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:
How we handled Christmas gifts last year (and plan to do the same this year)
more crafts for children using felt and felted sweaters too
Okay, that’s enough, right?
p.s. spiral wreath in first photo, available here.