Happy New Year, Church! That’s right: with the dawn of Advent season comes the new start of the liturgical year. While I did not grow up from the cradle with a big emphasis on the Church Year, my parents were naturally very purposed about setting aside certain things for celebration and observance. There was a definite cyclical rhythm to our year, mostly informed by Christian holidays and weekly Sunday habits, even though I am not sure my mom would have been able to direct you to any books or church traditions for their origin or information. It simply came naturally to her! She has always been good at decorating, showing hospitality, feeding people, and celebrating holy events with simple festivity. Actually, let’s be real: Mama has not always jumped into festivity with simplicity. She can cook up and decorate with incredible flair, detail, abundance, and bounty. As a child, when it came to holidays, I never doubted that our cup overflowed. But it was my mother who taught me by example that celebration & hospitality are both extremely flexible, and that there is just as much value & delight in the simple as in the extravagant. Mama showed me that there are different blessings attendant in those different expressions.
Now as the mama in my own home, I seek to train my children in a similar way… and I try to do it as she did: by action and example rather than by words and description.
Peter Leithart said: “We don’t keep the rhythms of the church calendar out of traditionalism. We mark time Christianly in order to honor Jesus, the Lord of ages whose Advent starts a new age of human history. We observe the church calendar to evangelize time.”
One of my favorite times to do this is during the season of Advent, which is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. I have written about this before, but I will share it again this year, because it is always good to share ideas for cultivating a family culture bursting with feasting and joy and multi-generational fellowship. I honestly can’t remember how many years we have been doing this, but my children have no memory of NOT marking Advent in this way… so it is definitely a notable part of our family culture.
Each Sunday of Advent is kicked off for our family by an open invitation to any of our family members (my parents always come, my grandma frequently comes, and my brother’s family has come a couple times) to join us for an Advent Feast on the Saturday evening prior. This is the big meal of the week, where I use our fancy dishes, light extra candles and use ironed linens, make time-consuming meals or things which require special ingredients. We always toast our glasses, cheers to the King! with wine (or sparkling cider), starting the meal with Lindt chocolate truffles and ending it with some kind of sumptuous dessert. We read Scripture, a liturgy, and/or poetry. We sing Advent hymns in harmony around the table. We give our children one group gift at each Saturday feast (books, board games, videos, matching jammies…).
On Saturday, while cooking for the family Advent Feast, I also prep for Sunday… because on each Sunday of Advent, we invite friends over (we aim for two families each Sunday – and then if someone has to cancel last-minute we still have fellowship to look forward to) for a simple meal and afternoon of fellowship. The meal format is almost always soup, bread, and cookies. All of it can be made ahead on Saturday, easily heated up after church, and can be added to (sliced apples? cheese plate? green salad?) if our guests offer to bring something for the meal. I also often opt for disposable dishes, in order to make clean-up extra easy. It not only makes friends feel welcome & at-home without worrying about breaking Great-Grandma’s china, but also enables me not to have two hours’ worth of dishes to wash afterward. We like to play board games or group games with our friends, and often sing some Advent or Christmas carols. Again, we start our meal with a piece of chocolate and a toast to the coming King!
It’s not that it doesn’t take a lot of prep, planning, work, and money… but it feels simple and predictable, completely doable and entirely special.
This is one more of those little “glimpses of paideia,” where we are teaching our children through our family habits and purposed culture about what we believe is important. Where ought our focus be? How should we spend our season of Advent? There is no one right way to do it. This is simply the way that my family has cultivated a practice and a love. It folds in people from our church, our homeschool co op, our family members. It involves food and music and books and gifts. It points us toward Christmas without making us go crazy. It gives boundaries to our plans, so we do not overschedule. It brings our hearts back to Incarnation. Which is really another topic for another post another time…
For now, let me simply leave you with a few links with suggestions for posts and books which I have found enculturating for myself over recent years as I have sought to cultivate a family tradition of marking Advent – this anticipation of the miraculous so extraordinarily astounding that it has been the beginning for the historical church for centuries.
Lists and links to all kinds of Advent things by Sarah Clarkson
Psalms of Advent by Peter Leithart
Hallelujah: Cultivating Advent Traditions With Handel’s Messiah by Cindy Rollins
Joy to the World by C.H. Spurgeon
Let Us Keep the Feast by Jessica Snell et al
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Ashiterah Ciuciu
Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross
Around the Year by Maria von Trapp