Advent, giveaway, liturgical year

The mad rush of Advent…?

So, Advent’s the new Christmas, right? I keep feeling like we have to get started early- we need to get a jump on shopping and decorating and baking and crafting so we can hurry up and wait for Jesus to be born in as unhurried a way as possible.

“Thanksgiving was late this year,” everyone keeps saying, and I hear from other friends who keep the church calendar at home that Advent has snuck up on them. One lovely friend (who shall remain anonymous for her own protection) has even been calling it “the A-word” and forbidding people to use it in polite conversation.

Don’t talk about it yet- we aren’t ready!

The whole “get ready for Advent” thing comes from a good place. We are making a real effort to recapture a season of preparation. We are trying to make space in our lives, hearts and homes so that we can welcome the newborn Christ when He comes. It’s a good thing.
I’m not sure, though, that the mad rush is ever a good thing. 
The idea that there is a looming deadline (December 1st this year! That was yesterday! Heaven help us!) after which we must be prepared is not helping me. It makes my chest feel tight. It makes me feel like going for a really long run or adding something more festive than flavored creamer to my coffee.

I need to remember that I am the one responsible for the climate in my home. I would like to cultivate a sense of peace during this season, of quiet wonder, of prayerful expectation. If I’m running around like a madwoman trying to find my candle snuffer so we can light the wreath (or, rather, so we can put it out with due reverence after it has been lit) and barking at my kids to hurry up and finish their Advent chains so we can hang those suckers up and start counting down until Christmas, how can I possibly be creating a climate of prayerful anything? 

I think some deep breaths might help. And maybe I will go for that long run, too.
Where we are is just where we are. Thankfully, God knows where that is and is perfectly capable of finding us and meeting us there. Advent is a season of preparation…a whole season to get ready! It is nice to have some things in order beforehand, but scrambling around in a dither to make everything ready before Advent even starts isn’t really good for anyone. 
How about you? Are you feeling rushed this year? Are you overwhelmed with the preparations for the season of preparation? Or are you propped up with peace in your heart and all your Christmas cards ready to send out?

We located our Advent wreath last night and put it up, and we lit it last night (although we haven’t yet found our copy of O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath, our Advent devotional). We had to wing it. Sam took the first link off our Names of Jesus chain and read it along with the corresponding verse from the Bible. We read one of our favorite Advent/Christmas books (Who is Coming to Our House?) before bed. That was it.
Even though we aren’t ready for Christmas yet, we don’t need to be. I’m feeling some peace knowing that a simple, deliberate Advent will work for our family this year. Setting a gentle pace now means we will be able to sustain it. And by the time Christmas arrives, we will be ready.
And so will you…no matter how unprepared you feel today.

I’ll be rounding up some of my favorite Advent resources here and on Facebook in the coming days and weeks, so you can check back if you need inspiration for your own preparations. You’re warmly welcomed to join me in listening to our Advent playlist to help cultivate that sense of calm (and to avoid the Holly Jolly Sounds of Lite Ninety-Eight Point Whatever, if that kind of thing gets on your nerves).

Also, you have until midnight tonight to enter the giveaway to win a copy of Feast!, the new e-book by Haley and Daniel Stewart (which is bound to help you prepare for living along with the Church year in any season) or a copy of The Legend of Saint Nicholasby Demi (just in time for the feast of St. Nicholas this coming Friday!).

Don’t forget to leave a note about your favorite Advent tradition on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page to enter. We will announce the winners tomorrow here and on Facebook.

Blessings during this first week of Advent. May you find exactly what you need to help you prepare your heart and your home for the coming Light of Christ.

*This post contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you click on them and end up buying something, your purchase will help support Surviving Our Blessings. If you like that idea, there’s also an ad in the sidebar that you can click through when you purchase from Amazon. This blog will receive a tiny percentage of any purchases you make. Thanks for your support!*

 

Advent, gratitude, thanksgiving

Defiant gratitude

I’m sharing at CatholicMom today about sitting in the dark and waiting for the light to show up. Sometimes, being grateful is not easy. Especially this time of year, when everything is all bright and color-splashed and merry-filled and holly jolly, it can be tough to coax gratitude from a heart that is burdened with sorrow.

