Advent starts tomorrow!
Which means I will be spending the weekend stealthily snipping greenery from the side of the road for my wreath and pulling out my nativity sets. I’ve already thanked Rosie of Last Year for buying two sets of Advent candles, though I think poor Rosie of Next Year might have to fend for herself.
(Thanksgiving was early this year, wasn’t it? Usually the first Sunday of Advent comes right on the heels of a big turkey dinner, which makes being prepared — by which I basically mean having three purple candles and one pink one — nearly impossible.)
I have always loved Advent, which was a busy time in our family growing up. December was a flurry of preparatory activity: everything got made and then put away for later. Presents were hidden until we fought for space under the tree on Christmas Eve, cookies got packed into tins and tucked into the freezer, homemade ornaments had to wait until we put up the tree. That didn’t happen until late — we often went out to get the tree on Sukie’s birthday, Dec. 17th, or my birthday, Dec 21, or even after!
(We first three kids were born in December, which contributed to all the preparations, waiting, excitement, and craziness that was Advent.)
Every night we lit the Advent wreath (we took turns, biggest to littlest), sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and opened another door of the Advent calendar (littlest to biggest. We were very good at keeping track of turns).
There was a lot of waiting, but it was excited, happy, expectant waiting.
|Our special, up-high nativity. Baby Jesus isn’t there yet, because we’re waiting!|
Now, I usually leave the ranting to Auntie Leila around here, because her authority rests on a lot more experience than mine does, and I always agree with her anyway. But I am her daughter, which means I do enjoy telling people what to do, and my rapidly approaching big birthday emboldens me. Besides, someone has to pick up the slack here while she’s got her feet up at home!
So here’s my rant.
There are two things you don’t need for Advent.
1. Hand-stamped muslin baggies tied with baker’s twine and containing one present for each of the days leading up to Christmas.
2. An elf on the shelf.
In all honesty, I don’t know much about the whole elf on the shelf thing. I do know many families (who I love!) who are excited about it, and most of them are young families, just getting started with their Christmas traditions.
As far as I can tell, though, there are two big draws to it, one of excitement and one of manipulation.
First, the elf is in a new spot each day, which is a fun game for the kids. And second, the elf flies home to Santa (I think? Is this right? I don’t even care) each night and tells him all the good and bad stuff he’s seen, so the kids are motivated to be good all through December.
This second part of the elf “tradition” is for the mom, and it holds out the hope that if she just buys this thing, her children will behave. In fact, if she buys the movie, too, maybe her children will also sit still long enough for her to hand stamp some muslin baggies!
This is folly, of course, and really not fair to the children. Auntie Leila has spoken eloquently on the subject of threatening a child with the deprivation of a far-off good, and if you are tempted by the elf’s promise, you should reread that post.
My guess is that the elf will not have anything to tell Santa that would actually affect what he brings in his sleigh. And if he did, then it wouldn’t be something for Santa to deal with, but rather for Mama to address, right now. (Or, if it’s really bad, Daddy, when he gets home).
But Christmas gifts aren’t a reward for good behavior; like grace, they come whether we deserve them or not, because we are loved.
By all means, encourage better behavior in your children during Advent, but do it by helping them prepare their hearts to receive Jesus, not by bribing them to earn more gifts.
By all means, this penitential season is an excellent time to make them wake up on time (Awake, o sleeper, and Christ shall give you light!), do more chores (Prepare a way for the Lord! Make straight his paths!), stop bickering (The lion shall lie down with the lamb!), and generally work harder at being excellent little children. (We, of course, should also be using this season to work harder at being excellent little children of God!)
Maybe put some pieces of straw (aka, dead grass) in a pretty little cup by the nativity set, and when they do a good deed let them (quietly, secretly) place one in the manger to make a soft bed for Baby Jesus.
The other aspect of the elf on the shelf is the hide-and-seek excitement factor, and I admit that this sounds like fun, if perhaps a little too much pressure on mom (who already has to keep track of wish lists, secret shopping, secret Santa, secret crafting, baking, visiting, partying, special saints’ days in December, gifts for teachers, not to mention getting dinner on the table tonight) to think of a new hiding place every night when the little munchkins are finally in bed.
I saw a chart on Pinterest that laid out where you should put it each day, to make it easier.
That’s how I knew I wasn’t crazy for thinking it sounded stressful.
Again, the urge is good, but the execution is lame. Instead, why not channel that excitement into watching the shepherds and wise men travel towards the manger? We always started them out far away (the wise men further than the shepherds, naturally), and then watched excitedly as they moved along bookcases and cabinets and door frames closer and closer to the stable, until finally the shepherds were there on Christmas morning, worshiping the Christ Child. (The wise men didn’t make it until Epiphany.)
Which brings me to three time-honored traditions for Advent that hardly cost anything, don’t manipulate, and inspire wonder in adults and children alike, preparing our hearts for Christmas:
|This Fontanini creche was a wedding gift. It’s beautiful, but also tough enough to stand up to some inspection from little ones.|
If you feel the need to string it out, give 12 gifts for the Twelve Days of Christmas and come out ahead. (We did this growing up. Each day would be a special little treat for the whole family — a new bridge for the train set, a box of ribbon candy, making gingerbread houses, an evening drive over to Little Italy to see the crazy lights…)
Why focus your child’s wonder on a magical invented elf instead of on Christ Himself?