"... they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland….But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."
This post is continued from December 7, at which point I promised to finish the post in a day or two. Hah! How naive of me! Well, here we are on Day 7 of the O Antiphons and I am finally getting around to it. Don't be fooled though...it isn't because everything else is done...just take a look at that back bedroom. On second thought, no...don't look.
Jotham's Journey around the Advent Wreath
O Come, O Come Emmanuel procession:
These traditions go together and have been my most favorite. This is partly due to the fact that we are consistent with them. Some of the other activities tend to get skipped as Advent winds down and the days get busier. But our Family Time each night is almost always there.
At about 6:30 each evening, after the dinner dishes are cleaned and the kids have done their night time chores, we gather in the front room at the round table in front of the fireplace. We light the Advent Wreath and begin with either the Magnificat or the Benedictus (we have been working on memorizing the Magnificat this year and now added The Canticle of Zechariah, sometimes called the Benedictus).
Then we read the chapter from Jotham's Journey. If you haven't heard of this book, you need to check it out. This is our second year reading it. It is the story of a young shepherd boy who ends up separated from his family due to his own disobedience. Throughout Advent you travel with Jotham as he searches for his father and learns of the coming Messiah. He meets real figures from the story of the birth of Christ as he runs from a seriously bad guy, and meets lots of new friends on the search for his family. I edit some of the danger scenes as I read...it is pretty dramatic. But with older children, you wouldn't need to do that. It has been a story that has touched each of us in a different way.
After the story and a short discussion of what Jotham is learning and what we can glean from his journey, we pray our abbreviated rosary (even more abbreviated than usual). When that is done, we blow out the candles and each of the kids gets their LED candle and lines up for our procession. As I mentioned in my last post, we sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel (adding the other verses during each night of the O Antiphons) as we process to our rooms, stopping at the top of "Tepayac Hill" to ask the Lady of Guadalupe to pray for us. The kids put their candles in their window and climb into bed. Blessings, kisses, ipods on to listen to stories or the rosary, and they are usually asleep by 7:30ish.
St. Nicholas Feast Day gifts:
On December 6th we celebrated St. Nicholas' Feast Day. The night before the kids put their shoes by the fireplace, and in the morning they have candy and usually a gift. In Aberdeen, their gift was a new set of winter mittens, hat and scarf. Those are not needed as much here in California so we chose to start a Fontanini set, with the intention of adding to it over the years (as I said in the first Advent post).
This year's loot for the Feast of St Nicholas.
Got this idea from a Faith and Family blog post! I love the fact that one of them is winking...didn't notice it when I bought them.
The Holy Family is watching over their shoes.
Christmas Eve Pajamas
This is a tradition that I had growing up. We used to get pajamas from Grandma Puccio on Christmas Eve. For many years, we also got crocheted slippers from my Great Aunt Frances, Grandma's sister-in-law (they both married Puccio boys). So, we continue that gift giving tradition. I always loved getting into bed on Christmas Eve with crisp new PJ's on. It occurred to me as I grew that there was also the advantage of looking fresh and cute for Christmas morning pictures -- no holey t-shirts for the all-important pose with gifts.
Toys and Sibling gifts
We have never really done the Santa thing. It hasn't been a big master plan, nor has it been borne of some deep moral conviction. We don't get into the Santa wars. It simply boils down to the fact that the story never flowed easily from my head and mouth. I just never got around to weaving the tale and pretty soon it seemed silly to even try. So, they get gifts from us on Christmas morning, and they pick out gifts for each other.
In addition, we have made an effort to simplify our toy situation over the last few years. Moving as often as we have really brings home the amount of stuff we can accumulate! When you think about the toy industry these days, and how toys are something you can buy any day, anywhere, as opposed to the times a generation or two ago, when toys were purchased at toys stores once or twice a year (Christmas and birthday), or a generation before that when toys were made by hand and a child had one or two, maybe.
Well, we aren't going back to that time (however tempting it is), but we are making a concerted effort to not add toys to the already generous collection upstairs unless it really suits the child and moves them forward in life, so to speak.
We have also never done wish lists. We get them what we think they should have. Again---this isn't some sort of "high moral ground", it is simply easier. They let us know what they want, if they have an idea, but ultimately we choose anyway.
All that to say that this year, they get one main thing from us (in addition to the PJ's on Christmas Eve) and a few small things in their stockings. Also, the each get a shopping day to pick out a gift for eachother (and for Mama and Papa). Starting this year, the sibling gifts have themes (none of which are toys). They will each get a book, a religious gift and some clothes (something from the mind, the soul and the body). Each kid got one of the themes to choose within. The nice thing is that they get something they need, but they get the fun of choosing for their siblings, and unwrapping something for themselves. D and I went book shopping for his sisters (and I snuck one from him in there too). M and I went clothes shopping (and I found her a new winter coat on sale). And A and I went to the Catholic bookstore where she picked out Nativity Scene figures for her siblings (and I found a little donkey for her).
We have also had a family gift on the Feast of the Epiphany (in years past this was when we got the family computer, or Wii). This year, we got a few old fashioned games (including marbles!).
The Christmas Tree:
Since our first year of marriage we have had the tradition of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve and having pizza for dinner. I think we have managed that for eight Christmas's so far. This will be the ninth. The only difference this year is that Christmas Day is a traveling day for us so the decorating began yesterday and will be finished on Christmas Eve. Pizza from Costco will be served after Christmas Eve Mass. Not exactly elegant, but simple, and expected. We tend to like "the usual".
The Baby Jesus Dolls:
Each of our Nativity scenes (we have at least four) and one of our Advent Wreaths has a tiny baby Jesus that spends most or all of Advent hidden in a cupboard. We also have a basket under the tree that we are filling with yellow yarn hay to make a soft bed for Jesus. On Christmas morning, or after Christmas Eve Mass (as we will do this year), all the Baby Jesus Dolls are place in their spots. The most popular in past years was the baby doll in the soft crib under the tree. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes (a baby blanket) and placed in the manger (a box). Two years ago they all looked on in awe. Nobody touched the baby...all through the Christmas season. In the end, I packed him up till the next year.
Last year, the girls couldn't get enough of him. The dressed as Mary and carried him, cuddled him, sang to him. Even D got into it, dressed as Joseph he carried him off to Egypt. When the Christmas Season ended last year, they couldn't part with Baby Jesus. That doll has been in and out of toy boxes all year. He is never dressed. Always tenuously wrapped in swaddling clothes (a blanket).
This year, I had to hide him around the beginning of Advent and he will reappear after Christmas Eve Mass.
This is our Kennedy Family Advent and Christmas so far. I am sure we will shift and change and time goes on, and I know we will sometimes fail to keep up with the plans.
Each year, we try our best to focus our hearts and minds on...