Sometimes, sitting in the dark is our act of thanksgiving. Sometimes, sitting in the dark and confessing Jesus as Lord of all of it, even the worst parts, is revolutionary. In the dark, surrounded by our fears and worries, we are waiting for the One who can make us whole again.

If this is a tough time for you or someone you know (and chances are, you know someone who is struggling with a heavy load right now), this is the post for you.

Blessed day-before-Thanksgiving to you.

Advent, giveaway, liturgical year

Good news for everyone (especially the liturgically-minded)

If you have been thinking about being more intentional about Advent this year…
…if you’re curious about the church calendar and how it works…
…if you might want to celebrate a feast day here and there…
…if you have a sneaking suspicion that there’s more to celebrate than just Christmas and Easter…

I have great news for you!

Part The First:

My friend Sarah over at Two O’s Plus More has put together a lovely post with some ideas about how to begin observing the church year in your home. If you have been thinking about starting to do this, Sarah can help. She has helpful suggestions about how to move gradually into following the church calendar.

Also, Sarah is giving away a copy of A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year, by Evelyn Birge Vitz. (This post contains Amazon affiliate links, fyi. You’ll know them because of the big old Amazon logos at the bottom, ok?)

                                                               http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?t=survourbles-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0898703840&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=FFFFFF&bg1=FFFFFF&npa=1&f=ifr
This book is a good introduction to help you ease into celebrating bits and pieces of the church year without feeling like you are drowning in saints, martyrs and candle wax.

Part The Second: 

I’m doing a double book giveaway this week!

I have one copy of Feast! – a wonderful new e-book by my friend Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas– to give away. Haley and her husband, Daniel, have put together a collection of recipes and reflections for celebrating the liturgical year at home, complete with pictures, quotes, prayers and ideas. It doesn’t end there, though. They’ve written a thoughtful and non-threatening introduction to the church year, inspired partly by their first encounters with it at their Baptist college in East Texas when neither of them was Catholic. The book is practical, realistic for busy families with little kids (since Haley and Daniel have three kids under 5), and down to earth. As a bonus, all the recipes can be prepared gluten-free. It is amazing work, y’all. (And you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate it.)

The book is 40% off this week (until Thanksgiving)- you can get your own copy for $4.99. The price will go up after that (as it should- this is a really fantastic book!). The food pictures alone are worth the price. (They say they aren’t photographers, but the photos make my stomach growl.) Plus, there’s an adorable picture of their son with kohlrabi. What’s not to love?

Haley has generously offered a copy of her book for one of you, because she’s fantastic. Like her book.

My second giveaway book is for St. Nicholas Day, which is coming up next week (so soon, can you believe it?) on December 6. I have one copy of my very favorite St. Nicholas book, The Legend of Saint Nicholas by Demi to send to one of my lovely readers.

                                                             http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?t=survourbles-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0689846819&ref=tf_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=FFFFFF&bg1=FFFFFF&npa=1&f=ifr

The art in this book is magnificent. Even if you don’t celebrate St. Nicholas Day separately from Christmas, this book is one you will want to add to your collection. (Also, you should consider celebrating St. Nicholas on his own day…it’s so much fun! At least, it is if you don’t do it like I did last year.)


To enter, please leave a comment on the Surviving Our Blessings Facebook page with your favorite Advent tradition (or one you’d like to start, if you haven’t done so yet). If you are not on Facebook and still would like to enter, leave your comment here and I’ll transfer it over for you. Two lucky winners will each receive one of the books. I wish I had enough copies for everyone.

Fine print: The winners will be randomly chosen on December 2 by one of my darling children from a basket of slips of paper. (We are fans of the old ways around here.) The e-book is a worldwide giveaway- anyone can win!- but the St. Nicholas book winner needs to be a US resident for postage reasons. 

I hope you win! 🙂

Look for more posts in the coming days on Advent and what we’re doing to get ready. In the meantime, tell me…how are you feeling about December’s quick approach? Are you charging ahead? Are you wishing you could put on the brakes? Are you somewhere in between?

Advent, faith, feasts and seasons

What if it’s too dark to see God?

