Samantha Stephenson shares how she serves up her family’s Advent with a side of humor.
The last few Christmases have been kind of a train wreck.
I’m not just talking about the disaster of a wrecked living room or a difficult Mass with overtired, sugared-up toddlers that I wrote about last year. For two out of the last three years, I have been waylaid by crippling prenatal depression. The year in between those? Covid.
This is the first year I’ve been able to really revel in the joy of the season in quite some time. Unlike last year, the gray of winter doesn’t seem like a metaphor for the blandness of my soul. Instead, I’m enchanted by the soft flutter of snowflakes and grateful for each tiny task that speaks to the particularity of this season. Still, I have 4 kids 6 and under. My 5-month-old is sleeping less than ever. And we’ve all had a cough for 45 years. In other words, this isn’t a great time for the hustle and bustle that is so often synonymous with this season.
Far from being disappointed, I am perfectly contented. Cozy mornings at home by the fire, making cocoa for the kids while they sled down our neighborhood “hill” and make snowmen, and the slow unfolding of playdough story time are actually the stuff of my ideal days. I am not busy or rushed, and part of that is having chosen to make this a season of rest. Far more than the sunshine of a California Christmas, the weather here in Idaho reminds me to make time to simply be.
Intentionally keeping things simple allows us to enjoy the pause the Advent season offers. In forgoing new and creepier holiday embellishments (I’m looking at you, Elf on the Shelf) in favor of tried-and-true traditions, we have incorporated Advent into our regular rhythms. These traditions allow us to remember the season and keep Christ’s coming at its center. Below are the traditions that we have found help this time take on a special character without becoming overwhelming.
The Advent Wreath
Each night when we sit down to dinner, we light the appropriate number of candles and we sing the chorus of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I had the bright (pun intended) idea to teach the kids a new verse each week, but even that is too complicated for us right now. Maybe when the youngest is 6 instead of the oldest …
The Jesse Tree
As a convert, I actually taught high-school religion classes for several years before I ever heard of the Jesse tree. Once I did, I knew it would be a part of our family life forever. I just had to have a family first.
For a couple of years, we used downloadable coloring pages to cut out an ornament each day and stick it on a paper tree I posted in the kitchen. That worked for a while, but I am so glad I invested in one of these sets from Esty. It’s a lot less work, and the kids are just dying to open the ornament of the day and read about Jesus’s ancestors. It’s a fabulous review of salvation history, and I have had a blast listening to their versions of the Bible stories we’ve read (think Drunk History, but with kids and no booze—for them, anyway).
St. Nicholas Day
On December 5, we put out our shoes.
Okay, I will admit that this one can be a little more stressful. We don’t always remember to put out our shoes, and we don’t always have the treats laying around to stuff into them. We can’t all be Jen Fulwiler running to the gas station at midnight because some of us obey our God-given biological bedtimes and power down involuntarily at sunset.
A couple of ways to make this less stressful:
- Homeschool your kids. They won’t know what day it is, and you can do St. Nicholas the next night after you see all the liturgical living posts popping up on Instagram.
- Shop at Hobby Lobby. When I have a coffee date by myself, we like to get a Starbucks Americano and browse through Target, TJ Maxx, and Hobby Lobby. It’s nothing original, but there’s a reason all those stores congregate together, and Mommy usually comes home happy. Whenever I find myself at Hobby Lobby alone, I make it a point to pick up some gold foil-covered coins. Anyway, this happens at least once a year, so then I am covered whenever St. Nicholas Day next rolls around again. Chocolate doesn’t go bad, right?
- If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll also order some cuties from Walmart. If not? St. Nick can just blame the supply chain.
The Advent Calendar
This is our 2-year-old sitting next to the Advent calendar after climbing onto the counter to pilfer all its Skittles. We plan to add this back in next year after our little pirate’s prefrontal cortex has added a few more cells.
In the meantime, we have found some great Advent calendars/homeschooling activities from Purple Cow on Amazon. Next year, I am thinking of wrapping up 24 of our Christmas books and tying that into our Jesse Tree routine. It’s ambitious, I’ll admit, but as long as I’m not pregnant again I think I’ll be up for it.
We also decorate a Christmas tree and the house. We might bake and decorate cookies, attend a party, or go caroling. We might drive around and see some lights. And of course, we cozy up and watch our favorite Advent shows. These are all “extras” that can be added in here and there when convenient, without the added pressure of a lengthy itemized Christmas bucket list.
Honestly, true to my theme this year, I’m just happy to be here—and that is working out really well for us in this season of life.
Peace, joy, and hope to you. All is not calm. But all is bright. Merry Christmas!
Copyright 2023 Samantha Stephenson
Images: Advent calendar and Jesse tree photos copyright 2023 Samantha Stephenson, all rights reserved; all others Canva
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About the Author
Samantha Stephenson is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mama of four, host of the podcasts “Brave New Us” and “Mama Prays,” and author of Reclaiming Motherhood from a Culture Gone Mad. Follow her blog at MamaPrays.com or sign up for her newsletter at FaithandBioethics.com to receive the latest updates on medical research, technology, and culture.