The advent season brings anticipation and excitement.
We all want to get to the destination, the birth of Christ.
But as any experienced traveler will tell you, the fun, the joy is on the way there as well!
Take the season to treasure every day, to find joy in something each day!
The picture above is a scrapbook page created by Linda.
I was born on Christmas Day. When I was a child, I absolutely hated that, but now that I’m older I’m sort of glad my birthday doesn’t get remembered. But Christmas was always THE major holiday in our house, one my mother in particular looked forward to all year long. We all looked forward to the decorating, baking, shopping, and (frankly) gifts, all year long.
As a young parent, I continued to enjoy Christmas and all of our family traditions, but started to become a little jaded: the Christmas trees being up before Thanksgiving, Christmas music in October, the constant exhortations to buy, buy, buy. Like many other parents, I had fallen away from being a regular church goer. And then one year my daughter bought me a tin of handmade Hungarian cookies made by a woman in her small bakery in New Jersey.
When I opened the tin I smelled something that instantly turned me into a child again, standing in my grandmother’s house and being offered one of those same cookies she made every year and stored in a bright copper tin. I could literally see myself standing there in her dining room as if time had been turned back.
So I began making those cookies every year, returning to that old tradition, and now my daughters want to learn to do it themselves this year. And I began attending church regularly again, drawing comfort from traditions, especially around the holidays.
Not many others can say that cookies led them back to God and our Lord Jesus Christ! More importantly though is the power of tradition and memory to make us happy and thankful and even hopeful. In the face of Covid, it is perhaps more important than ever to return to Him who said “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Rejoice in the gifts He has given us. Even if they’re not cookies.
Children understand the pure joy of Christmas. Advent teaches them that special things are worth waiting for and are worthy of preparation.
Advent candles and calendars mark the longing. Hymns, and especially Plainsong chants, awake ancient drums of hope within.
One Christmas Eve night when I was about 4 years old, I heard my dad’s footsteps going up and down the stairs of the gigantic log cabin house we lived in on Diamond Street in Elkins, West Virginia. I peeked out my bedroom door and saw him. In Daddy’s arms were stacks of beautifully wrapped presents. I couldn’t even see his face there were so many!
He didn’t see me and I carefully closed the bedroom door and crept back into my bed with a secret smile.
Many years passed and I never told my brother or my sister who the “real” Santa was. Partly, because I knew even then that Santa wasn’t nearly as important as Christ. It is called Christmas, after all. You don’t have to be a grown-up to work that one out.
As the decades pass, pure joy becomes more difficult to hold on to because the losses seem to swell like great autumnal storms that strip the last of the leaves from the beautiful trees.
Even as we prepare to celebrate the joy of the birth of Christ, we know the cross, the path to death, is waiting for him. For us. Steep yourselves in Advent – be thoughtful, receptive to all that is Holy and true, but try, even in 2020, to enjoy Christmas with the joy of a child. Glory awaits.
As the youngest (by many years) of six children, my earliest and favorite memory of Christmas has always been Christmas Eve. Our family would attend our church service, usually taking up a whole pew, and I had many close relatives who were church members as well, so we presented quite a large group. It was especially wonderful to me since my older siblings, some of who had moved away, would come home on that day to stay and celebrate the holiday festivities.
I vividly remember watching out our large living room picture window for my siblings arrival, trying so hard to be patient! Once everyone was home, I felt such a sense of joy that our family was complete. After dinner we would dress for the evening service. The stained-glass windows never looked more beautiful than in the soft light of the evening. The flowers were so fragrant. The pews were filled with familiar faces and their visiting extended family members. There was a thrill of excitement rippling throughout the congregation; and I remember how respectful and quiet it was even though the church was filled to the brim.
We sat and listened to the beloved Christmas story from the book of Luke, mesmerized by the much-awaited miracle of Jesus’ birth. And as beautiful as that story is, the music was equally as touching to me to hear the beautiful hymns for this season. I love Christmas hymns; but none more than ”Silent Night”. The tradition was to light your candle during this song, and slowly stand to form a circle all around the pews until we were joined into one group, lovingly singing, our faces glowing by candlelight, surrounding the entire house of worship.
When all of the verses were sung, the church emptied silently. So powerful. That image still lives in my memory bank; feeling chills and gratefulness for such a peaceful moment of the miracle of our Savior’s birth. This experience throughout my childhood is one that I have strived to continue every year. And although every church has various traditions, being a part of a late evening service that brings back those feelings of joy, peace and chills of excitement is something I pray to partake in for many more years.
Growing up in the Florida Keys, my memories of Christmas are a little different than most. Half dead Christmas trees bought at Publix, singings songs about snow while wearing shorts, driving down Bee Street which went all out with their outdoor decorations, and who can forget, the numerous Manatee mailboxes wearing Santa hats. Sadly, one thing that I don’t remember is having any traditions that we celebrated annually as a family. It wasn’t until after Chris and I started spending the holidays together, that I began to see what the holidays should really be like. That first year, I was introduced to the infamous, “Day after Thanksgiving feast” with his best friend’s family.
When we bought our house, we went to the Christmas tree farm and cut down our first tree. I was thrilled to tears when my Grandmom gifted us with handmade Christmas stockings with our names on them. Our first Christmas season at St. Mary Anne’s, I was overjoyed to be a part of the annual traditions of the church, Advent Wreath making, the Cookie Walk, watching the Christmas parade on the porch with my grandparents and friends, Wreaths Across America and our magnificent Christmas Eve service.
Henry’s first Christmas last year, brought even more traditions to our family – pictures with Santa, personalized ornaments, and matching family pajamas. The holiday season is so magical and while I’m soaking in all of the lights, smells and songs of Christmas, I am exceptionally grateful to now have our own traditions that I cherish so dearly.