Did you know that the four weeks of Advent were originally known as the “little Lent”? And that the season was marked in the same ways: prayer, fasting and preparation? It was a joyful time, but quietly joyful. No parties, no feasts, no overindulgence. The Christmas tree wasn’t even decorated until December 24.
And let me introduce you to this little gem: Sacred Leisure—“According to an ancient (and practical) tradition, by Christmas Eve the house is to be thoroughly cleaned, all tasks finished or removed from sight, all borrowed items returned, and no task allowed to be begun that cannot be finished by nightfall” (www.holytrinitygerman.org)
Friends, Sacred Leisure is God sanctioned quiet time.
Why did we ever give that up for what we have now? A holiday season that starts October 1 and marches on through the New Year, fueled by cleverly manufactured stress and anxiety. Here’s what I have already noticed this year: if you ain’t got Elf on the shelf, you ain’t got Christmas. At $24 a pop, that’s pretty brilliant marketing.
It aims right at the desire of lots of moms to “make” perfect Christmas memories for their kids. So we don’t go to Lowe’s and buy a tree. We drive everyone an hour down the highway to cut one down. We don’t take pictures with the Santa at the neighborhood party. We dress everyone up in matching sweaters and pay way too much money for the same picture at the mall. We haul our kids to every single Christmas parade in a 20 mile radius, book into every single Santa breakfast and accept invitations to an endless number of cocktail parties, gift exchanges, cookie parties and Secret Santa extravaganzas. And we Facebook and Pin it all to keep up with our other mom friends who are furiously Facebooking and Pinning their own made-up perfect Christmas memories.
What in the world are we doing?
Christmas has gotten loud. Bright. Expensive. But it’s not holy. I know I am not the only Christian mama who wants to turn the children’s faces away from the man in the red suit and towards the humble manger. And I know I am not the only mama who’s ready to throw in the towel on the Christmas mompetition.
A few years ago, Shea and I decided to make a change. We need our kids to understand what this season is really about. I’m sharing how we do it, not to increase the mompetition or make anyone feel like they are doing it “wrong”. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to get off the merry-go-round. So take it or leave it, for what it’s worth.
First, we under-schedule December, which means we don’t commit to much. If we wake up and decide we want to spend the day at Disneyland or ice skating in Old Town, then off we go. But we aren’t obligated to be many places.
Then I finish shopping before Advent begins. This year I finished before the Thanksgiving week sale juggernaut. I still got everything on sale. Shopping is fairly easy for us. The kids pick two presents from us and one from Santa. Only the grandkids and the grandparents get gifts, so the list is fairly small and has a dollar amount attached to it. Mostly. Sometimes grandmothers and great aunties are hard to control.
We have an Advent calendar. A real one, not those Santa countdowns they sell in the stores that have nothing to do with Advent. We have a wreath that lives on the dining room table for the season. Every Sunday we sit down to a small but formal meal with a group of friends and the Advent candles. We have a scripture reading, say a blessing and sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.
As we get closer to Christmas, we focus on the giving. We shop together for our Giving Tree family. I take the older ones out alone so they can purchase gifts for their siblings with their allowance money. And the week before Christmas, we clean out our stuff, making three piles: trash, recycle, donate.
In between these things, we bake and make home-made gifts for our friends and listen to Christmas music and drink hot chocolate. We get our tree from Lowe’s. We do a Santa picture, but on a whim, and in casual clothes. We already did it this year, for free at Disneyland.
This will be our fourth year of really focusing on Advent and these years have been some of the most calm, reflective, loving celebrations in our home. I’ll be honest, the first year I felt like maybe I was missing something as I watched our neighbors and friends Facebook about performances and cocktail parties and parades and Santa breakfasts. That’s because we’ve been programmed to believe that we have to go-go-go from Halloween to January 1.
But we don’t. The only thing we have to do is prepare our hearts and gather round the candles to wait for God to send the Light into the world.
Prayerful quiet. Joyful anticipation. Sacred Leisure.
About Advent: http://www.holytrinitygerman.org/adventcustoms.html
Advent prayers: http://www.churchyear.net/adventwreath.html