When I was growing up, my family began the Christmas season by celebrating Advent. We had special candles that we would light after my dad read from our Advent book. He would let us take turns lighting the candles and reading excerpts from each chapter. We also had a vertical, red felt countdown with 25 candy canes tied by ribbons to signify the number of days left until Christmas morning. On Christmas Eve, we would put on our Christmas dresses, load up the minivan, and head to the Christmas Eve service at church. My favorite part of the service was at the end when we each got to hold a real, lit candle whilst singing O Holy Night or Silent Night. When the song ended and everyone blew out their candles, it always smelled like the smell you smell right before you get to eat birthday cake…a glorious smell for any child (or let’s be real, adults too!). Then, we would drive home, put on our Christmas jammies and eat way too many Christmas cookies while my dad read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. We would protest sleep for as long as we could, claiming that we were way too excited to fall asleep, even if we tried. I’m sure that many of you can relate to some of the traditions I just described.
As an adult that is now married with children of my own, I have to say that this time of year gets me really excited. I remember how special my parents always made the holidays. They always tried to make sure that our family was together, that there was always good food, and that we never once forgot the reason for the season. I hope to evoke those same feelings in my children some day.
When Dylan and I were preparing to get married, we did premarital counseling–something I highly recommend any engaged couple should do! During one of our sessions, we were asked to discuss our family’s traditions–what we liked, what we didn’t like, what we hoped to do with our own future family, etc. I remember getting really excited, worked up, and a tad hostile having that conversation because I truly felt like my family had the important holidays pegged perfectly and there was no room for improvement. My future babies would follow suit and have a basically identical childhood as me, because I thought I turned out super great.
But, the funny thing about marriage and families is…there’s another family being joined to yours and you’re not just a one-sided party any longer. It’s now two adults with separate families, traditions, rituals, and backgrounds merging together.
If you truly know me…and know me well…you know that I don’t like change.
Even more so, I don’t like change when it’s going to disrupt something I’ve always done and I’m forced to compromise. The OCD, Type-A personality, selfish side of me turns a little queasy and panicky.
During this premarital counseling session, I had to shut up. After I gushed and gushed about my wonderful family traditions, our pastor had to cut me off and let Dylan have a turn. I was forced to be quiet and just listen. Many of the things he shared put my mind to ease because they were similar to mine. But, there were also many things he shared that were different…and I didn’t like that. Our pastor shared with me that just because Dylan or his family does something “different” from mine, doesn’t make it “wrong”. You may be sitting there shaking your head or thinking “duh…” But to me, it was profound. I’ve had to remind myself of that statement MANY times during our five years of marriage.
The conversation then turned from what each of our separate families did and we began to discuss what our new, little, Dylan and Audrey family traditions might look like. We began to dream, vision-cast, share, veto, and agree to revisit some things later. Over the past five years, we’ve had to split our time between families and it’s not always been easy since they live two hours apart. We’ve had to pick and choose our battles, but ultimately keep the perspective that family is the most important thing and everything else will eventually work itself out.
Now that we have two, sweet little kiddos, the holidays are even more exciting and exhausting. I’ve felt more pressure now that Blake is getting older to make sure that he doesn’t miss out on what’s most important. I’ve made lists and reminders in my phone, prayed endlessly, huddled with my husband, and been a little too hard on myself at times to try to make things perfect. Anyone else?? Man, the stress of the holidays can really put on the pressure!
In light of all that we’ve discussed and began implementing in our little family over the past few years, we decided that this year, we would start a new tradition for Advent. It’s one that I had heard about years ago, but wanted to wait to begin when I had children of my own. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t waited so long! This tradition doesn’t require you to have children (although, that has made it fun!) and it certainly doesn’t take a huge chunk out of your day. It’s called the Jesse Tree. Have you heard of it?? Well, if you’re unfamiliar, it’s basically a special way to tell the Redemption story, beginning with Creation and walking through the Bible all the way to the birth of Christ at Christmas. It illuminates how the Bible from the very beginning, directs us to Jesus. You read a short devotional, say a prayer, and put a cute ornament on the tree.
[I will be doing a separate post about this tradition and how I got all 25 ornaments. So be on the lookout for that!]
Our time each day doing these ornaments and time of devotion to prepare our hearts for the coming of our baby King has looked considerably different depending on the day. Some days, you would find us all curled up on the couch, telling our kids the Bible story that went along with our ornament, praying together and singing sweet Christmas hymns. Other days…you would find us hurriedly putting the ornament on the tree and giving a brief version of the story as we rushed our kids off to bed at the end of a long day. Still other times, you may have found us yelling at our toddler to stop throwing the ornament across the room, sit down, and just listen for goodness sake! Does that make me a bad mom? I don’t think so. I think it makes me human and probably in good company with many of you. My oldest sister actually pointed me to a woman she follows on Instagram (@catherinesallison) as she shared her not so neat and tidy Advent experience and it gave such encouragement to my heart. She posted:
Parents: If you feel like your family advent reading times don’t exactly match the pretty pictures you see online…if your children aren’t pleading with you to “tell me more about the incarnation, mommy, won’t you please tell me more?”…if it all feels more like a circus and less like a sanctuary…SAME. One of my darling children looked us in the eyeballs tonight and said, “This is all so pointless. I know everything there is to know about Jesus and the Bible already. It’s all borrrrrring.” So. That’s fun. But you wanna know a tip from a non-expert and fellow struggler? Do it anyway. Because I’ve decided that if God’s Word is really alive + active + sharper than a double-edged sword- if this is something I’m ACTUALLY going to believe- then I have no choice but to believe it has the power to bust into THIS crazy and wreck some little hearts this Advent season. Including my own.
So, if your Advent season didn’t look like the neat and tidy picture of quiet children in jammies, clinging to your every word as you taught, explained, prayed, and sang…please know, you are in good company. There will be days and years where you feel like you’re missing the mark with it. But I keep reminding myself that I get to be like an Israelite mother to my children and use ornaments instead of stones to tell stories of all that God has done in our lives. I get the amazing privilege of telling Blake and Nora the meaning behind each handmade ornament we hang. I want them to hear the story of God’s faithfulness to His people and how that applies to our lives today. Whether my small children sit still and listen and soak in God’s Word or not, I know that this time is not wasted. God is still using this time to teach me and to fill me so that I can pour into them.