Friday, December 20, 2013

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas...last week... beautiful snow covered landscapes and impressive icicles. Now it's back to looking like a normal Missouri winter and the snow melt left a muddy mess in the horse paddocks and chicken coop. But inside our house things still feel festive. It's amazing how much magic a well-lighted Christmas tree can add to your home. Add to that the anticipation of the brown paper packages underneath the tree, fun (and sometimes cheesy) Christmas music, yummy smelling candles, and baking with lots of cinnamon, cloves and ginger -- I do love this time of year.

Advent builds the anticipation to Christmas, and our kids are definitely anticipating Christmas this year. Naturally, most of that excitement is centered around opening up presents.

There are plenty of (good) essays out there about embracing the gift giving spirit as an outpouring of God's love in giving us the greatest gift of all time (read: the incarnation of our savior, Jesus Christ). I'm all for that. God pours out tangible, material blessings on us every day and passing those blessings on to our children is one way we can show them real, tangible love - from us, but ultimately, from God.Though I still brainstorm and seek out ideas for the practicality of implementing this wisely in our home -- what kind of gifts, how many, pouring out blessings while still cultivating thankful and appreciative hearts.... The methods are still a work in progress.

All this to say: I'm happy my kids are excited about opening their presents. I'm excited about opening mine too.

They are also uber-excited about other people opening up gifts from them. Which is good. And, also, one of the biggest things they have been anticipating this year is the lighting of the huge white "Christ" candle in the middle of our advent candle centerpiece. I'm happy about that too. They may not fully grasp the significance and concepts behind the candle, or the other traditions we have started in our home, but they know it's fun and exciting and they stumble over each others' words in their eagerness to repeat back what everything represents. 

Our advent traditions have morphed a little bit every year. And I expect they will continue to morph. This year is the first year we have actually used our Jesse Tree for daily devotions. We love it. I started reading straight out of the King James Bible for the first few days, but then I started to skim over the Bible passage to refresh myself and then re-tell the kids the appropriate story in more of a question and answer format. For their ages it has helped keep the excitement level up and they seem to absorb more.They have heard most of the stories before so I try to get them as involved as possible, seeing how much they remember and can apply. Acting the stories out would be fun too, though I haven't got that invested this year.

We also did our advent stockings calendar again this year. Though I think I might revamp this for next year. Change it to doing special activities during the Twelve Days of Christmas in celebration, keeping advent as more of a time for reflection, anticipation and serving others. But, this year this is what we have been doing. I've touched on this before, but here are some of the activities that I write down and stick in their daily stockings for the weeks before Christmas:

* Cutting down & decorating the Christmas tree
* Making a gingerbread nativity
* Hot chocolate & Christmas stories
* Cutting paper snowflakes
* Making Christmas cards or crafts for their friends
* Playing hide and seek
* Ice skating
* Making cranberry & popcorn strings for the tree
* Making a tin lantern & going for a night hike
* Baking Christmas cookies & delivering them to the neighbors
* Making paper chains
* Driving around in jammies to see Christmas lights
* Watching the Nutcracker Ballet (we have it on VHS...and our kids have developed such an acute obsession with the valiant Nutcracker and his beloved Clara that I let them indulge a few times over the course of Advent)

With the busyness (and sickness) that also comes with Advent I haven't fit in all of these activities this year, but it is a rough list for me to go off of when loading up the stockings.

As I mentioned, some of the more special items will probably be moved forward to the twelve days of Christmas for us next year. The big treats - like ice skating and night hikes with homemade tin lanterns. The activities like baking cookies to share with others and decorating the tree will probably still be a part of our Advent calendar.

Also a part of our Advent activities are St. Nicholas Day and Santa Lucia Day. 
In preparation for these days we bake pepernoten cookies and saffron buns ahead of time, respectively.

St. Nicholas Day has given us a chance to celebrate the fun stories (and truths) of Santa Claus and the real, historical St. Nicholas. The kids love it and it keeps the Great Santa Claus Debate from interfering with our Christmas morning. Everyone has a different approach to this tradition, but this has worked well for us. Though, as a result, be warned, our kids might be the ones dampening your child's belief in the magical St. Nick. I saw a blog this year about how one family celebrates St. Nicholas day by delivering anonymous gifts at camo. I like this idea, perhaps it will be implemented  in the future.

We still also do stockings on Christmas morning but we are pretty open with the fact that all the gifts are from Mama & Daddy. William came right out and asked for the truth about Santa Claus this year so I told him, and he nodded thoughtfully in satisfaction. But you  never know what kids are picking up on. Last year I overheard the kids debating about who brought them all the presents for Christmas. At the end of the discussion it was generally decided that the UPS man (aka the "P.S. Man") was the generous donor. I was rather mystified about this discussion, since we have always been up front with the fact that the presents were from us, but I was also extremely amused. The UPS man never knew he was so legendary.

Santa Lucia day was a fun event again this year. The magic of the morning was made even more perfect with a beautiful snowfall to watch out our windows and some traditional Swedish Christmas music I found online. I still didn't have white nightgowns for the girls this year, next year.... Margaret took charge of her role a bit more this year and that was fun and exciting, for both of us. I laid out their outfits the night before and by the time I got downstairs, in the early morning hours, she had woken everyone up and gotten them dressed. Maybe next year I'll let her make the coffee.

Susannah thought it was great fun. Everyone piling into Mom and Dad's bed? Wearing fun outfits, drinking warm milk and filling the sheets with crumbs? Best. Morning. Ever.

Happy Advent!