Battling “the Wants” by Focusing on Advent
Growing up I always felt like Christmas was a magical time, and as an adult I strove to recreate that feeling to no avail. What I finally realized this year was that the feeling I felt as a child was almost entirely about the Christmas morning gift orgy. Our one Christ-related tradition was attending Mass at my father’s church on Christmas Eve (the one time of year we ever went), and for me even that was about presents, since I was allowed to open one gift that night if I behaved well in church. I saw that hour as a trial I had to endure to reach my goal of presents. My childhood mindset was:
Christmas = Present Day.
Can anyone relate?
This was the first in many years that I was again overwhelmed with a sense of wonder. I think the main difference was that we chose to focus on Advent rather than Christmas. As a child, the only thing I knew about Advent was that my aunt sent us an “Advent calendar” every year, which for me was essentially a countdown until Present Day. I opened each door with increasing anticipation, knowing I was one day closer to the bliss of satisfying my rather serious case of ” the wants.”
Very little of our celebration this year was about presents on December 25th. Instead we used the 4 weeks prior to Christmas to celebrate the turning point of human history. We immersed our family in the story of Christ’s birth, beginning with the promise God made back in Genesis 3:15 about Eve’s seed bruising the head of the serpent. We talked about blessing others and showing love, just as God showed us His love by sending Jesus. Our whole family went caroling in two retirement homes and spent time just chatting with several residents afterward. We had fun making spice dough ornaments and candy cane reindeer and giving them away to special friends and relatives. We talked about various Christmas traditions and how they point us toward God and remind us of the Christmas story.
Our nightly family “Bible Time” around the Advent wreath became everyone’s favorite part of each day. The boys took turns helping light the appropriate candles and blowing them out after we sang together. Ian’s favorite song this season was “O Come O Come Emmanuel and he requested it every night, even when it wasn’t the song suggested in our devotional book (We Light The Candles by Catharine Brandt). On Christmas Eve after the candlelight service at church, our extended family joined us for dinner and our final night with the Advent wreath. The boys were so excited about finally lighting the Christ candle in the middle! We read Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones, which portrays the excitement of all Creation at the wonder that “the one who made us has come to live with us.” The angel choir proclaims, “It’s time! He’s come! At last! He’s here!” It’s a wonderful book that captures the essence of Christmas as the climax of Advent, and it was the perfect way to end our season.
The result of all of this celebration is that we spent very little time talking about gifts. Last year Ian was constantly poring through the numerous catalogs that kept arriving in the mail, which really captured his heart and caused him to focus on his “wants.” I was so tired of hearing “I want ___,” “Can we get ___ sometime?” and so on that I finally threw all the catalogs away. This year when they started arriving months ago I looked through them on my own for gift ideas and then got them out of the house. I bought most of our gifts months in advance so I too would be able to focus on the wonder of Christ’s Incarnation rather than Present Day. I know some people like to wrap up everything from toothbrushes to socks to make Christmas morning a little more exciting, but I felt that was counter to what we were trying to accomplish. So I didn’t stuff stockings with everyday items I would have bought for my kids anyway, because that felt like it would make Christmas morning all about unwrapping presents. (We did plenty of gift opening, but it almost felt like an addendum to a wonderful season of celebration, rather than being the main event.) At our cousins’ house we read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before having our meal and progressing to gift-opening. There was just so much more to Christmas than Present Day!
My dad’s birthday is on the 25th, so as we were about to dive into our breakfast someone asked if we were going to sing happy birthday. My dad pretended to look surprised and said, “Whose birthday is it? Jesus’? Well, did you sing happy birthday to Jesus?” To which Elijah promptly answered very seriously, “Yes, we did,” remembering the “Happy Birthday, Jesus” party with our homeschool group two weeks ago. It had been just one more part of our month-long celebration, and I loved that Elijah knew it was all connected.
All in all, we had a wonderful Advent and Christmas. I am so thankful that my children were able to enjoy the true wonder of the season by setting aside their “wants” and marveling in the miracle of Christ’s birth. I’m already full of ideas for next year, and I hope we can continue to make Advent a meaningful part of our family tradition.