Early evening these days is nearly totally dark at our kitchen table, even with two purple candles and a pink one lit in our Advent wreath. It seems darker than usual this year. The familiar fuzzy comfort of the season is absent…I feel fierce, raw, angry and afraid. I think of my sister, whose pale Alaskan sun sets early in the afternoon this time of year; after a weak attempt at climbing partway up the sky, it gives up and drops quickly back below the horizon again.

I think I know how that sun feels.

We have been working at Advent, at cultivating the calm contemplation that might be slightly out of reach for a family with children as young as ours. Every day, I’ve been listening to my playlist, reading books with my children, baking and crafting and knitting and praying to get ready. Every night, I’ve been faithfully lighting our candles. I’ve been doing a lot of explaining, helping my son to understand what Advent is all about, teaching him songs and prayers and recipes, watching him as he bites his lip in concentration during a reading, as he smiles and signs himself with a cross, as he bounces in his seat and sings, “Gaude!”.

Gaude. Rejoice. It’s what we’re supposed to be about, our task in even these darkest weeks of the year.

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook school last week, I’ve felt at a loss for words. Usually, I write about faith, about God, about how to be domestic church in an ecumenical family, about how to survive long days with little people when things feel tough. I post recipes for play dough and talk about what books we are reading. I share cooking projects and post pictures of kids painting and smiling. These are the things that make up my life. This is what I am doing, who I am being.

All of it seems so very small now.

Just over a week before Christmas, a gunman in a school in a state I’ve only driven through has thrown everything into a tailspin. Anxiety has been my constant companion, a sort of unnameable, unearned ache that makes me feel a little frantic. My lists are spiraling out of control. How many loads of laundry need to be done before we leave this weekend for family Christmas? Do we have enough toothpaste for the trip? Should I have bought more curling ribbon? Does any of this even matter?

If I’m honest, I confess that my busy-ness and listmaking are ways of dealing with the anxiety and sadness I feel…that occupying myself with batch after batch of cookies keeps me from thinking about the children who are gone, from wondering about the motives of the shooter, from scrolling through facebook to see my friends and their friends engaging in heated debate about gun control and mental health care. I’m too busy on purpose with all I have to do, even though none of it seems as important as it felt before.

I’ve been trying to write this post all week, too, without success. My best effort feels weak, like that Alaskan sun…a halfhearted attempt at helping, a band-aid offered to someone who has lost a limb. The scope of this tragedy, the enormous weight carried by the families who have lost a child, dwarfs my capacity to say anything helpful. My words are raindrops in a hurricane. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said…and the storm of words is so deafening, there’s almost no point in speaking, anyway.

It’s still Advent, though. This helplessness, this sadness, this brokenness is exactly why I need to keep on keeping watch. I need to wait for God…maybe more this year than ever.

God always shows up. God is still God- unchanging, everlasting God…as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen. We confess it every week in worship- we proclaim God’s God-ness every time we say the creeds that define our faith. We cannot proclaim the limitlessness and omnipotence of God in one breath and then say that God has abandoned us in the next breath.

This tragedy did not happen because God is on some big power trip about how we don’t allow God in schools. God is God, and God is everywhere. We may invite God into this place or legislate God out of another place, but God does not need our permission to exist or to be present and is there whether we confess belief in God’s existence or not. God is at school and in jail and in Wal-mart and wherever else we can imagine and in all the places we can’t imagine. It is not up to us.

(How fortunate for us that this is not a decision we are responsible for making.)

God is always in the picture, whether or not we see God. God is there, and God is always for us. We don’t always feel it, but it’s still true.

What’s more, the God I know isn’t too busy judging our cultural shift away from organized religion to cry with us. The God I know isn’t standing over to the side somewhere with arms crossed, saying “I told you so.”

The God I know is standing right with us, right behind us, sharing our pain and our fear. The God I know has God-sized hands big enough to hold all the worry and suffering and torment and anguish. The God I know has arms long enough to wrap us up and hold us close…and that God wants so badly to be with us that God Incarnate came to earth to do just that. To be with us.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).     

Matthew 1:23

If being with us is that important, maybe we ought to pay more attention to being with each other. If God was willing to come down to earth to keep our company, then keeping company with each other is no small thing. Standing in solidarity with the families in Connecticut, even from thousands of miles away, means something. It is a confession of hope. Maybe it is as dark as we have ever seen it right now, but we will keep watch with you until the light shows up.

