Christmas is indeed coming. While there's no goose getting fat at this address, I've had this season on the brain for quite some time.
Early on in my adult Christmas career I was accused of being a bit of a Scrooge; our house was even "decorated" for us one year with the worst the holiday has to offer (think glittered candy canes and windsock Santas).
My girls are both summer babies. What this also means is that I was completely ill with both of them at Christmastime. Evergreen has yet to be fully redeemed on the olfactory level.
I have had the opportunity to write four separate magazine and online articles on simplifying and extracting meaning throughout this season. Those who know me well find it ironic that I spent several hours of my summer and fall (much favored seasons) writing about the one I struggle through the most.
The struggle for me is complicated. It is part practicality, part painful memories and part earnest desire to do right by my children in this area of life. Essentially we are working to keep things simple, memorable and on message.
This as our guide we've revised things fairly dramatically over the past few years. It took time to do this - most thing do. We'll probably revise again in the future. I'm okay with that.
Here's more or less what we've settled in to doing this time of year.
1. We forgo a tree and Santa
This is not because we think they are inherently bad. Please don't apologize when I come into your house that has a beautiful tree on display. Also rest assured that our girls won't spill the beans on Mr. Claus (we've let them know that lots of kids believe in Santa and it is not for us to say otherwise).
Evergreens and Santa can both find their place within the holiday season in my mind. Still, in our house we are working to keep things simple, memorable and on message. Omitting these two helped us do this.
2. We enjoy our Christmas library
I love books. I know you know this. Christmas is no exception. We've begun to build a nice library over the past few years that I hope to grow. The girls love reading these special books that magically appear on December 1st. A few of our favorite titles include:
3. We open our Advent Calendar
My mom bought this wooden calendar for us when Hannah was three. She has loved it ever since. Each day you get to open a door and find a magnetic piece of the nativity. By the season's end you've created (and rearranged fifty-eight times) the entire scene.
4. We get creative
Today we spent the afternoon creating a salt dough nativity scene. I'm guessing these little figures will be baking for the next twenty four hours. Still, it was a great way to spend an afternoon with my big girl.
5. We look forward to giving and receiving Christmas Cards
This is one tradition that has survived all other revisions. Phil and I have made a picture
card each year of our marriage. We save one and put it in a book. Sometimes we write a letter, other years we don't. Regardless, overtime this has turned into a really great keepsake.
We display the cards we receive on our backdoor throughout the season. Come January we collect them into a bowl and place them on on our dining room table. Most winter and spring evenings we pull one out at the beginning of dinner and talk a bit about that person or family. We then say a prayer (and if the truth be known, we toss the card at that point embracing the notion that all good things must come to an end).
6. We hang stockings
I have no great reason behind this decision. It somehow felt a bit more humane to big H to keep these knitted treasures as I was carting the rest of our snowmen and Christmas ornaments off to the Rescue Mission several years ago.
I like loading the toe with a fresh orange. We've enjoyed picking several small, inexpensive yet meaningful gifts for each other each year. Without Santa in the mix it has evolved into a fun group-think in which Hannah gets to team with each of us as we work to fill our respective socks with bits of wonder. This year Hannah's will contain left-handed scissors, a roll of twine and a simple sewing kit.
I share this mostly to say that of course we too are still in process. Revision takes time. It is far from perfect. Be assured that I have and continue to be entirely human throughout this process.
7. We are trying out the Jesse Tree Tradition
Over the past few years I've heard about these trees. This year I decided to take a closer look. I printed Ann Vaskomp's free Jesse Tree Advent Family Devotional. Those of you who are familiar with her work One Thousand Gifts will feel right at home with her artful prose.
Ann's writing requires thought on the part of the receiver; it is entirely worth it in my opinion. Most days Hannah seems to track just fine. Each day closes with the visual ornament to hang and a tangible take away.
Yesterday's account centered on the story of Isaac and God's ultimate and perfect provision through Christ. The application involved writing down a list of 10 different ways that God has provided for us today. Here's what Hannah and Hailey came up with over their morning oatmeal.
Mommy and Daddy
Safe water to drink
A church to go to
That Jesus died on the cross for us
For the monkey (not sure which monkey she's thinking of)
The Slettens (friends we had dinner with a few nights ago)
A pen, a bowl and some soy milk
Olivia and Sophia (kids from family mentioned above)
May this Christmas season be one in which you experience simplicity's beauty and God's grace in new and unexpected ways.