“It’s so unfair, how come the Advent chocolate calendar doesn’t start on the first day of Advent?” one of my kids whined. “And how come you’re too cheap to buy the Whole Foods calendar instead of the Trader Joes one?”
Advent, the season of waiting for the coming of God, officially began this past Sunday on November 27th. I’m thrilled because this year’s the longest Advent season possible with Christmas on a Sunday. But my kids had to go chocolate-less for 4 full days.
Tonight they will finally rip the plastic wrapping off their Trader Joe’s 99 cent “24 Days until Christmas Advent Calendars” (I truly am too cheap to pay $5.99 for Whole Foods) and eat cheap milk chocolate as part of our nightly Advent celebration.
Much joy and elation will ensue I’m sure.
We started a nightly Advent celebration when our oldest kid was 2 because I love Christmas so much I wanted to enjoy and prolong the celebration. I also wanted a way for us as a family to focus on worship and Jesus rather than on Santa and the materialistic frenzy that each December brings. Plus it gave me the excuse to buy pretty Christmas picture books.
Over the past 13 or so years, not much has changed. Here’s our basic tradition:
- The Call: After dinner, “It’s time for Advent!” Gathering everyone was easier when we could plop kids from high chair to lap, or manhandle kids in pjs before bed. Now with teens we shout, I pound piano chords and they generally show up by verse 3 of . . .
- “O Come All Ye Faithful”: We sing while someone lights the Advent candle. Our Advent wreath is a fake-pine flame-proof $1 wreath with 4 pine cones placed in between candles for decoration. If I could get my act together, I’d buy the right liturgical candles—3 purple, 1 pink. This year, we’re using leftover half-burned candles from last year—3 white and 1 purple. Clearly I didn’t get my act together for at least 2 years in a row.
- Christmas story: Over the years we’ve amassed many Christmas picture books. Family favorites include The Nativity, by Julie Vivas, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski, and of course How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. As our kids became readers, they fought about who reads. We all especially enjoy acting out “Jonathan Toomey” with each of us taking a different character. Every year I try to read without crying. Every year I fail. Every year my kids laugh at me.
- More carols: A friend used to insist that during Advent we should only sing Advent carols like “O Come O Come Emmanuel” (which is frankly the only Advent song anyone knows), but now he has kids and a wife who refuse to cooperate. In our family we sing anything from “What Child is This” to “Friendly Beasts” to even “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”
- Cheap Trader Joe’s December-only Advent chocolate
- Family Prayer: Our family prayer tradition involves everyone (either oldest to youngest, or youngest to oldest, or every now and then middle to chaos) saying “Thank you for _____, I’m sorry for ____, Please _____.” It’s short, sweet, and even though we parents critique prayers now and then (“Pray something different than ‘Thank you for having a good day, I’m sorry for not being good, please help me have a good day tomorrow’!”), this is the only nightly spiritual discipline we carry over into the rest of the year.
- “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” Someone blows out the candles while we sing. After 13 years, we still can’t remember all the words to verses 2 and 3.
Our Advent celebration takes anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Sometimes it disintegrates at step 2 because kids brawl over who lights the candle and are sent to bed with no chocolate or prayers and the spirit of the Grinch rules the home. Other nights we sing carol after carol after carol.
This Advent, there’ve been no fights about either lighting or blowing out the candle, which makes me a little sad because I think my kids have outgrown that magic. A couple squabbles about who got to read The Grinch and who got to read The Nativity.
But frankly, with a 15, 13 and 11 year old, I’m just happy they still want to worship, sing and pray together each night. I’m grateful they haven’t turned their teenage noses up at this silly tradition, or rolled their eyes at the picture book stories. Advent is my favorite family tradition of the entire year and I’m praying it’ll be one of their favorite childhood memories leading to a rich relationship with God.
Which is why I bribe them with cheap chocolate.