So we wait. We watch. We hold our families close. The people around my table, the ones whose eyes are bright in the candlelight as we eat dinner together – they are what matters most right now. And my time with them is what I have. Maybe my territory is small stuff compared to the scope of the suffering out there. But to my children, the smallness in front of us is the universe. This is their world – it’s what’s before them, it’s what they know. And my job as their mother is to help make that world the kind of place that prepares them to go out into the darkness and be lights and shine in the way that only they can.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” And they will be. Tending little lights may feel small to me now. But only the presence of little lights- hundreds, thousands, millions of them – can push back the darkness.

It is surely dark right now. Darker than ever. Still, there’s a light. It’s growing. It’s in us, it’s in our children…and when we forget about our light or we’re too weak to shine, we can hold it out for each other. God’s still God. Jesus is still going to be born. We just have to keep watch, to sit together as we wait for the light to show up.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Advent, feasts and seasons, liturgical year, saint celebrations, St. Lucy, The Bug, tradition

St. Lucy Day from a can

 This is our second St. Lucy Day as a family of 5. Since we have a Lucy (our oldest daughter, otherwise known as The Bug), we feel we ought to mark the occasion. Lucy may only be older by 40 minutes, but she believes it still counts…you can just tell when you talk with her.

Last year, we said, “Oh, it’s St Lucy Day. We should probably do something.” The Sisters were not quite 3 months old. Our celebration last year consisted of changing lots of diapers, rocking and nursing. Those things took all day. There simply wasn’t time for anything else.

This year, we have (a little) more time, and I fully intended to do something for St. Lucy Day.
Unfortunately, it fell the day after the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which we celebrated. I had planned to make the special St. Lucy bread and have it in the morning. When that didn’t happen, I thought I’d make it during nap time and have it with soup for dinner.

It turns out, though, that this year I’m the kind of mom who chooses to go for a 5 mile run (on the treadmill) during nap time instead of baking special St. Lucy bread for my daughter’s name saint day. I suspect (okay, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt) that my family had a better evening because of my 5 miler than they would have if I had made the bread, no matter how well it turned out. Every mother runner (and probably her husband and children) knows that Grouchy Mommy in the morning + run at naptime = Better, Happier Mommy in the evening. Grouchy Mommy baking bread…well, that’s not quite as predictable.

So, no special St. Lucy bread this year. Although we’ve come a long way in a year, time is still so limited. As you all know, I have my hands full. I know many of you do, too.

Instead of soup and special bread last night, we spontaneously put everyone in pajamas, hopped in the car, went through the drive-thru at McDonald’s, and ate in the car while we drove around town looking at Christmas lights. We ended up outside of town in Shenandoah National Park to catch sight of a few of the Geminids in the hours before the meteor shower peaked, then came home and put everyone to bed a little later than usual.

The nicest thing about family traditions, particularly when you are trying to start them, is that they are flexible. They can be adapted to suit the situation in which you find yourself. I am a devout observer of traditions. I am not a fan, however, of rigidity. I grew up in a blended family with stepsiblings who were not always with us on the calendar date of major holidays. Sometimes we celebrated a day before everyone else we knew and sometimes a day after. My mom’s favorite phrase during these times was, “We’ll just need to play it by ear.” I remember all of us skating around the neighborhood in our brand new rollerblades, telling our confused neighbors that Santa had already been to our house when Christmas was still two days away. We were flexible…and it was fine. It all turned out okay.

Things change, and our traditions need to be able to change, too. Traditions are only as good as they make us feel, and if we stress ourselves out and get all weepy over how things aren’t going the way we wanted them to, the tradition is serving itself instead of our families. That’s not good for anyone.

So, with yesterday having come and gone with no St. Lucy festivities, we celebrated St. Lucy quickly this morning at breakfast, and we did it in a way that worked for us this year. I made a can of cinnamon rolls (the bake fast method, where you spread them out on the cookie sheet – it took less than 10 minutes). We stuck some leftover birthday candles in them and lit them. I quickly made a wreath for Lucy’s head out of pipe cleaners and put some more candles in that. (I did not light them.)

Throw in some smiley kids, and there you have it –
Instant celebration.

