By Dixie Stephen
The observance of Advent and the Nativity is one of mankind’s most significant events. They are an observance and celebration that provide us with a sense of connectedness – a communal event that taps our spiritual and emotional roots.
When our sons were three and six years old, it became apparent that they had uncovered the secret of Christmas – THE mother-lode – a letter to Santa Claus. Kent (6) spent hours “surfing” the toy section of the Sears catalog. He made lists of the items he wanted for Christmas. He included specific catalog numbers for each item.
Chad (3), being especially crafty, figured out the system and filled sheaves of typing paper with a jumble of numbers and letters for his must-haves. (As I recall, one of them was an articulated figure of the Lone Ranger.)
We began by setting up an Advent wreath. The wreath was displayed in a prominent spot in our dining room. The wreath was constructed of fir branches. It was decorated with sprigs of rosemary, lavender and thyme to represent the herbs and grasses that Joseph may have collected to replace the soiled hay in the manger on the night of the Christ Child’s birth.
The wreath had the traditional three purple candles and one pink candle. The Christ candle was placed in the center of the wreath. We also set up our Nativity scene on the first Sunday in Advent. The baby Jesus was tucked away awaiting his arrival on Christmas Day. The Wise Men were placed some distance away along with their gold covered packages and little bundles of frankincense and myrrh. They still had a ways to travel before Epiphany.
Be prepared for the wear and tear the Wise Men’s’ travels will wreak on your Nativity figurines. The boys regularly moved them from shelf to cupboard to window seats in an effort to bring them to the Christ Child.
The Baby Jesus figurine suffered a greater toll. He was “re-hidden” frequently prior to Christmas Day. One year, neither of the boys could recall where the baby had been stowed. They salvaged Christmas morning by placing one of their matchbox cars in the manger! (Probably a better choice than the Lone Ranger.)
Each evening, we said a prayer and one of the boys would solemnly light the candle (or candles) for that week. (Solemn being relative to having two small boys, a Labrador retriever and matches in the same place.) A portion of the Christmas story was read and the candles extinguished.
The boys’ favorite activity was the opening of the “windows” on our homemade Advent calendar. The calendar was constructed of felt with small pockets for each of the days in Advent. The pockets were stuffed with pieces of candy or little trinkets. We took turns opening a calendar day.
The saint’s days that occur during Advent provided additional opportunities for celebration. On Saint Nicholas day, the boys received small gold chocolate coins in a bag to represent the dowry given by St. Nicholas to poor brides. On Saint Lucia’s day, we used a kaleidoscope to represent light and sight. The wreath lighting on her day was conducted by candlelight.
While we have changed as a family, and some of our traditions have changed too, our celebration of Christmas retains a sameness. Now, when one of our grown sons rises from the dinner table to light an Advent candle, I know that they have taken these traditions for their own. And, I know that these symbolic celebrations have provided them with the reality of Christmas.