The Clearing

The past month or so left me feeling like the walls were caving in.  I couldn’t focus my attention and the cards seemed to be falling far too quickly for me to catch them.  And then, coming quickly, a season that I seek to make peaceful and meaningful for my children:  Advent.  How could I possibly hold everything up with the addition of traditions and celebrations not part of our typical everyday life?

Backing up a bit:  I attended a little Advent planning party at a friend’s house weeks ago.  A woman from my parish spoke to the group of women gathered there about her own family’s traditions.  I lamented the fact that I had neglected to bring pencil and paper for note taking.  However, as she began to speak, I realized that what I wanted to take home wasn’t something that could be recorded on paper.  I wanted her enthusiasm, her exuberant excitement.  She smiled broadly as she spoke and oftentimes clasped her hands together like an excited child.  Though small in stature, she filled the room with her love of our faith and for this amazing season.  I drove home that night feeling full and warm.  I did not have a list of new crafts to try, nor much in the way of adding to my Advent and Christmas to do list.  Instead, I knew that whatever new tradition I might add this year, the real thing I wanted to bring was the excitement of a child.  A child who knows no burden, but is filled with anticipation, hope, and joy.

So, how was I to do this?  Homeschooling on it’s best days is consuming and can be quite challenging these days.  Housework:  it never ends of course.  As quickly as I get one surface tidied and organized, another becomes cluttered.  How could I possibly see past the daily, how could I open myself up to the beauty of this season if I can’t see beyond what’s in front of my face each day?

My mission this past week has been to remove distraction.  I am highly visual, so I made the very practical move of boxing up most of what was cluttering surfaces in my home.  Rather than restack books and papers, rather than put the toys away on the shelf, I boxed them up.  I cleared the top of the piano, the surface of my craft desk, our fireplace mantel, and so on.  The boxes full of stuff were carried out to the shop.  I realize that despite my being careful to limit what comes in the house, things have begun to accumulate.  There are eight of us in this small house and even with limits in place, clutter is quick to take hold.  The clutter was distracting me.  Every where I looked, I would see work to be done.  I want to feel free to sit down and read a book to my kids, to do a craft with my girls, to celebrate, to focus on Advent and Christmas.  I don’t want to worry about the state of my house.  And school?  We’re taking the entire month off.  By clearing my house and my to do list, I’ve cleared my mind as well.  I’m calm and excited at the same time.

So, with our surfaces and calendar cleared, what are we doing?  So far not much, but there has been lots of good conversation.  We made our advent candles and our wreath.  We’re reading.  Destination Bethlehem and The Christmas Mystery are our daily Advent reads.  We’re also reading a new book:  A Shoot from the Stump of Jesse, as part of our Jesse Tree devotion.  The book includes an explanation of what the Jesse Tree is, along with a passage to read each day, accompanying scripture references, and suggested ornaments.  Two years ago I started making Jesse tree ornaments, but gave up.  This year I am trying again, and actually think I will get the rest made in the coming weeks, as we go.  Our Jesse Tree this year is a potted Rosemary plant that I bought at the hardware store.

Rather than pull out all of our Advent and Christmas books at once, I have only brought out a few so far.  I will rotate books in and out throughout the season.   The stable is out, with the empty manger waiting.  We will slowly add figures to the nativity.  Each of my children has a simple cardboard Advent calendar.  I had visions of them occupying one area together, but each child has hung his or hers near their respective beds.

And really, this is working.  I have the most peace going into Advent that I have had in years.  I’m not worrying about doing the right things to make things meaningful enough.  My chief concern is to maintain the clearing, so that we stay focused on Jesus.  Within that clearing, I am convinced that my hopes for Advent and Christmas will be realized.

Finally, so they are here in one place, a list of links, the few traditions we have carried through the past few years, and a few crafts as well:

Beeswax nativity

How we handled Christmas gifts last year (and plan to do the same this year)

a felted garland and a wool felt wreath (and I mention our St. Nicholas day tradition as well)

more crafts for children using felt and felted sweaters too

a manger and jar of “straw” to fill for baby Jesus

Christmas for the animals

Okay, that’s enough, right?

p.s.  spiral wreath in first photo, available here.


  1. I love the focus on simplicity! We are starting advent slowly and gently, especially with sniffles working their way through the house. Our advent candles are out and the nativity scenes will make their way out this weekend 🙂 How wonderful to take a break from your formal school structure/routine and focus on Advent. I can’t wait until my babes are out of school for the 3 week intersession!
    I’m trying to make some careful adjustments to our Christmas traditions and was reflecting that my oldest may enjoy having more input in our plans. One year she made the garland to drape over the windows. Perhaps she will be willing to make a new one for us to enjoy this year. Do your big kids look back and have certain advent and Christmas traditions or activities that are their favorites which you think contribute to the peaceful anticipation?

  2. I love so many things about this post! Your honesty, boxing things up idea, the rosemary in pots, the Jesse Tree…. I am really curious about those handmade ornaments I see your little one putting on the tree. They look lovely! Would you be willing to share more about those? a link perhaps?
    Blessings to you and your family this holiday season! Thanks for sharing your life on this blog!

  3. I came to your blog this morning for Advent inspiration and found it!
    Thank you.
    Last week I was invited to have a gathering from our church here for Advent singing this coming Sunday. We have just moved and things are a little…..chaotic. After realizing that I still had to make a wreath, candles, finish decorating, make food for the event and on top of it all the grueling schedule of gift-making I always fall in to, I panicked! Re-organizing and taking some homeschool time off! Brilliant, why didn’t I think of that! Ha!
    Thanks so much for the blog, I love it.

