As we count down through the final days until Christmas, the children get increasingly excited. I'm so glad they still have that enthusiasm and joyful anticipation for such a special day. But while most of the media focuses on the sparkle, the presents, and a wish list for Santa Claus, we try here to keep our family focused on the true spirit of Christmas. We begin the season by lighting the candles on our Advent wreath. On the first Sunday evening of Advent, we say the following prayer right before we light the first purple candle:
"Lord God, let your blessing come upon us as we light the candles of this wreath. May the wreath and its light be a sign of Christ's promise to bring us salvation. May He come quickly and not delay. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen."
Along with the Advent wreath, we also purchase a new Advent calendar each year that hangs in our kitchen where even our youngest can reach it. The children take turns opening a square each night and reading the corresponding verse of Scripture. After showing each other what Christmas shape the chocolate is in, he/she gets to eat it. Everyone knows they'll eventually get a turn, so there is no fighting over it.
Our nativity set is still a plastic one purchased years ago when my house was full of toddlers and preschoolers. Since our youngest is six, she still doesn't want me to replace it with something a little more elegant, but breakable. For years, we positioned the shepherds, Mary and Joseph around the empty manger because the baby Jesus couldn't show up until Christmas morning when I would sneak him in before they awoke. The Wise Men were placed farther away since they wouldn't make their appearance until later. Each day, the children moved everyone a little closer to the stable as we all awaited the birth of Christ.
I know everyone is looking for ways to share good tidings with others this month. Some of the things our family has done are caroling at nursing homes, helping to serve meals to the poor, wrapping up baskets of Christmas food for poor families, donating toys to needy children, ringing the Salvation Army bell outside stores, plus donating to charities. This year our childrens' school is purchasing farm animals and other agricultural necessities for impoverished people in third world countries. We, as a family, will find other ways to spread good cheer to others less fortunate as well. With social media so prevalent today, it is easier than ever to find worthy causes that rely on our help.
Many years when the children were quite small and it was harder to donate my time out of the house, we simply baked big batches of cookies to share with our neighbors. We still have a wonderful neighbor who brings us a beautifully decorated homemade treat every Christmas. This year she delivered a cookie mix in a big Mason jar. We can't wait to try those out.
Each year we attend at least one Christmas play or concert. Now that four of our children are in school, they are often the ones performing. Sometimes, however, we fit in another performance somewhere so they get to be in the audience. Nothing puts us in the spirit of Christmas more than some great Christmas music or a theatrical production.
Last December my husband and I treated ourselves to a Trans Siberian Orchestra Christmas concert. We left the kiddos home for that one; although, I think they would all really enjoy it.
I have to admit that for a few very busy years, I stopped sending Christmas cards. But I took up the task again this year and I'm so glad I did. This reminds us of our connection to others and encourages us to spread good wishes of hope and joy and love. As the Christmas cards come into our house, we hang them around the door between our kitchen and dining room where everyone can see. By the time Christmas arrives, our door frame will be filled. This year we are also sending a card and handmade drawings from my little ones to a little girl who lost her family in a fire. She, too, is badly burned and has asked only for Christmas cards this year to fill her tree. Her story and address can be found here: http://www.wcvb.com/news/girl-who-lost-family-in-fire-has-1-wish-christmas-cards/36855098.
Christmas is also a time for creating family memories. My parents-in-law gave me the Christmas Memories book for our first Christmas together, and it makes its way to the coffee table in our living room every Advent. It has space to place photographs, your Christmas card, recipes, and all kinds of traditions and rituals you'd like to remember. It only covers five years though, so ours was filled quite a while ago. My mother gave me the smaller Christmas photo album so I could fill it with photos of our children with Santa every year as we would attend an extended family Christmas dinner. That tradition was started by my grandmother who hosted it every year until the family got so large that we had to rent out a building and have the meal catered. For years and years I had the opportunity of seeing my many aunts and uncles and multitudes of cousins and their children at this function. This year, sadly, it has been dropped as families are getting older and too busy to come together anymore. I hope to keep the tradition alive in our own nuclear family as our children grow up, marry, and have children of their own.
I also enjoy finding books that convey the true spirit of Christmas. This year I'll be reading these two stories aloud to my younger children as we snuggle under a plaid flannel throw.
While we have many classic Christmas movies that we enjoy watching during the weeks leading up to Christmas, I save The Nativity Story for Christmas Eve before we attend the evening Mass. We used to watch it first at the beginning of Advent, but then I think it's too easy to forget about why we are really celebrating Christmas by the time December 25 gets here.
When Christmas morning finally arrives, after the baby Jesus has been placed in the manger, and I have poured myself a cup of much-needed coffee, we pray the following "Blessing of Christmas Gifts" before the unwrapping begins:
"Every generous act of giving and every perfect gift are from above. They come down from you, dear Father of Light. You give birth to us by your Word, so that we might be born of a new creation. Bless now these presents that we give and receive in joy at the birth of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Bless us and bless the whole world with thankfulness and peace, for you are the giver of all good gifts. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen."
That is my final attempt at keeping us focused on the true spirit of Christmas and not on getting new stuff. My mother-in-law baked a birthday cake for Jesus for many years as well to keep little ones focused on the real reason we're celebrating on Christmas day. I think maybe I'll try that this year after the dinner feast and place a birthday candle in my pumpkin cake roll as we all sing "Happy Birthday" to the One who brings us hope, joy, and peace with His birth.