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Hallo again to all. France Chartres JesseTree. Photo: TTaylor via Wikimedia Commons

The Church begins its year with Advent — a time of reflection, waiting, and anticipation of the birth of Our Lord — which opens the season of Christmas. But we live in an increasingly secular world where 'Christmas' means the weeks leading up to the Day of Reckoning: 25 December. In a secular sense, Christmas Day marks the end of the Christmas season. We have heard colleagues in our work place complain, 'I'm worn out trying to get ready for Christmas. I can't wait until it's over.' The challenge of reconciling the secular and liturgical calendars can be less overwhelming if we remember to make room for Advent. To allow it to be the season of hope and waiting the Church meant it to be.

For those of us who live or work with children, we see their rising excitement as the days of December tick by. As parents and teachers, we try to find ways to focus children in the present season of Advent. It is a rich time with many traditions of its own to share, and all of the traditions give us ways to talk about the deeper meanings of this anticipatory and contemplative season of hope. We believe the traditional activities we share in our families will ground our children in the Now before the sparkle of Christmas Eve and Day overtake us all. Last week's letter mentioned making Christingles, common in the Church of England. Here are some of our other Advent favorites.

In our homes, we have Advent calendars. We have some that hang in windows and some that stand by themselves on the sideboard. Often the scenes they depict are secular, but many have candles behind their doors for the Sundays of Advent. And almost all have a nativity scene on the big denouement days of Christmas Eve and Day, announcing the end of Advent and the arrival of Christmas. We are of the opinion there is no maximum number of Advent calendars that decorum decrees be displayed. Each year we purchase a new one and hang it next to those from previous years. With multiple calendars, each member of the family has a turn to open the little doors and reveal the seasonal images behind. And the older calendars are like returning friends — comfortable, familiar, and refreshing our memories of years gone by.

And, of course, there are Advent wreaths. Families often make them together on the First Sunday of Advent. Children may take turns lighting and snuffing the candles each evening at dinner. The family reads the Advent collects before the blessing of the meal. This daily routine gives shape to the days and helps a young family stay focused on the weeks of Advent rather than the countdown to Christmas. Watching each candle burn down a little more each day is a wonderful visual for all of us.

Shepherd alone in the field. It's still Advent... Nativity scenes with figures also provide good ways to pace the time of Advent. Rather than set all the pieces out at once, one can gradually add figures to the scene through the course of the season. Finally, on Christmas Eve the baby Jesus is placed in His manger. One parish we know uses the sanctuary's windowsills to pace the figures' journey to Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve, the Magi are still half-way down the nave, still making their way to the Christ Child – a concrete representation that Christmas and Epiphany, while connected, are their own separate seasons.

As Sunday School teachers, we balance between preparing a Christmas pageant for the family Christmas service and teaching about the season of Advent. Some parishes make Chrismon — a combination of 'Christ' and 'monogram' — ornaments of Christian symbols for the children to take home or decorate a parish Chrismon tree.

Many parishes use a Jesse Tree as the focus for their lessons and activities. The bare branch standing in a pot is a physical representation of the line of Jesse, King David's father. It is hung with ornaments made by the children in response to readings from the Old Testament tracing the grand story arc from creation to the birth of Jesus. Each ornament on a Jesse Tree is a symbol that goes with a Bible story about an important figure or event in the readings. A very useful thing when planning lessons!

Following these traditions allow us to fully abide in Advent. They give us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the season. We asked our friends what was the fundamental idea they wanted to pass onto their children about the meaning of Advent. One said, 'Hope.' Another, 'Giving to others—as opposed to focusing on what they want to receive.'

What do you think is the important Advent 'take-away' you want to impart to your children? What traditions are part of your daily life during this first season of the liturgical year? How do you manage to juggle the liturgical and secular each December? Please drop us a line or post a comment on our Facebook page. We'd love to hear from you!

Take a moment, breathe, read the Advent collects*, and we'll see you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

14 December 2014

* The Online Book of Common Prayer has many versions from many provinces and from different times in history available for you to peruse.

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