See those faces? This is what it looks like when you build traditions from the ground up. It’s not always perfect, it’s not always Pinterest-ing…but it is always worth doing, anyway. We’re building a foundation for our families, for our children. We’re laying the groundwork for memories and celebrations in years to come. It is enough just to start something, even if it’s something out of a can instead of from scratch.
A happy St. Lucy Day to all of you- a day late and slightly imperfect, but still just as meaningful.
Advent, cookies, feasts and seasons, little holydays, liturgical year, Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, saint celebrations

Why I’m baking biscochitos

Biscochitos are tiny little crispy bits of heaven by way of New Mexico. They are the state’s official cookie, and they are eaten at Christmas and other festive occasions. When we visited New Mexico two summers ago, we loved them and vowed we would make them at home. All of the recipes I could find then were a little more complicated than I could manage that year. Then last Christmas, I had less time than ever for baking (or anything, really) with the two baby twins needing my care.

This year, I am a more confident baker, and I am baking biscochitos for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.

The real way to make biscochitos is to use your New Mexican great-grandmother’s recipe that has been handed down in your family (and about a pound of lard). I have no New Mexican great-grandmother, and this isn’t a family recipe. It doesn’t belong to me at all- I found it on the website for a New Mexican newspaper – but I’m adding it to my family’s traditional celebration for this feast. (No lard, though. I used butter and just a tiny bit of Crisco. Crisco is scary, but lard scares me even more.)

I love Our Lady of Guadalupe. She doesn’t belong to me, exactly…maybe no more than the cookie recipe does. Her story, though, reminds me that God always finds ways to meet us where we are and that God is big enough for all of us.

On December 9, 1531, an Aztec peasant named Juan Diego encountered the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac Hill. His people had been under the rule of Spanish conquistadores for many years, and the Christian faith had been forced upon them. When he saw the Virgin Mary, though, she looked like him: she was wearing native dress, had brown skin and features like his (instead of like the Spaniards), and spoke to him in Nahuatl, his own language. Juan Diego reported the encounter to the archbishop, who requested proof that the lady was who she claimed to be. The lady instructed him to fill his tilma (cloak) with the roses growing on the hill and take them back to the archbishop. (It was the middle of winter, so the presence of the roses was in itself miraculous.) When Juan Diego followed her directions and opened his tilma to show the roses to the archbishop, they both saw a clear image of the Virgin Mary imprinted on the fabric.

Because the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego’s people as one of them and spoke to them in their own language, millions of people converted to Christianity. Where the Spaniards had tried (and failed) to force the people to accept their faith, this apparition brought a message of love and acceptance: truth isn’t the property of the people who are persecuting you, there is room for you here, and God wants you just the way you are.

In Mexico and across the United States today, there are Masses and parades and celebrations honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. At our parish, there was a Mass at 5 AM to start the day off, and there will be a dinner with a dance this evening. At our house, there will be a feast of fajitas, queso dip, and tamales. We’ll play Mexican music and enjoy each other’s company as we remember that God is the God of everyone…including each of us, even when we aren’t looking for God. And we’ll eat biscochitos for dessert.     
                                                          
We cut the biscochitos in the shape of stars for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her mantle is full of stars, like the night sky…and it’s big enough to cover all of us who want to stand beneath it. From now on, these cookies will be our way of remembering how she came to share God’s love with everyone.

activities, Advent, cookies, feasts and seasons, frustration, little holydays, liturgical year, parenting, saint celebrations, St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, take one

This is our family’s first observance of St. Nicholas’ Day. Our logical, intellectual, science-loving preschooler was about to throw all belief in the invisible out the window after seeing Santa in a mall near my mom’s house at Thanksgiving. Sensing that we needed to shift the emphasis a little from the Santa question, I suggested we start celebrating this feast to honor the historical person of St. Nicholas, who was so much cooler than Santa, anyway (see Haley’s excellent post on him here at Carrots for Michaelmas).

I won’t go so far as to say it was a bad idea for us to do this. I just think I went about it wrong. Interested in learning from my mistakes? Here is the breakdown of what you should do if you want your St. Nicholas feast day celebration to feel like it’s turning out badly:

  • Realize that you aren’t sure whether to set out the shoes on the night before (St. Nicholas’ Eve?) or the night of the feast. Pick the night before because you’re excited. (Ignore the sneaking suspicion you may have at this point that this is about you and not about St. Nicholas or the children. A moment of self-awareness at this point could ruin all the fun.)

