It's the advent of Advent.
It's almost here.
And, we've been getting ready (prepare yourself for a purple blog when Sunday arrives.)
The Family Scrapbook
Our Jesse Tree is on the hearth, awaiting ornaments. This is probably one of the most "educational" Advent activities that we do. I have a small sign up next to the tree (just in case my children forget what I'm educating them about ....) that says, "The Jesse Tree ... Finding Jesus in the Old Testament" and that's exactly what a Jesse Tree does. It introduces our children to the truth that Christianity is not a new idea, not a new religion dreamed up and perpetuated by a motley crew of fishermen and tax collectors. It is the fulfillment of God's story -- our story -- from the beginning of time.
Reading the Scriptures that lay the foundation for and point us to Jesus brings all those seemingly disconnected Bible stories together into a meaningful fabric, a tapestry of history that makes sense to even the youngest of children. We can compare it to a family's scrapbook, a metaphor which children can easily understand. The symbols we hang on our tree are "snapshots" of the history of Jesus, which is our history, too.
The kids made our Jesse Tree ornaments a few years ago, out of salt dough. My salt dough tends to break, so we have the fun of replacing ornaments every now and then. Now that Ramona is a little older, I can keep the ornaments right under the tree, within easy reach for the daily readings and ceremonial hanging (does it count as a ceremonial hanging if three children first fight over who gets to do it? I recommend scheduling the ceremonial hangings in a basic No fighting - your turn will come tomorrow rotation.)
I just started using our small, artificial tree as the Jesse tree a couple of years ago. Before that, I dithered about trying to find the best way to approach this activity. One year we did poster board; another year I searched in vain for the right tree branch to place in a pot, a la a friend's example, and I ended up abandoning the entire activity that year. Another year our tree was somewhat hastily put together on construction paper. I was pregnant with Ramona, at a very tired age 41, and was quite pleased with myself for simply breaking out the glitter. It looked like this:
I was inspired to use our artificial tree by my friend, J., who always has great craft and liturgical ideas. She started using their regular Christmas tree as the Jesse Tree, hanging ornaments on it throughout Advent, then taking those down and decorating with Christmas ornaments on Christmas Eve. I adapted the idea, and pulled out the old 4' tree that I'd been considering giving to Goodwill. Our Jesse Tree tradition was finally "settled."
It doesn't really matter what kind of tree or ornaments you use. Your ornaments can might be hastily assembled, glitter-glopped and slapped on poster board, or they may be carefully fashioned in the weeks before (or during) Advent. You should do what works for you, your family, and your possibly-tired-or-pregnant-or-incapacitated body. What matters is simply focusing on Jesus as the celebration of His birth approaches.
The girls and I pray before breakfast every morning, and we vary our prayers with each liturgical season. Mounting a list of prayers on construction paper is a simple way to teach the girls about liturgical colors. They know that if the prayers are on a green background, we're in ordinary time. Tomorrow, we'll start on "the purple prayers" for Advent.
We do a lot of reading during Advent. Our favorite books (which will require a separate post) of the season are piled under the Jesse Tree, from the sublime to the silly. We also read from our Muppet and Christmas Carol Advent calendars every night. These calendars have a little booklet for each day of December and take just a minute or two to read.
More and more and more Advent Calendars
Hmmmm ... maybe our Advent calendars are getting out of hand?
Naah ... We also do this one, which, like the Muppet calendar, was a gift from my mother years ago. We love this calendar. I have no idea where she got it, but every child loves to do this kind of simple activity. We hang one tiny wooden ornament per day on this wooden tree, and another countdown begins.
And, who can resist the chocolate-a-day calendar? I have to confess that my kids do not get the highest quality chocolate in this kind of calendar, as I buy mine at the dollar store. But, they love them anyway, and it's a yummy way to count down the days.
Something Old, Something New
The Jesus stocking is in place. We will also fill an empty manger, decorate a Christ candle, ready Mary and Joseph for their long journey (their figures are placed as far from the Nativity set as possible, and the kids move them a little closer to the stable each day), celebrate St. Nicholas Day and St. Lucia Day (a delicious sweet bread recipe, compliments of my friend Holly, coming soon ....), and this year, for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, I hope to do a Mary candle. All of the above are mentioned in this wonderful article by Michaelann Martin.
I'm always looking to build on our Advent traditions, as it is such a rich and joyful time to dig into the history of our faith. This year, I hope to add additional observances, such as the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, learning more about Juan Diego, and possibly doing more with the "O Antiphons" than I've done in the past. Katherine's post on her O Antiphon House is not to be missed! It's beautiful.
Wherever you are in your Advent observance, don't despair if you can't do all that you'd like to do. Our traditions have been added in slowly, one by one, over the years since I (and then, Atticus, five years later ...) became a Catholic. Some years are more productive than others, depending on what else is happening in our lives. When there's a pregnancy, a newborn, an illness, or a major stress in our lives, Advent looks less than perfect around here. But, I'm happy to reassure you that my darling daughters have survived our less-than-perfect Advents, and can't even recall which ones they were. The slapdash glitter Jesse Tree was just as dear to them as any other year. What they remember is that we did it together, we laughed, we sparkled. We shared the joy of anticipating the birth of Jesus, our greatest gift.
Alice read my mind the other day when she posted these beautiful thoughts. (Does anyone else feel as I do ... that next to Alice's eloquence, I am like a stuttering dolt: "Uh, uh, uh, yeah ... what she said! Yeah, yeah, that's it! She said it so good!")
However we say it, however we live it, may this Advent be for you what it is meant to be: a time of great anticipation and joy.
Be not anxious!
He is coming.
(This post can also be found on the blog page of Catholic Exchange.)