I don’t mean to alarm you, but it’s almost Christmas. Advent — what’s left of it — is a time of preparation, but unless you live a very unusual life, you probably need some time to prepare for this season of preparation.
We have done various things over the years to try to make Advent a season of anticipation that leads up to a day of Christ-centered joy, rather than a month-long wallow in decorations and cookies that leads to a volcano of presents. We fail every single year.
But we do always try. The nice thing about Christmas is that it’s a birth, and that means it’s a beginning, not a culmination. Call me hopeful or call me delusional, but I always feel like as long as we TRY, then we’re getting Advent and Christmas right.
So this is how we try: We set aside the day after Thanksgiving as Jesse Tree Day. And that is about all we do the day after Thanksgiving. The kids are home from school, nobody expects me to cook anything elaborate, and God has granted me the gift of a profound unwillingness to rush out and shop for amazing Black Friday deals at Target. So Friday is the day of getting ready to get ready.
The first step is to choose a list of Jesse Tree readings. The idea is to find one that more or less matches up with the actual calendar. Advent begins Dec. 3 this year, but if we end up with one that starts on Dec. 1, it doesn’t matter that much, because we know we’re going to miss some days anyway, so it all evens out. Then I print it out, round up the kids, and read off the symbols, and they dibs the ones they want to do.
Some years, I get fancy and buy special paint markers and a bunch of blank capiz shell discs with holes drilled in them, so we end up with a set of more or less uniform ornaments. Other years, I just open the infamous craft cabinet and pull out everything that looks like it won’t cry if you put glue on it. (This is my first act of Christmas Generosity: I renounce my claim on anything I put out on the table. If you’re not going to use the good stuff for getting ready for Jesus, then what in the world are you saving it for?)
Then I start some music going. In this house, we do not listen to Christmas music before the day after Thanksgiving; and the very first one we listen to is “A Medieval Christmas” by The Boston Camerata. The kids groan and complain, but I’m a big believer in building unwilling fondness through repetition. I choose my battles with music, but I insist on this one at least once a year. This is my first act of Christmas Bullying, which is also an essential part of the season, if you’re in charge of other people.
So then I toss the list with names into the middle of the craft heap, and I leave the room. The kids are going to be incredibly mean to each other while they work, which is just how they show affection; and they are going to make an insane mess, which is something I don’t need to see happening. This is my first act of Christmas Surrender. Some things are beyond my control, and it’s very good to keep this in mind and not waste emotional energy getting upset about it.