A practice that I have enjoyed with my family in the last few years is focusing on feasting and hospitality for the duration of the Advent season, and actually right up through Epiphany when possible. I think it stemmed from two different traditions: one, with family; the other, with friends.
The first, with family, stems from my childhood. I grew up in a Silicon Valley suburb in California, living within two miles of my entire maternal side of the family, which consisted of five generations for almost a decade. Many of us attended church together every Sunday morning, and I still love remembering the long pew we filled in the balcony of my childhood Bible Church. A pillar for about a dozen years in my formative years, that place still makes cameo appearances in my dreams and holds a tender spot in my heart. But even the relatives who didn’t join us in worship on Sunday mornings, joined us for Family Dinner on Sunday evening. There was always a standing invitation (and, honestly, expectation) for family members: 6pm Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s house. Those evenings of food, loud table conversation, helping in the kitchen, reading the funny papers with my Great Grandpa, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos with my uncles, and pitching in with my little cousins planted in me the love of tradition, family dinners, and generational living. After we moved away from CA, and all of our relatives, the tradition died – and it was dearly missed.
The second tradition root is the annual habit of sharing an Epiphany feast with friends (alternating between their home and our home). As a way to reconnect and celebrate with longtime friends at the conclusion of the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany narrative, we have actually managed to keep this annual celebration for roughly a decade already, and I thought it would be fun to extend that idea to other friends as well.
Those are the two backstories which grew into my current practice of Advent weekends. It makes for an intense month of hospitality – but what is the Incarnation about? Ultimately, it is about the most intense hospitality imaginable. It is my joy to nibble at the edges of that glorious example of generosity and grace.
On Saturday evenings, we have an open invitation to family to join us for our Advent feast. This is the uppercrust version, where we have fancier foods, use goblets and china, sing hymns, read Scripture & a liturgy, have candles flickering all over the room to light the darkness, and light the candles in our advent wreath. We also give a group gift to our children after the meal, reminding them that the reason we give gifts is because we have been recipients of the ultimate gift of Christ. The gifts this year have been Advent calendars (the classic chocolate-a-day), matching flannel pajamas, a board game, and an outdoor game. This year, my parents and my grandma have joined us every Saturday evening, and it has been an enormous gift.
On Advent Sundays after corporate worship, we have a family over to share a simpler meal and fellowship & play & rest together, in the wake of Jesus coming to make all things new and spread the Gospel to all peoples. We usually have some variance of soup and bread and dessert to share, although a casserole in lieu of soup has been just as simple this year. We set up the meal buffet-style, often use paper plates/bowls, and have no set liturgy (but are always glad to hand out hymnals and carol together).
These four weeks of hospitality, fellowship, feasting, and anticipation are something our family looks forward to throughout the year. And each year, I think I grow personally in my skill & joy of hosting. Be not deceived: it is hard work! But by God’s grace, I am learning to focus on the aspects of it which actually matter (filling bellies, fattening souls, engaging minds, encouraging hearts), and letting go what is unnecessary or selfish or perfectionistic.
The hope of Advent is almost fulfilled… the joy of Christmas is almost here… the light of Epiphany is on its way…
We are Christmas people! Let us feast together & rejoice!