As we prepare for our third baby’s birth in a couple of weeks, my stranger nesting tendencies like the need to wash every wall and ceiling in the apartment, purge ruthlessly, and rearrange all the furniture are beginning to fade into gentler preparations.
I am looking forward to snowy, dreary days filled with twinkle lights, warm food, and cozy blankets, which are the ideal environment for the endless hours of nursing and napping that come along with a newborn.
Though perhaps my favorite part of the timing is the needed reminder that slower, simpler days full of lingering visits from friends and family to see the new baby will create a more peaceful, meaningful season than rushing from event to event in a craze of maximizing the “spirit of the season.” My hope is that we can use the forced slowness this season will offer to refocus on which family traditions we want to prioritize.
The most memorable traditions from my childhood are hanging ornaments on the Jesse tree by Advent candlelight in the evening, waking up on Saint Nicholas morning to chocolate coins in our shoes, decorating our Christmas tree while watching Scrooge, and deciding ways to celebrate each of the twelve days of Christmas.
They were times we were all together, and even the annual fight over white or color lights didn’t last long once we hung ornaments with tiny fingerprints from a decade before and tried to recall which “first Christmas” ornament belonged to which sibling. And the fact that my dad never pretended it was anyone but him filling our shoes with chocolate didn’t take away from the excitement of a little celebration in the middle of preparation for Christmas.
The magic for me was warmth and familiarity of these times we spent together. Laying under the tree with my siblings gazing up at the lights and ornaments. Hiding behind an oversized chair close to the heat vent to sneak some cozy reading time. A house full of family friends and anyone who didn’t have a place to be Christmas night. Dancing around the living room to Mannheim Steamroller and Perry Como.
Our traditions will certainly develop as our children grow, but the traditions we have chosen to focus on this year are:
- Daily Jesse Tree reading and ornament. I have written several times about our family’s love of storytelling and reading, and the Jesse Tree fits perfectly into our preparation by using stories to trace God’s love of humankind from creation to Christ.
- Daily Advent wreath. We listen to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” as we light the Advent wreath in the dark. This is a beautiful ending to the day and heightens the sense of anticipation for the coming birth of Christ. It also contrasts nicely with our raucous, bell-ringing, twinkle light-filled evening dance to “Joy to the World” during Christmas.
- Saint Nicholas Day. We take this chance to learn about and celebrate the generous saint who gave so freely of what he had to those in need. In order to help Saint Nicholas’/Santa’s work of bringing joy to children on Christmas, each of the girls fills their own canvas bag. Unlike a regular decluttering where we encourage them to find things they don’t need or use anymore, the goal with this tradition is for them to think about what they can give up, even if they still enjoy it, simply because of the joy it will bring to others. We leave the bags by the front door on the evening of December 5th for Saint Nicholas to pick up, and they receive their bags back Christmas morning with a small, simple gift inside.
- The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I love Our Lady of Guadalupe, and I would whole-heartedly celebrate her feast no matter when it fell during the year. With the timing of it being in the middle of Advent, we talk about her appearance to someone the world considered humble and “lesser” and the powerful message it sends of her love and respect for all humans, even those who are ignored by the powerful. Much like the shepherds being the first to receive the news of Christ’s birth and the first to celebrate with the Holy Family.
- The Feast of Saint Lucy, Saint of Light. As a new tradition this year, we will put up our tree and all our twinkle lights on the feast of Saint Lucy. The girls also have Saint Lucy crowns to wear to celebrate, and depending how far on either side of childbirth we are, we will make a special dinner.
- La Posada statue. When we were setting out our nativity the year Molly was born, Jeff’s mom told me that as a young child he was adamant that Jesus could not be placed in the manger until Christmas Day, and he would hide the figurine to ensure this happened. Besides making me fall more in love with him, this story also brought up his life-long desire to have a La Posada statue of Mary, Joseph, and the donkey to move ever closer to the stable in Bethlehem. Last year, I finally ordered one and watched as he and the girls moved it across the table, a tiny bit closer to the nativity for the nine nights before Christmas.
- Christmas Eve. We have decided to wait until Christmas Eve to decorate our tree this year. Our decorations for the tree have wonderful meaning for our family, and most of them have been collected over our years of travel. Rather than squeeze them into a full day of decorating, we will savor the time putting them up while remembering favorite places and moments and dream about future adventures together. Waiting to decorate is also part of a concerted effort on our part to save special traditions and moments for Christmas rather than squeezing it all in before December 25th.
Certainly there will be other important ways we celebrate, most notably big meals and gift giving with extended family. And despite the focus on preparation in the traditions above, I’ve been shamelessly listening to Christmas music since mid-October, and we will read and watch our fair share of Christmas stories and movies before Christmas Day.
These traditions are our attempt to carve out time for the kind of preparation that heightens the celebration rather than burns out before it arrives. They are meant to add space and quiet, far from the hustle and bustle and commercial pull that can seem inevitable this time of year. To focus on examples of those who brought peace and happiness through joyful sacrifice. And to create room for the baby resting in our home as we hope we would have for the one in the manger in Bethlehem.