Advent has saved Christmas for me in sooo many ways. It helped me be calm when I had no money to give gifts. It helped me not feel so unloved when I was given few gifts. It always gave me a way out of the growing intensity of commercialism that has invaded the season.
How did that happen, you ask? Well, it all began in 1982 – before stores were doing the special sales that people will line up for (or even camp out for) like they do today.
When my children were very small (I only had 2, but I frequently cared for my sister’s two quite a lot at that time, so age ranges were 18 months to 6 years old), I found an article on family devotions using an Advent Wreath. I’d grown up Lutheran, so I knew what one was, but always had thought it was just something used in church. Using it at home was a novel idea to me. With that in mind, I bought a plastic wreath, and searched all over for purple and pink candles. Couldn’t find any of those color, so I decided to use 3 green and one red with the center candle remaining white. Then I used Playdoh to form cups for the candles (seriously – that’s what I had, so that’s what I used). It was wobbly, but it would work I decided.
We had a high piano, and I decided that’s where the wreath would go during the days we weren’t using it. Safe from playing toddlers and childish super hero moments; but a quiet reminder of the season for me, and it blessed. On each Wednesday night (a night much easier to manage than a Sunday for me), we’d get the kids to put away toys and prepare for Advent devotions.
At first, it was protested and fussed at, but the smallest was tucked into a walker thing, the toddler crouched on the floor near the coffee table, looking at the wreath with all of the candles in it, wondering what would happen next. I had made some cinnamon toast, and cut it into strips for treats. We had Koolaid for the kids and hot coffee for us grown ups. Other times would be Christmas cookies and eggnog, but our very first was much simpler – cause I was tired, and my husband less willing to participate than the kids were (sigh).
While my husband worked second shift, we’d do this just after lunch and before nap time instead of the evening. We frequently would have playmates of the kids’ join us (with parental permission, of course). Drapes were drawn for darkness.
As I lit the first candle and laid down the rules, interest began to pick up.
Rules: NO ONE GETS TO TOUCH THE CANDLE during our family devotions. The wreath was shaky after all.
EVERYONE has to be seated and cooperate or no treats!
Q &A: Yes, we’ll have treats. (what are we doing?) We’ll be singing and hearing a story about Christmas and why we celebrate it. (Is this going to take a long time (husband)? Not more than 15 mins, since our kids are so small – but the more questions I answer and the more time it takes to get everyone settled – the longer the devotions will take, k?
Moving on – I turned off all the lights in our small apartment and the Presence seems to descend on us as I had hoped. Candlelight is such a blessing, even to a Pagan, lol.
I had a plan, and I followed it for years. Open with a song: God’s Love is Like a Circle (our version was sung to the Marine’s Hymn, but – you choose), have the kids clapping in a circle as they sing it. This opens the lesson on why the wreath is round, and then teach why it’s made of evergreens (God – and His love never die). Teach about tonight’s color and why it works (for green: it’s the color of life and God gives us new life when we ask for it: Explain. Etc).
Give permission to enjoy treats (or serve them when the kids are too young and wouldn’t be able to wait), now. Read something from the Children’s Bible (my favorite was The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes – but any good one will do) about the season we’re celebrating. The treats help to keep the kids quiet, and helps the grown ups to feel blessed. I have always found it to work well this way and it sets a nice tone to the event. Always finger foods, and on pretty plates (I used good china, or those special cardboard decorative plates you see even in the dollar stores), with special cups/glasses. I wanted to make a memory for even a visitor – no matter how squeaky tight our budget was. I’d find a way to make even an everyday glass or plate special somehow.
At the end of the Bible story, and the Q &A after it, take a moment to pray. Let each child take a turn (we’d have them say, “and now it’s [the next guy’s] turn” instead of Amen – with Dad or Mom closing and doing the Amen part.
Finish with a song they like that is a good closer for the lesson. I liked This Little Light of Mine when there was only one or two candles lit. As your kids grow and get more involved in church activities, you can figure out what songs they know that work for the evening – or sometimes even some children’s worship CD’s have some great songs for you all to learn.
Now it’s the end, and one of the older children gets to snuff the candle. I usually have that child picked out by how well they behaved and got things done to prepare for the occasion, or who’s turn it was – or even allowing a visitor the honor. Once I had to relight the single candle and let a second child snuff it, because they’d both been good, lol. We talk about the season and try to help them with their questions and how they handle all the glitz and blitz of the season. As they get more friends who do things differently, the discussions can include why we do what we do, etc.
We would invite friends – adult or children, we didn’t discriminate – to join us from time to time. Especially when it was the night that the fourth candle was lit. By then I had Christmas cookies to serve, too, lol. The final candle in the middle is called the Christ Candle, and it quite often didn’t get lit until Twelfth Night. I have 8 parents, and we would spend Christmas Day with at least two different Grandparent homes, the first one being an hour’s drive away. Christmas Eve was spent at yet a third set of Grandparent’s home, so we were too tired to light it on Christmas Day most of the time. Twelfth Night was best, and it helped us have something to look forward to, after all the holiday hype was gone.
I was never enslaved to the Advent Wreath devotions. There were weeks as the kids grew older where we were running to school events, church events or even trying to get our own shopping done. There were weeks we missed lighting a candle (gasp!). We’d always work on getting them caught up by the fourth week of Advent, though the “ceremony” might be a bit abbreviated. The important part was that it was always there – where we could see it. It helped us to remember when we intentionally made a simple time to reflect and adore the idea of God’s love being an infant in our midst. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…
This year, I am smooshed into one room, and all the children are grown and flown. We lost one just weeks ago, and that hurts, too. But I remember those evenings when the candlelight was reflected in their little eyes – and I know that it was a blessing that is hard to explain to others when they look at me so doubtfully.
Once the first Advent was gone, we had better wreaths to use. The kids were more eager to straighten up things and fought for the honor of bringing the wreath down from the piano. They would plead for the right to be a candle snuffer, or read the Bible story. The older kids would explain the wreath and the occasion to smaller or visiting kids – and my heart would beat with gladness – they were listening! The bossy first borns learned that we didn’t have to have the same colors all the time, and the contentious kids could be taught that Advent wasn’t in the Bible, but we need it for our sinful ways that make us wander. They get it, sooner than any argument can persuade after the first minute of a darkened clean home with candlelight on the wreath.
I have memories for my Advent Wreath this year. They’ll do just fine.
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