  • Be sure to get treats that are too big to fit into the children’s tiny shoes (more because of their tiny feet than the bigness of the treats). Attempt to shove the card game into your child’s shoes anyway and get frustrated when it doesn’t fit. Decide to save the Santa-hat-wearing rubber ducks for the children’s stockings because you hurt your hand trying to cram them into the shoes.

  • Let your child have hot chocolate at breakfast (it’s a feast day, right?), then grumble at him when he’s too full to really eat anything. 

  • Unsuccessfully try to read your beautiful new St. Nicholas book to your child, who will only talk about planets and runs away shouting something about nebulae when you try to change the subject. 

    • Decide to bake cookies with the child, but don’t bother to double-check the ingredients (especially if you bake and generally have all that stuff). Realize that all the traditional cookie recipes for St. Nicholas’ Day call for anise. (Who has that?) Decide to substitute cloves. Grumble at the child when he jumps up and down on his stool and spills flour all over everything and everyone.

    • Don’t chill the dough fully because you’re in a hurry to get to a playdate and you want to take fresh baked cookies along to share. Struggle to roll out sticky dough, even though you know better. When your child approaches and is chattering at you about VY Canis Majoris and how it’s the biggest star and how it can burn up everything in our solar system, tell him, “Sssssshhhh!” in a very aggravated way. Feel guilty, but keep struggling with the dough.

    • Burn your hand while taking out the cookies. Say, “Awesome,” in as sarcastic a voice as possible. When your child asks what is so awesome, roll your eyes at him.

    • Anger the babies while waking them up early for the playdate (for which you are already quite late). Feel frustrated with them for being fussy. Allow a small part of your brain to think they are doing it on purpose just to annoy you.

    • Realize that your celebration feels entirely uncelebratory and that it’s your own fault.

    My attitude needs a reset button today. I am the cause of my own frustration – it’s not really about my kids or the cookies or any of it. I have an idea of how I want to celebrate the feast, and I’ve tried to force our day to fit it. Really, it ought to be the other way around. Really, I should start with the day I have, and then see what I can do to make it feel like a celebration.

    My children are kind of grumpy today. I’m kind of grumpy, too. We’re making each other grumpier. We did the shoes and the cookies. That might be all the celebrating we need to do this year.

    You know what? It’s okay. It’s enough. Sometimes, on a day like today with little kids, you have to just cut your losses. SuperSam might remember the shoes for next year, but the girls won’t remember anything – it will basically be a blank slate. So for now, instead of worrying about what kind of feasting we should be doing at dinner tonight, I’m going to take a nap. I might even end up ordering pizza and calling it a St. Nicholas’ Day gift to myself.

    No judgment.

    Happy St. Nicholas’ Day, y’all.

    Advent, feasts and seasons, little holydays, liturgical year

    Advent linkup: in case you haven’t had enough…

    I’m participating in an Advent linkup with some other bloggers this morning. It’s being hosted by Carrots for Michaelmas, Dualing Moms and Molly Makes Do. People will be posting about Advent traditions, upcoming holy days, music, crafts and activities, simple gift giving, how to teach children about the liturgical year, and more. There are a bunch of great writers participating, and we’d love for you to come and check it out. Just click on the button below to find out more.

    My Button
    activities, Advent, feasts and seasons, Jesus, little holydays, liturgical year

    Names of Jesus advent chain

    This morning, SuperSam and I found ourselves with some time to fill. He was feeling crafty, which doesn’t happen all that often. There are probably a thousand exciting, beautiful, intricate Advent project ideas out there right now that we could choose to do together. Sometimes, though, the simplest projects are exactly what I need to help me connect with my children and with the season. Today, we made an Advent paper chain with one of Jesus’ names on each link.

    Jesus is called by many names in the Bible. When the angel comes to announce to Mary that she will bear God’s son, he tells her that the baby will be called Emmanuel. Some of his names are taken from ancient prophets, like Isaiah. Each Gospel writer introduces new names for Jesus, and St. Paul gives us many more names in his letters to the early church. Finally, some of the powerful images for Jesus come from names used for him in Revelation.

