Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Contrary Expectation: A Celebration of Advent

Advent is arguably my favorite time of year. I always enjoy Christmas and even Easter and Lent in a too busy distracted kind of way (although I really don’t like the inevitable let down after a major feast, like Christmas, which is always more intense if the feast was especially wonderful), but Advent is best. There are three reasons for this. The first is that it gets dark early and so lighting candles in the evening with the children is fun, because it’s dark enough to see them. Second, I love the hymns, love them far better than Christmas Carols. Third, I love Advent because I am contrary and ornery in my soul. While the whole world is rushing out to buy ipods and nanoos (oh wait, that’s the same thing) and x box players and getting crushed trying to beat their way into store after store and listening (oh horror in my soul) to Christmas Carols for a whole wretched month, I retreat into the solitary beauty of sorrow over sin, longing and desire for the parousia, quiet lighting of one candle and then another candle and then another.

So we do have some small Advent Traditions. The first, of course, is the Advent Wreath. I have a wooden bowl/plate thing on which I put three purple candles, one pink and one white. This year the Advent Wreath Routine will be in the morning rather than the evening because we have been having a morning Bible Story with the children plus songs and the Lord’s Prayer. And we’ll sing ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ probably every morning so the kiddos can learn it.

Then, in the evenings, we’ll open the Advent Calendar which this year is in the form of a lot of little books, some sacred, some secular, all alluring because they’re all so little and everybody wants to touch them and read them and wreck them. They might go on the tree eventually, but I might rather keep them safe in the box so we can use them next year.

Third is the feast and celebration of St. Nicholas. I am fussy about this because it’s a nostalgic moment for me. I always had a pair of clogs growing up and my carrot and turnip and parsnip would be shoved in them. Clogs are really especially nice for St. Nicholas. My kids are too American already to have clogs (I mean, where would I even get a good pair of Danish clogs for a child in Binghamton? Really, if anyone knows, please email) and so we’ve actually put out boots the last couple of years. And because I really don’t like parsnips for eating and haven’t been organized to go buy them just for the shoes, we’ve put in carrots and potatoes. And then, when they wake up, they find a perfectly round orange, a chocolate St. Nicholas and a small present. It’s so exciting and special. And then, of course, St. Nicholas visits everyone in church, arriving with gold chocolate coins and oranges and wearing a fancy bishop’s hat and cope. He knocks on the door to the altar and then comes out crying for all the children to come and greet him. Every year I’m surprised by the number of even older children who think he really is St. Nicholas.

Fourth, our lives are inextricably wound up in the church, so for me, part of Advent is the intense and sometimes stressful preparations for the Christmas Pageant on Christmas Eve. The pageant has grown to include the Annunciation, Visitation, Holy Innocents, Kings, Shepherds, Everything. Because we did so much work last year, it’s basically ticking along beautifully this year. I am particularly charmed because we have a long thin King Herod, three enormous adult Kings and then Aedan will be Herod’s Guard (a tiny tiny guard) because he refused to be a sheep. We also have a lot of baby lambs this year that will have to be carried by the Shepherds. It should be wonderful.

Fifth, my own private celebration of Advent has come to include the making of materials for the Atrium. This week I’m going to start work on the Level Two Prophecy Prayer Cards as well as the Flight into Egypt. The making of materials has come to be a restful moment of devotion and focus in a month that can be garish, busy and stressful.

And finally, Matt and I spend a whole day making some sort of food as our Christmas presents to everyone (I’m sorry, I don’t have the money or inclination to shop, so if you don’t like chocolate or cookies or sweets, you won’t like what I’m giving you this year). Two years ago we made chocolate truffles, and the year before that, jars of lemon curd, and the year before that, Nigella’s Chocolate Loaf Cake.

Somewhere towards the last Sunday of Advent we’ll get a tree and decorate the house. But again, I love the plain sorrowfully quiet tone of Advent in a house undecorated for Christmas until the last moment. Then you put it all up, and immediately tare it all down.

Several weeks ago I explained Advent and all its charms to my unchurched Jr. High Sunday School class. They were appalled at the idea, as well they should be. Its shocking that God would take on Flesh and come be with us, rebellious and sinful as we are. That he would go through the pain and unpleasantness of being born. That he would spend years trying to communicate with our small minds. And then that he would die. Four weeks is not too long to wait in silence and hope for him to come back in glory. I’m frankly excited about it all. Happy Advent!


Anonymous said...

Where did you find that advent calendar? Please say!

Kerry said...

Anne - I hope this will be your submission to the Anglican Advent Traditions carnival!

Also, maybe you could get the carnival a little "spot" over at StandFirm? :)

Thanks for contributing!

Mrs Falstaff said...

Anglican Advent Traditions carnival? More info, please???

Carrie said...

I just got a super cool and artsy Advent calendar, that I actually got *before* Advent begins, rather than getting halfway through and realizing I have not planned well for it. Maybe I got it because I have been thinking about it since last year when I found out about it mid-December. It comes with a little prayer book and I think it will be beautiful. I also have a wreath, but no candles yet.

Judith L said...

What a beautiful picture you paint of Advent. What blessed memories are being stored in your children's psyches. I do have one point of disagreement, however. I LOVE to hear Christmas carols being played in stores. The absolutely unblinking theology of the Incarnation of Hark the Herald Angels echoing through the mall is an inspiration to me.

At A Hen's Pace said...

I enjoyed this post! So different from how I grew up as an evangelical. I can't quite go all Advent without a tree and some Christmas carols!

What's the story with the Danish clogs--did you grow up in Europe?

Thanks so much for advertising the Carnival! You may want to change the link on the other post to the Carnival's URL now.



Anne Kennedy said...

Jeanne, I think its fixed. I haven't been able to get Matt's attention to have him fix Stand Firm.
I grew up in West Africa but we used to stop over in Europe going back and forth and always managed to get new clogs. In my free time I'm working on my memoires (hah! free time! hah!)

eulogos said...

I always got gold coins in my Christmas stocking when I was a kid, and knew vaguely that this was some sort of Dutch custom. When I became a Christian and became aware of the saints, I realized that this was a transferral of the St. Nicholas day custom, so I always had my kids put out their shoes, whatever kind they had, the night before St, Nicholas' feast day, and put the chocolate gold coins in them . I never heard about the parsnip et al.

A custom which falls during Advent from Swedish side of the family is St. Lucia's day. The oldest girl in the family is supposed to wear a crown of candles and bring the parents buns and coffee in bed the morning of St. Lucia's feast day, which is Dec 14. There is a special kind of bun, St. Lucia's cardamon buns, for that day.
At one point I had an advent wreath form which was a light ring of metal which took small tapers, and I was able to use this. But the girls needed supervision for it to be safe so I didn't really get to stay in bed. I think maybe a crown of stars, or a battery powered crown of imitation candles would be safer, although of course not as pretty.
(My father also describes entire Christmas tress lit, briefly, with actual candles, with a bucket of water close by.)

We used to sing, when the older kids were little at least, O come O come Emannuel and also " On, Jordan's bank the Baptist cried" when we lit the advent candles. (But ask me about the irreverant parody Chris made up of the latter song...)

Cherish the time when your kids are young and love these traditions.


joeo said...

I did not grow up knowing about advent traditions as a kid. I grew up Roman Catholic (only by name) and now have lead my family into the Reformed Episcopal Church. I would like my two girls 4 and 9 to experience some of the rich Anglican Advent traditons. Would someone please post how they use the Avent wreath along with explanation of the symbolism. Do you sing, read, etc?? Thank you in advance for sharing.