All those (four) years ago during marriage prep, my husband and I were asked to discuss which holiday traditions we were each going to bring from our bio-families to incorporate into our new family. At the time, it seemed like a silly thing to waste precious time on, when I could be doing one of a million different things that wedding planning requires.
Now that our kids are beginning to be a little more aware of holidays, I am realizing that was a very valuable question to spend time on. No season makes me more aware of this than Advent. We each have extremely strong opinions on just exactly how to observe Advent, but I think we are finding a good mix of traditions from both sides.
From My Side
Growing up, Advent was a very exacting season. The television was draped with a purple sheet and shut off, deserts were saved for Sunday only, absolutely no Christmas decorations until after Gaudete Sunday, and it was borderline heresy to listen to carols until we were on the way to midnight Mass (but I totally would sneak a listen to 100.3, hoping to hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”).
My mom had a huge Fontanini Nativity set, and there were specific pieces that went in every day. The stable and manger were set out the First Sunday of Advent, and more pieces were added daily until the Christ Child was put in on Christmas Eve. We would always race downstairs in the mornings because whoever got there first got to put in the pieces for that day. We also had an old school Avon Mouse Calendar, and moving the mouse to the next day was the consolation prize for the later risers.
We kept a little baggie of straw behind the stable, and if we made a sacrifice, or did something good, we were allowed to put a piece of straw in the manger to keep Baby Jesus warm. And if we did something naughty, we had to take a piece out. As Christmas got closer, we really did try our best to make sure that little tiny manger was overflowing with warm bedding for Jesus.
From His Side
My husband grew up with the classic Advent traditions as well, the wreaths, Nativity Sets, and Advent Calendars, but a defining element of the season was Santa Claus. I’ll fully admit, I was very put off by what I perceived to be a materialistic sell-out to the culture. As the years pass, I am coming to a deeper understanding of my in-laws understanding of St. Nicholas, and actually stand behind the tradition fairly staunchly.
They don’t see Santa as a jolly old elf from the North Pole. They see him as St. Nicholas, the one who carries on the tradition of Christ’s sacrificial love. Santa brings toys and presents not as a reward for good little kids, but as a reminder of how much God loves us and wants us to have all that is good.
A lot of families relegate St. Nicholas to his feast day on December 6th, and that is just fine. But I love the way my Mother-in-Law explained it to me recently. We can’t give the Christ Child gifts like the Magi did, but in the spirit of the Magi, “Santa” brings gifts to us. There’s a lot more to be said about Santa, and I’ll write about that another time. For now, suffice it to say, I am 100% on board with bringing him into our family as part of our preparations for Christmas.
Our New Family
We’ve only had three Advents as a couple so far, but it seems like every year, and especially with the kids now, we add a little more preparation into the season.
We stand by the “no decor until Gaudete Sunday”, so on that Sunday, we go tree hunting. Last year, it was the middle of a blizzard, but the two grandkids got all bundled up and we went down to the tree farm. It’s been novel for me to hunt through the forest until we find the right one to cut down; we always had a fake tree at my childhood home.
The tree and house get decorated fairly quickly, but no lights get turned on until right before Christmas. I love the feeling of anticipation this creates. Everything is there, set to go, but not live yet. The decorations and presents sit there in darkness, only being lit when Christ arrives.
Last week, I was explaining to my oldest (two and a half) that in a month, we would put a tree in the house. His exact response was, “Whaaaaaaat?!” He’s a good little helper, and between the two of us, we’ll have the house all ready even with the ridiculously short Fourth “Week” of Advent this year.
I just hit up my Amazon wishlist and bought a really cute cloth Advent Nativity Calendar, that I hope to use for the next forty years, and a magnetic Advent wreath for the little guy and his baby brother. As the years go on, I’m sure we’ll try out many new devotions (so far, we are severely lacking in that department) and traditions, hopefully finding two or three that really stick for my boys to bring to their own families someday.
What does your family do to make Advent special?
This post is part of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network Blog Hop. See what my blogging compatriots have to say on the subject over at “Reconciled to You”.