Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Advent Plans and Preparations

Advent is here, which means four weeks of waiting for Christmas. We are given four weeks to prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the coming of Christ into the world. It is to be a peaceful, waiting time, although you wouldn't believe it going into any stores, which want you to celebrate Christmas NOW by buying all kinds of stuff. I guess we know we've done a good job explaining this to Caroline when we hear her say as we walk into a store on November 1st, "A Christmas tree! They're WAY too early!"

So, we got our our nativity figures and stable on Sunday. Why is the stable so bare, with only some sheep and a cow? Because we are waiting... so we are going to recreate the scene with our own figures. We did this in my childhood to a certain extent as well: the baby Jesus was hidden until Christmas Eve or Day, and the wise men were placed at the other end of the table from the stable. Here we have Mary, Joseph, and "Gabriel" (said loosely because it is just a random angel; our nativity did not come with one, or shepherds either, for that matter), who are on our antigue radio midway across the room from the stable. They aren't at the stable yet... Gabriel is announcing to Mary that she will be the Mother of God, as well as appearing to Joseph in a dream. We'll move them into the stable probably in the third week of Advent.

Here are our wise men. They are on our china cabinet, which is on the other end of the living/dining room from the stable. They'll slowly make their way across the room and end up at the stable just in time for Epiphany, on January 6th.

Another important part of our waiting is the Advent wreath. Ours isn't the traditional evergreen ring, although sometimes I wish it was... we thought this one was so pretty back when we first bought it for one of our first Advents together. We plan to light the candles nightly before dinner and say these prayers. As you can see, our pink candle is left over from last year. I always feel badly about wasting it... I rotate the purple candles throughout Advent so they burn down evenly, but you cannot do that with the pink candle. So, it is always left much longer than the stubby purple ones by Christmas. Maybe I should just give it up and use the new pink one as well. They only cost $5 for the set of four, after all.

I like that the Advent wreath is such a visible way for younger children to see the passage of time - as a new candle is lit each week of Advent, the anticipation grows. As the wreath gets brighter with each additional candle, we get closer to the birth of the Light of the World. On Christmas Eve after Mass, we will place a white Christ candle in the center of the wreath. Some families replace the Advent candles with white tapers as well. As you probably gathered, I am too cheap to do that ;)

I recently found this neat idea on another blog and thought I'd use it this year. After all, it had free clip art and everything already done for me! We made a poster for the four weeks of Advent with a focus on a different person for each week. The first week is the prophet Isaiah, who foretold of Christ's coming. Then we have St. John the Baptist for the second week, Joseph for the third week, and Mary for the final week. Caroline helped me put it together this morning. She's getting pretty good with the glue stick. And that is her baby doll, Ensa, tied to her back, in case you are wondering. Cecilia was sleeping on my back, and Caroline wanted us to match.As the girls get older, I hope that we can use this poster as a way to study each of these people and their role in the coming of Jesus as we focus on them during Advent. There is a verse listed for each, and I have a list of more relevant verses which can be used throughout the years. What I really like about it for now is that each week, I can add a flame to a candle. This is a great visual for Caroline, who asks every night if it is time to light the second candle, or the pink candle... I have told her that each Sunday we'll light another one, but even though she has a surprisingly good grasp of the days of the week, she still forgets about when the next candle will be lit. The poster is in our dining room on the wall next to our table, so when we sit down to dinner and light the candles, she can refer to the poster. If I'm on the ball, there will be a flame on the second candle on Sunday before dinner.

The Advent calender is a simple way to count down the days of waiting. As a kid, I liked the ones with chocolate behind the doors! The youth group at our church was selling some last week after Mass, so for only $1, I thought, why not add this to our Advent plans? It doesn't take any time or effort really to open the door each day and read the brief verse inside. Caroline chose this Advent calendar from three that were available. You can see at the bottom that the first door has already been opened, revealing a star and a verse from Isaiah.

Here's something we started last year that I read about somewhere (online, most likely!): I made this manger out of craft sticks using a glue gun. We put it our at the beginning of Advent and as the days go by, we fill it with straw to make a soft place for baby Jesus to rest. I let Caroline put straw in it for doing "good deeds." We talk about good deeds making Jesus happy. Caroline actually remembered this well from last year and was concerned about the baby Jesus doll I'd made - "Where is he? Is he just laying alone in the bottom of the window seat (where we store some decorations)?"

I got out some of our Christmas books too, just the religious ones so far. Among our favorites are The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, My First Christmas magnetic book, and The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. I will add a new St. Nicholas book to the basket on Friday. Because of a book-grabbing ten month old, the basket is pretty much in the fireplace, but I envision it a little closer to the edge in future non-baby years.

Other plans for Advent include:
* Shopping for our three year old Angel Tree girl (caroline already chose a baby doll for her!)
* Caroline making her own Christmas cards to add to mine; putting the stamps on together
* Celebrating St. Nicholas Day by putting out a shoe on Dec. 5th and baking German Spice cookies in the shape of the saint on the 6th and having a special feast day dinner
* Singing Advent songs and doing a Mary pantomime (which Caroline just loves... I have video of it from last year that I need to figure out how to post)
* Turning on our lights on the Feast of St. Lucy, perhaps on our tree as well as our house, and maybe going for a drive to look at lights (this will be more enjoyable as the girls get older!)
* Baking goodies to give away and to enjoy after Mass on Christmas Eve
* Caroline will help me choose some old toys to donate as a way to make room for new things she will recieve and to brighten someone else's Christmas!
* We may read the O Antiphons this year, but may hold off until we have older kids (I'd like to do a Jesse Tree in the future as well)
* This also looks like a great reflection to do during Advent - thanks, Denise!

I am praying that we will have a peaceful Advent and can focus on waiting for the real meaning of Christmas rather than getting overwhelmed in the hectic-ness of the season. I'd love to hear any other ideas anyone has for observing Advent in your homes!


Mike Gellatly said...

we do the same thing with our nativity... setting the characters around the room until they should be there. it always made more sense to me that way.

love the advent ideas! we've been sorting through our toys and matt has been deciding which ones he wants to give away to needy children. trying to have him make the decision instead of me just doing it while they're at school. i think i'm going to make that a tradition.


JennGM said...

I enjoyed reading your Advent plans! I'm so happy you enjoyed the poster -- it looks beautiful! Many Advent blessings on your family!

Anonymous said...

Hey Erin - I know it's been a while, but I always forget to tell you in emails how much I enjoy reading your blog. The advent passage was a particular joy to read.
Aura Lee

Christine said...

Erin, Your
Advent wreath is very unusual and I LIKE it a LOT! I had heard about the tradition of putting a piece of stray in the manger for each good dead. I think you made a real cute one with the popcycle sticks. Your girls will one day really treasure these traditions that you're making for them.