  4. So glad I read your blog this morning. You provided just the encouragement that I needed this morning!

  5. We don’t really celebrate Christmas the way most do (I’m not going to go into details, but it has to do with Christmas being of pagan origins and nothing to do with the Bible). We got our first tree this year, my daughter is 4. She went to pick and cut it with daddy while I stayed home with our 1 year old. We got it for the kids and for the wonderful aroma. Other than that, we do not do presents or host holiday parties. We tend to take it really slow and just enjoy having some days off to BE together and to bask in the love of Christ for us and humanity.
    I’m loving the idea of boxing things up. We are in the middle of remodeling our 2 bedrooms (master and kids) and everywhere I look there is chaos! I know my husband might not like boxing things up, but I think I need to, just until the rooms are done – because it is hard to breathe with piles of clutter everywhere. I also thought I was ‘controlling what’s coming in’. Sheesh, I can only imagine what people have to deal with when they don’t control it. 🙂

  6. I love the boxing up of the distractions, so simple, so effective 🙂

  7. I feel the same way. I get distracted, eyes darting to piles. I’m simple, but somehow there is stuff everywhere. I love the jar of straw, and the simple ways you’ve moved into celebration’s season.

  8. it seems like more than enough. enjoy your advent season. <3

  9. I love this! All we NEED this season is peace and love- which probably means we mamas need to go slower and take it easy (even in the midst of all out obligations)

  10. Oh Ginny, I have an overwhelming feeling going on – in fact I just told my sister this morning that I was going to box up all the surface clutter. I am so pleased to hear that it is working for you. I am headed off from this computer and going to just do it. I am hoping that the longing for Christmas will be all the greater for it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. The potted rosemary is GENIUS.

  12. This felt like a breath of cool air. Hope you are able to clear the space you need to make a joyful holiday season.

  13. I love your discription of the woman’s enthusiasm at church. I can imagine God’s grace flowing through her. Lovely. As one without children, your Advent activities help me to live the season. Thank you for sharing God’s grace.

  14. Thank you for the reminder that in this season our goal should not be to is not to FILL it but to make SPACE to be filled. Beautiful. Now I want to go clear all my horizontal surfaces!! Actually, I have a practical question: I have the wooden Advent wreath and am wondering where you got your gold inserts to hold the candles? The candles I have found are either too large or too small, but those gold inserts look like they would hold our smaller ones.

  15. We are doing something similar with the clutter this year; as I unpack each box of Christmas things, I re-fill it with toys & debris that can be put away until after Epiphany. That way I’m not using precious space to house empty boxes in wait:-)

    I loved looking through all of your links! It looks like you have a wonderful plan in place to keep the right focus this season. Happy Advent to you!

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for reinforcing what I am aiming to do myself for my family this year. Simple is the key for me and as you said it begins with the clearing.

    I can sense your peace and lack of struggle in this post. Thanks for sharing and enjoy this Advent.

  17. Thank you for this post, it was good for me to read right now. As soon as Thanksgiving was over and I saw how people were starting to decorate and I wrote out a big list of all I wanted to buy and do. Then I just wanted to take a nap! Keeping it simple is really key this month…and now I have some crafty ideas to do with the boys when they get home from school today! Thank you Ginny!

  18. I love this post!

  19. It’s a great idea to declutter your home and give yourself some peace. Your traditions sound wonderful. We ourselves start on Christmas later. Tomorrow are the big Sinterklaas-festivities and we always have a break before starting Christmas (but we don’t have to buy or give gifts).
    We started Advent though. That can’t wait.
    Enjoy these wonderful days.

  20. There is a reason for this season…..and it’s not found at the mall!!! blessings to you and your sweet family and many thanks for all the wonderful ideas you share….that I share with my grands.

  21. so well said.

  22. Oh, I’m glad you’re reading The Christmas Mystery! And, glad too that you’ve found some peace and focus.

  23. Ginny,
    What a great idea just to move things to boxes and to let it go until after Christmas – so much less overwhelming for right now.
    Wishing you a beautiful advent season.

  24. I love this post so much. Ginny, you have a way of getting right to the heart of things that really speaks to me. Thank you for sharing this little window into your thoughts during this season.

  25. How well did your beeswax nativity hold up? Did they get melty after time? Did you end up melting them down?

  26. beth lehman says:

    oh, ginny. i needed this. we started doing jesse tree sunday night and i couldn’t focus b/c of the mess…. really couldn’t. so last night we cleaned and organized and when it came time for advent readings, i really enjoyed them, and so did they (when they weren’t interrupting me)!

    • It makes a huge difference! Our house has seemed so much cleaner (even though it really isn’t-our vacuum cleaner broke last week!) the past few days, and it only takes a few seconds to tidy up the living area because I took everything out!

  27. Ginny,
    Since money is a little tight at the moment, do you recommend one of those three books over the others?
    You’ve inspired me to box things up today!

    • Each one is different. If I could only choose one I think I would go with Destination Bethlehem. You can do a Jesse Tree without a book. A google search will turn up a list of Bible readings and suggested ornaments. In fact, I think Ann Voskamp has a great free Jesse Tree devotional complete with printable ornaments on her blog A Holy Experience. My kids are loving The Christmas Mystery, but so far I prefer Destination Bethlehem. I’ve not read either one all the way through yet though, so this opinion is just based on my initial impressions.

      • Destination Bethlehem is only 2.99 for Kindle. I have a hard time getting English language books where I am so I am so excited they have it for Kindle at such an affordable price!

        • The Kindle reader can be downloaded free for your computer, you don’t have to own a Kindle. I know most people know this but just wanted to throw it out there.

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