As you may know, I have been in a weird spot with my faith since becoming a mom. I honestly thought motherhood would have the opposite effect, but that hasn't been the case for me. It's been a messy and awkward stage of spirituality, but I've felt God patiently waiting, engaging and aiding me as I grapple with big life questions. So because of this odd season I am in, I wasn't sure what Christmas time (my absolute favorite time of year) would hold for me.
I decided to think about what types of things make me feel close to God all year round and realized I really enjoy traditions. Something about the repetition of certain activities and thoughts throughout the year help me feel more grounded in my present and hopeful for my future. So tradition-making and tradition-keeping are going to be my focuses this year.
Below are some of the new and old traditions I am going to be doing this season as a way to set aside time and space to encounter this pretty epic story of Jesus' birth and all that that implies for you and for me.
This little book was given to me by a dear friend, and this will be the first year I use it as a guide for the Advent season. There's a reading for each day with a long quote from different pieces of Nouwen's work, a scripture, prayer and Advent action. I wanted to try this because everything is already laid out for me and looks short enough that I can squeeze it in as I have time throughout the day. (Right now, I need easy.)
Four candles, each representing a different trait of Jesus and the season, are placed in a circle around/within a wreath.
You can purchase actually Advent wreathes, but I decided that my intentions matter way more than how traditional the end results look (and I couldn't find anything that wasn't really ugly). So, I pulled out four votive candles and a larger candle for the center. I threw some leftover Christmas tree branches around it and called it a day. Some denominations have different colored candles for each of the different traits (hope, love, joy and peace), but I went with white.
I'm planning to herd my little crew around our kitchen table (where the wreath lives) each Sunday night of Advent. I will say, "Jesus is our hope," as I light the candle, changing out the word with each week (hope, love, joy and peace). We will probably then read aloud the reading for that day from the Nouwen Advent book. My family really likes singing and dance parties so we will probably throw in a Christmas song too.
My parents started this tradition when I was in elementary school. Usually around Halloween time, my mom would remind us to start praying about our Jesus gifts. The idea is that since it is Jesus' birthday, we are to give him a gift.
Each of us would write down our gift and a small explanation as to why that gift was chosen. Then on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day before we opened presents, we would read aloud our gifts to one another. Tears were a guarantee (at least from Dad and I) and tissues a necessity. It was sometimes awkward because the gifts were extremely personal, but it has always been worth it.
The tradition has continued into adulthood. My family will still gather before opening presents (whether on December 20th or December 29th or any day in between) to share our gifts before opening the gifts we got for one another.
Some examples of gifts: patience, trust, letting go, wisdom, freedom from fear
My understanding of Jesus and what he asks and wants from me has greatly evolved as I have grown to experience and except him to speak to me about my gift. Despite my uncertainties, I am still very confident that I will be given the right gift to then offer up as an intention and focus for the year.
I am not sure what the season holds, but I am curious and that feels like a great place to start.
Whether you call Jesus a friend or aren't super interested in that part of the holiday, I'd love to hear how you intentionally set aside time and space in this season and throughout the year. Please comment below! I genuinely love to hear what works for others.