Our daughter turns three in a few months, so we're beginning to think a little more deeply about holiday traditions, what they mean, and what she will remember from her childhood. As a kid, in my mind "Advent" was just a church term for the time leading up to Christmas. We didn't do anything special for the season beyond lighting the pink and purple candles on the dinner table that month. Not until I started attending an Anglican church did the concept of Advent mean anything much besides a good time to decorate the house and watch presents collect under the tree.
In the liturgical tradition, Advent is a time of penitence and waiting, rather akin to Lent. A couple of years ago, Adam and I fell into a wonderful way to make a practical statement of this.
It was our daughter's first Christmas and I had not yet learned to juggle the activities of childcare and feeding with much of anything else. The weeks before Christmas, I had planned to decorate with lights and ornaments as my parents' home had been. But, time passed quickly and the house remained unchanged. The day of Christmas Eve, I was quite sad that we hadn't managed to make the house look pretty. Christmas just didn't seem very celebratory without strings of lights and decorations on the tree. After our daughter went to sleep that evening, Adam pulled out the Christmas boxes from our storage room. We spent an hour or two putting up lights and bows and cards and glass balls.
After we'd finished, we sat in the glow of Christmas tree lights and started to talk about the transformation of the house. How fantastic it seemed to me that it now really looked and felt like Christmas. That evening, we decided to make the Christmas Eve decorating an annual tradition. We would allow ourselves the space to contemplate and anticipate during Advent, but, in a burst of activity, it is suddenly Christmas.
This year, our church is commemorating Advent with a series of services looking at some of the the individuals who surrounded Christ at his birth. Each week, we'll look in depth at Zechariah or Elizabeth or Mary and see a little bit more of the well-known story. I was thinking I would like to incorporate this same sort of storytelling into our family tradition.
The first Christmas Adam and I were married, I was seven months pregnant. I was not a happy, glowing pregnant woman riding the "blessed art thou among women" wave. We had agreed as a couple that year not to exchange gifts. On Christmas morning, I was rather taken aback when Adam handed me an envelope. Inside, he'd written a first-person account of Mary's pregnancy--fraught with struggles and frustrations, but ending in the joy of giving birth to Jesus, the Babe who would save the world.
I've always loved the book The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The way the Herdmans react to the retelling of Christ's birth as they hear it for the first time inspires the narrator and her mother to take a fresh look at the traditional account as well. Over the next few years, as a family, I'd like to rewrite the stories of those who were a part of The Story. Maybe one person each year, taking a look beyond the glossed-over tradition to see the real people. Collecting these perspectives can offer a new insight on a story that should never (but sometimes seems to) grow old.
This post was written for the Carnival of Anglican Advent Traditions. Find out more about this carnival here.