    Our Advent chain has 24 links, one for each day until Christmas Day. SuperSam and I worked together to choose our favorite names of Jesus and wrote one on each link of chain. Our plan is to remove a link each day and read the name of Jesus and the scripture verse where that name originates.

    Here is how to make your own Advent chain, if you want to join us in this practice.

    What you’ll need: 

    • Paper to cut into strips for the chain links (we used scrapbook paper)
    • Scissors
    • Tape
    • A writing implement (pen, pencil, marker, stub of crayon – whatever you have will work)
    • A calendar (optional)

    You probably know how many days there are from the beginning of Advent to Christmas Day. Since SuperSam is just beginning to understand how days and weeks and months and seasons fit together, he asks me every day if it is Christmas yet (I like to send him here for the answer and a giggle). I thought it would be helpful to have him count the days on the calendar to figure out how many links we would need. We started with the first day of Advent (December 2) and made a link for each day until Christmas.

    First, cut your paper into strips. Our strips were 6 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, which made nice, fat links. If I were doing this again, I would make them almost twice that long so they would be easier for SuperSam to link together.

    This is a great way for a young child to practice cutting. I made “starter cuts” for SuperSam at the edge of the paper, and he followed them up with his scissors to make the cuts (all the while saying “squeeze squeeze SLIDE, squeeze squeeze SLIDE” and making a noise like squealing brakes when he reached the edge. Ah, crafts with preschool boys…never boring.

    Once you have a pile of strips, write one of the names of Jesus on the back of each strip. (There is a thorough list available here.) Here are the ones we used with the scripture references, in case you’d like to borrow any of them:

    A Precious Stone – 1 Peter 2:6
    The Builder – Hebrews 3:3
    The Vine – John 15:5
    The Son of the Living God – Matthew 16:16
    Emmanuel (God with us) – Matthew 1:23
    The Truth – John 14:6
    The Root of Jesse – Isaiah 11:10
    Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6
    A Sure Foundation – Isaiah 28:16
    The Word – John 1:1
    Lily of the Valley – Song of Songs 2:1
    The Resurrection – John 11:25
    The Lamb of God – John 1:29
    The Way – John 14:6
    The Bread of Life – John 6:35
    Alpha and Omega – Revelation 1:8
    Dayspring from on High – Luke 1:78
    The Head – Ephesians 4:15
    Lord of Lords – Revelation 17:14
    Light of the World – John 8:12
    Bright and Morning Star – Revelation 22:16
    The Sun of Righteousness – Malachi 4:2
    King of Kings – Revelation 17:14
    Messiah – John 4:25
    King of Glory – Psalm 24:10
    Savior of the World – 1 John 4:14
    The Good Shepherd – John 10:11

      
    To make the chain, form the first link into a circle and fasten it with a piece of tape. If you want to be fancy, you can use double-sided tape so it doesn’t show. We are not fancy, so we used regular old transparent tape (which is never quite transparent, so you can see if it you look closely!). Insert a second strip through the first strip to link them together, then make another circle. Keep going until you have threaded all the links together to form a chain. If you’re working with a child who can’t do this part by himself, this is a good time to work together. SuperSam lined up pieces of tape all along the table edge and chose which strips should go next in the chain. He also liked putting the piece of tape on each link while I held it (although his success rate with that was about 50% – we had to redo a number of them when the tape totally missed the seam). It’s all about the process, right?

    Finally, SuperSam wanted to make a star to put at the top of the chain and write “Jesus” on it. His star is a Jesus Star, he said, but it’s most like Rigel (one of his favorites because it’s a double star and it’s blue- the hottest kind of star). He also drew planets orbiting the star (because we just can’t do anything without including planets these days).

    I hope this simple craft gives you time to reflect on some of the many different facets of Jesus. We often think this time of year of the little baby boy who was born in a manger, but taking a step back to consider the bigger picture of who Jesus was and is can be a good thing, too. A great number of these names for Jesus show up in hymn texts and carols we will sing during Advent and Christmas. Taking a few minutes to remind ourselves (or to learn for the first time) some of the names now can make singing those favorite songs even more meaningful this year.
    Blessings during this first week of Advent!

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    Advent, feasts and seasons, liturgical year, prayer

    It’s beginning to look (and sound) a little like Advent.

    Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent. The season of preparation has officially arrived.

