I've been seeing a lot of articles about finding rest this Advent. Much of them talk about toning it down - not doing parties or activities, skipping the tree or advent calendar or presents or whatever it may be - because the season is just too stressful, too full of commercialism, commitments and chaos.
And while that's true - the moment I step outside my door, Christmas goes pretty much crazy - this year, more than any other, I've found it to be naturally restful, even while partaking in all the festivities. A year ago this week, I was 38 weeks pregnant with my second, staring down a potential move to another state, unsure of my future as my husband had just flown back from interviewing for a job in Chicago on a whim. There was no Advent calendar or decorations beyond a tree, speaking of, our tree could have been called "Charlie Brown," and I was stressed, frenzied and emotionally eating candy canes and Advent chocolate.
This year, we're more settled. Not having many friends and family nearby keeps the parties to a minimum, and I've found that putting up a tree, having an Advent calendar and setting out the decorations has actually brought peace to our house, naturally gathering our family together and brought the rest we were so craving.
Yes, those paper bags up there are actually full. (The number one question I get when someone sees it.) We do a combination of the Jesse Tree and a Promise Tree (A term that I don't think is that popular, but one I grew up with.) Inside each bag is the day's Jesse Tree ornament and scripture. We have this book, but since the kids are so young, my husband and I basically just ad lib the story, making it relatable to at least the toddler. And yes, we often forget how the story goes or have to skim the real story in the Bible to remember the key points. We just sorta tag-team together to make it at least flow - this isn't seminary, people.
The Promise Tree comes in as an activity we do each night that I just write on a piece of paper, anything from as simple as eating a candy cane to looking at Christmas lights or going to Grandma's house. Last night we made snowflakes - have you ever tried to make a snowflake? Mike and I were Googling forever trying to get those last couple folds right! Anyway, the point is, it's all stuff that we'd likely do anyway, just made more special by having it written on paper in the "special bags." I don't fill them until the week or even morning of, and at times we've even just pretended something different was written on there to work better with our schedule.
I hope you all know this, but it's important to note, it's mostly mayhem while we do all this. Colette's usually pretty tired and squaking around, and Eli's over in the corner zooming around his monster trucks yelling, "Why??" about a hundred times throughout the story only half (maybe a quarter?) listening. But honestly, we've talked multiple times about how we're glad we're doing this while they're so young. The kids don't notice or remember us fumbling through the bible stories or pretending to read something different than what's written. We're learning how to modify and change it to fit our family on the fly and I love that I don't have to worry about how the kids will react. It's low-key. Low-pressure. Just how we like it.
I share this with you not to make you feel pressured to have a great "Advent calendar program" or make you feel like a failure if you didn't put a tree up or make snowflakes. I share this to say, it's okay to try something and have it be small and imperfect like what we're doing. It's okay to forget the bible story as you're telling it, or skip it all together one night. It's okay to change things in a moment or just hand your kids a piece of chocolate as the "activity." (That will probably be their favorite night actually.) It's all okay!
Truth be told, I never really understood Advent or the "evangelical calendar" until a few years ago. I love that it's a built-in season for spiritual reflection and re-focusing our souls to wait for Jesus. But remember, the season of observing Advent isn't in the Bible. There's no right way to "do" Advent. It's not about nativity sets, special ornaments or scripture written on special pieces of paper. It's about the state of your heart, what it's focused on, what it waits for, what it loves, what comes out of it.
Do what you can, when you can. Maybe it's a season of pulling back for you and that's fine - there is always next year, and the year after, etc. Or maybe it's a season where you can do one thing. Or two things. Or even - you crazy momma - THREE THINGS! No matter what it looks like, what you're doing or not doing won't affect the truth and promise in this season: That the incarnate Christ has come to save us.
ps. Here's how to make the Advent Calendar. But truth be told, I just ran mine through the printer since my handwriting isn't very consistent. And it was WAY faster. And here's where to get the nativity set. We used "setting up the Nativity" as our very first activity for the Promise Tree - our kids went crazy since it plays music. And I liked it cause I didn't have to anything but pull out a box. Oh, and my favorite (free) Advent devotional, no reason you can't start today. (And no pressure to do it every day either!)