-wreath, tracing Anders hands. He glued on the pieces. A good time for a craft, I learned, is when you have already made the soup, but realize the rolls still need 25 minutes in the oven to bake! haha. Molly helped me make the Advent card for Grandma after school.

As I mentioned above, I want to share our mishaps to keep it real. After decorating the house and pulling out these first traditions, several of our kids came down with colds, some quite severe. It feels like just when you really start to get into a productive groove as a Mom, some curveball is thrown at you, and you have to plow ahead somehow. As the prayer below mentions, it keeps us humble as we have to show ourselves grace in the midst of the to-do lists! We also have heaps and heaps of laundry from our Thanksgiving travels and in addition to coming down with a cold, I've been nauseated from this pregnancy and I have to sit down a whole lot more than usual.;) #humility

As I'm seeking an Advent-heart, I also want to make the disclaimer, once again, that I will not be on instagram for the month of December. I want to keep the season quiet in one way, and Instagram has the tendency to steal me away from being present, so this decision is in order to give myself some balance and sanity!!! ;-)

closing prayer:

God give peace, balance, and yes, sanity to us this Advent season.
Be in our hearts, and teach us to be still.
Fill our hearts with wonder, and fill each moment with grace.
Be good to us, and remind us to be gracious, mindful of your emptiness, and lowliness to be born in a manger, surrounded by animals. Teach us that humility, as we await your coming.

linking up with Kelly

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