    Deep breath. That doesn’t mean I have to be prepared now. It means it’s time to start preparing.

    (For those of you who for whom this whole Advent thing is unfamiliar or who might not share my enthusiasm for the topic, it’s okay. This just happens to be one of those times when my liturgical geekery is on full display. Once January comes and Epiphany happens and the Magi have left the building, I will go back to writing about other stuff. Promise.)

    So far: I have replaced the fall wreath on our door with an appropriately wintery (though not overly Christmas-y) looking one that I made. I love how it turned out. We have thrown away the moldy jack ‘o’ lantern. Right now, there’s still a fall-looking flag up on my little garden flagpole, but I can change it tomorrow. We lit the first candle on the Advent wreath tonight at dinner, but we didn’t have time to dig the actual wreath out from the attic, so we just have the candles in the wreath form. Not pretty, but functional. It was fine. There’s plenty of time.

    Many Christian churches have an Advent wreath. It has four candles, usually purple or dark blue, around the circle and a single white candle in the center. (Sometimes the third outside candle is pink…more on that when we get to the third Sunday.) One of the outer candles is lit each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas to symbolize the coming Light of Christ. The center candle symbolizes Christ and is lit on Christmas. It is common for families to have a wreath in their homes, as well, and to light the candles together. We received a wreath as a wedding gift and have enjoyed lighting it every year since we were married in 2001.

    With little children, the traditional readings can get a little long. I want SuperSam and The Sisters to enjoy our tradition of using the wreath, so I have been searching for a resource that can help us make this happen.

    I found O Radiant Dawn: 5 Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath by Lisa Hendey and ordered it last week. There are short readings and prayers to use daily during Advent. Each day’s reading lasts just a few minutes, so it’s perfect for us to use at dinner together each evening (which is when we usually light our candles). The readings focus on light and dark, so it’s easy for SuperSam to relate to them. (Note to fellow liturgy geeks: the book does not follow the lectionary, but it does include the O Antiphons, so I’m not complaining. Besides, we can use it again next year.)

    A reader asked me this week what I was doing to help slow myself down (see here if you missed why I need to do that). I have decided to put notes to myself in some prominent places (bathroom mirrors, refrigerator door, coffee pot, dashboard of the car, and laptop, to start) that say things like “Breathe, there’s time,” and “Waiting IS doing something,” and “Slow down, it’s just Advent.” I haven’t actually done this yet, but since the notes are supposed to remind me that I have time, I am not stressing about it. We’ll see if they help me keep myself from rushing ahead to Christmas too quickly.

    We have been listening to the Advent playlist I created (yes, I know that was cheating, but I needed to test it out for you). I’m posting it here on the blog for you in case your ears are hungry for some not-yet-Christmas music. It’s about 2 hours long…who knew there were so many Advent songs?

    Advent music is strange in some ways, and hearing these songs can be a little jarring when we are so used to Christmas music this time of year. Putting together this playlist made it clear to me that as a culture, we have moved away from observing this season. Most of the compositions are quite old – classical pieces, motets, chant and plainsong make up the bulk of the music I included – but a few contemporary artists have recorded some of the old hymn texts in new settings, and there are some lovely instrumental arrangements, too. The tone is contemplative, often solemn, occasionally apocalyptic- a definite contrast with the stuff being played over the loudspeakers at the mall right now. It is working for me, but if you’re in the mood for something totally upbeat and cheery, you might look elsewhere. (Or just check out the a capella version of Sleepers, wake! down below – so catchy!) You might need to download free Spotify software if you don’t already have it to hear the songs…I’m trying to find a way around that.

    Here is the text of one traditional Advent hymn that has been running through my head:

    People, look East. The time is near of the crowning of the year.

    Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table.

    People, look East, and sing today: Love, the Guest, is on the way.

    I especially like the part about making your house “fair as you are able.” Maybe the composer had a bunch of little kids and shared my aversion to sweeping and never quite got around to dusting her bookshelves. Fortunately, I still have time to clean things up before Christmas (and Love, the Guest) arrives. So yes, people, look east, by all means – just don’t look behind my couch (at least not for a few more weeks).

    If the cleanliness of my floors is any indication, I’m doing okay with the whole “taking my time” thing. I’ll keep you posted.