Anchoring Advent

This year I finally surrendered my battle to simplify Christmas. Every year since the girls were born, I’ve fretted all Advent season long over how to exchange all the presents and parties, food and frenzy for a quiet, meaningful holiday that would sustain us with the beauty of His first coming and the joyous expectation of His return. True to form, I launched into Advent this year with high hopes only to find myself mired in frustration.

But if this year-of-all-crazy years has taught me anything, it’s to take things as they come. So as I capitulated to the deluge of to-do’s, I decided to strive simply to find a few anchor points that could hold me steady in the onslaught. Maybe orchestrating an entirely merry and bright December reaches beyond my ken, but perhaps I could institute a few practices that would afford time to breathe, contemplate His Emmanuel-ness, and invite the girls into that sacred space with me, even if just for a moment.

Big surprise, we started with a few special books. I left The First Christmas propped open on our table so that every time we gathered for meals, we could feast our eyes on Guido Reni’s Adoration of the Shepherds. I love how the throng around the manger is simply being, gazing, adoring. No hurry, no distractions, no to-do list. And how the light pulsating from the Babe transforms all the craggy shepherds’ faces in true 2 Corinthians 3:18 style.

We’ve also spent a lot of time over the years with Madeleine L’Engle’s The Glorious Impossible, a book of meditations on Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel. I display one of the paintings at breakfast while we work our way through Cindy Rollin’s “25 Days to Handel’s Messiah.” I’m always amazed at what I can get away with when mouths are busy chewing! I whip up a batch of our favorite chocolate pancakes, read the day’s Scripture passage, and then play a performance of The Messiah so the girls can see how the instruments and vocalists work together.

We talk a bit about the emotion on the performers’ faces and in their voices, the darkness and light of Christmas alternating in the Scripture passages. Last year, the girls giggled if things got particularly operatic, but this year they listened more seriously, and the chance to sip coffee while meditating on the Scriptures and soaring music was balm to my soul. If all went well and the girls cheerfully went off to play after breakfast, I steeped a few minutes longer in the Scripture, music, art and poetry of Biola University’s Advent Project.

Sometimes I find my anchors in surprising places. Mousekin’s Christmas Eve particularly stands out from the mounds of Christmas picture books we read all December long. I kind of know how Mousekin feels, scurrying through the cold, dark, lonely Christmas Eve looking for home, and ultimately finding shelter in the warm hay of the manger close to Jesus. Quite a Mousekin culture has grown up in our home around these sweet books. Half Pint toiled long one afternoon gluing and painting a house for our own little Mousekin. And Mousekin’s friends have a strange way of multiplying around here. I envision apartment-building contracting in Half-Pint’s future!

Christmas should be fun and magical, too, not all serious contemplation, right? The girls were entranced with The Story Orchestra‘s version of The Nutcracker, and I still hear them humming snatches of the music while falling asleep at night. The snippets of music in the books are quite short, so I supplemented by playing the full score while driving in the car. We also watched excerpts on YouTube, particularly the Russian dance over and over ad infinitum.

I feared that attempting crafts might add unnecessary chaos to the season, but instead it proved lifegiving, and I felt closer to the girls while crafting together. Flutterbudget possesses an uncanny knack for sniffing out “pea and stick” crafts a mile away – those “futilities” Charlotte Mason condemned – so I work hard to find crafts of the useful and beauty-bestowing sort. Both girls especially enjoyed rolling beeswax candles for our Advent wreath, and I reveled in the planet’s one-and-only mess-free kids’ craft.

I always try to find a couple of crafts that we can give as gifts in the elusive effort to make Christmas more about giving than getting. We made lavender sachets this year. The girls drew on muslin with fabric markers, I sewed them into pouches, and then we filled them with one part dried lavender and two parts uncooked rice. They also make excellent bean bags for the younger set!

I had been eyeing some beautiful pressed flower ornaments from the Twig and Toadstool blog since summertime. I tried pressing flowers from our own garden but the results were anything but gift-worthy, so to Amazon I turned for the pressed flowers.

With one problem readily solved, I cheerfully turned to whipping up the clay. You would think I would have learned by now to read the directions. Little did I realize until far too late that I needed to actually cook the stuff on the stove. Instead of beautiful white clay, much to my dismay, I created that horrifying Ooblek stuff that I’ve spent six years of motherhood successfully avoiding. Flutterbudget was, of course, delighted. Take things as they come, you say? All right, let’s throw in half a bottle of blue food coloring and seize the day!

All’s well that ends well, as Ma Ingalls would say. We survived to cook clay another day, and all the recipients were quite pleased with their gifts.

Perhaps the most anchoring part of this Advent season, though, was watching our big woods fill up with snow for the first time since Flutterbudget’s babyhood. My homeschool mama heart delighted to hear them ask if they could go “study snow.”

Armed with magnifying glasses and black foam sheets, we marveled over the intricate crystals. After a little serious study and plenty of shenanigans, we curled up with hot chocolate and enjoyed the gorgeous photos in The Story of Snow. How are you anchoring yourself to hope, joy and His presence this Advent season?

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