This is the first year we have really taken to Advent. I have clumsily tried to honor all of the many traditions of our mixed family, and somehow they have all been coming together this year. I wanted to give my children a connection to Hanukkah, which my step family is so culturally tied to, but all I had to go with were childhood memories of a menorah next to our Christmas tree. This year we lit the Menorah each night of Hanukkah we were home, sang the songs, danced the Horah, and made latkes on the last night. Rather than telling the stories, we simply told the children that Hanukkah is about bringing light into darkness, and about miracles, big and small. The children really took to it, and since the elements I incorporated were tied to my own upbringing I didn't feel like a phony, as I was afraid I would.
Advent, however, is totally new to our family. I didn't even hear about it until my adult life, so I really didn't feel a connection to it until this year. As with Hanukkah, we are incorporating the aspects that feel true to our family, and so far it has been a lovely start to a new tradition in our home. Here's how it looks at our house:
Our little Advent garden...
At dinner each night, we sing the song:
Advent, advent a candle glows,
Advent, advent a candle glows,
First one, then two, then three, then four.
Then stands the child of light at the door.
Advent, advent a candle glows.
Then we light the appropriate number of candles and say the verses up to the week we are on.
The first week of Advent is the light of the stones,
The light that shines in seashells, crystals and bones.
The second week of Advent is the light of the plants,
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.
The third week of Advent is the light of the beasts,
Our animal friends, every one, from greatest to the least.
The fourth week of Advent is the light of humankind,
The light that shines in all of us, in hand, heart and mind.
The last light of Advent is for the birth of light,
That came to warm the earth in the darkness of the night.
After dinner, the girls each open a door on our advent calendar. They do not get a piece of candy or a little gift, as I don't want to make this season more about sugar and consumerism than it already is. All they "get" from opening the little door is a peek at a beautiful picture, but they are just as enthusiastic and delighted as they would be to get a piece of chocolate or a little toy. I like that Advent holds this anticipation for the children.
This year we are mindfully trying to shift the focus from getting to giving. It is difficult when everywhere we turn well-meaning friends and strangers ask the children what they are asking for from Santa. Why don't we ask what they are giving loved ones? We have been working on lots of projects for gifts: painting wooden frames, finger knitting, rolling beeswax candles. I am excited to spend an afternoon lovingly wrapping each one with the children. They will each have a little sack to put their gifts in which they can take with them to grandparents' houses and generously pass out gifts to their family. I think after all of the St. Nicholas and Santa Lucia stories we've been telling them they will really enjoy this.
And just for fun, and since it is seasonally appropriate, my first chalkboard drawing...