I’m feeling the pressure of holidays stacking on top of one another with little breathing space between. We barely arrived home from traveling for Thanksgiving and before the laundry is done my mind is spinning with Christmas plans. We’re hosting family so there’s decorations, meal planning and putting the house in order along with finishing a few languishing projects before they arrive. Also my 14 month old wants to run around the house at full speed banging blocks on all of the things.
In the middle of the flurry of activity, I want to celebrate the first coming of Christ and look forward to his second coming. Somehow that’s what gets lost in this busy season, isn’t it?
The Ecclesiastical Calendar
This year, my family is going to try following the ecclesiastical calendar. Our Baptist/non-denominational selves are unaccustomed to observing a liturgical tradition, but the more I’ve learned about it, the more I’ve understood how it can be a tool to remind us of God’s story of redeeming the world.
The Church calendar is a cycle of seasons throughout the year. Each season focuses on a different point in the story of God’s redemption of the world through Christ. The seasons are: Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time. There are variations on the calendar, and it can get a lot more complicated than that, but that’s the basics.
Since this tradition is new for my family, we’re keeping it church calendar lite. We’ll mark each season with traditions that make sense for our family without adding pressure to our schedule.
The Season of Advent
Advent, which means arrival, focuses on anticipating the coming of Christ. We reflect on Israel’s anticipation of his First Coming, and look forward to his Second Coming ourselves. The season reminds us we live in the already-not-yet.
Christ has already come, lived, died, and lived again to redeem us, but we do not yet experience the fullness of His redemption. One day, He will right all the wrongs and heal all the brokenness. But we’re not there yet.
Advent is a season to focus our vision on the joy and hope in Christ. My favorite hymn for this season, one that beautifully expresses this tension, is O Come O Come Emmanuel.
Advent for our Family
For our Advent celebration, I’ll use a few candlesticks I already have and some branches cut from our Christmas tree to make an Advent wreath. On the four Sundays of Advent, we’ll do a short family devotional based on the theme of each Sunday: hope, peace, joy, and love. That’s it. That’s Advent.
When my son is a few years older, we’ll come up with a simple activity to include him in anticipating Christ’s coming. For example, slowly building a nativity scene over the course of the season and talking to him about each piece.
Simplifying Christmas so We Can See Christ
We’re also re-examining normal Christmas traditions in light of Advent. This year, we won’t get a tree until the first Sunday of Advent, rather than the normal day after Thanksgiving. A mere one week delay creates a little breathing space in our family’s schedule. We’ll keep gifts simple: each person gets one present, plus gifts from grandparents. Some traditions we’ll cut out altogether. There won’t be matching pajamas or Christmas card photoshoots. No Christmas movie watching marathons and not every hall will be decked.
Wassail and clumsily played Christmas hymns on the piano? Yes! These rituals slow us down and point us to Christ. Family newsletter to everyone we know? Not a chance.
Some aspects I don’t have any influence over: my husband’s office-wide Christmas party or back to back family celebrations. But we’ll host his work group’s party in January or February. Last year, everyone agreed it was nice to have one less event during Christmas and to have a fun evening in the dead of winter slump. No law says you can’t have a white elephant gift exchange after the first of the year.
My goal in following the church calendar is not to add more stress, because who needs that? Instead, I want the celebrations to slow us down enough to focus on Christ. Family traditions shape the culture of a family. I want ours to be centered on Christ, not on the busyness of the holiday season.