I'll be working hard today to get all loose strings tied and put away so that we can experience the wonderful tradition that we started a couple of years ago, when we first heard about the "Advent Conspiracy".
We started noticing that as the Christmas season approached, it was accompanied by a feeling of dread and followed by a feeling of relief with it's passing. We realized that our loss of love for the season was due to the hectic pace, stress and over-commercialization that has come to characterized the season. This combined with the encouragement we felt from the "Advent Conspiracy"movement, led us to re-imagine the way we do Christmas. We have cut the number of gifts down for the kids to one present from each of us and one present to each other. I carve three days out of Christmas vacation where we do nothing but play. I cook food, I get all of the housework done and I get everything organized ahead of time. Then we have gifts that we open every so often over the course of three days...but, these gifts are things like cookie cutters with instructions that say: "make cookies for the couple down the street" ... a tub of icing that says: "Bake Jesus a birthday cake" ... or a book that says: "read this book together". We call it "A Christmas of Presence". We watch movies and tell stories and play hide-&-seek in the dark. We talk about what Christmas means. On Christmas morning, we do a scavenger hunt that leads the girls to their one "big gift" and then celebrate with birthday cake for breakfast (Don't judge. It's once a year! ;) ).
So far, the girls have been completely on-board. They ask a lot more questions about what games we're going to play than what gifts they're going to get. It's the one time of year that I feel like I get it right. I guess it's like a three day Sabbath.. I've tried hard to incorporate the Sabbath into our lives on a weekly basis. I think there is a great need for us to learn to "be still and know that He is God". But, I have to admit that I haven't had much success with that particular endeavor.
You can read about the events that led up to the start of this new tradition in 2008 and about our second "Christmas of Presence" in 2009. To summarize: We do minimal gift giving, and we use the money that we would have used for all those other gifts (that we didn't actually need) to help someone else. In 2008, we sent money to an organization that builds wells in areas without accessible clean water. In 2009 and 2010, we spread it around to several different needs that we had heard about. I had gotten to the point that I dreaded Christmas because of what it had become: a celebration of consumerism. Would you believe that I haven't stepped a foot into a Wal-mart or the mall this entire holiday season? Can I tell you how freeing that is? It's renewed our love for the season and Christmas has reclaimed it's place as the best thing we do all year!
This year, we have added a few exciting elements to our celebration. We have an older couple at church, who our girls lovingly refer to as "Mr. Belton" and "Mrs. Ruby". Mr. Belton and Mrs. Ruby just decided on a whim to visit to our church one Sunday morning. We have no, (and I mean literally NO) elderly people at our church besides them (though if you ever experience Mrs. Ruby's spunk, you'll have a hard time thinking of her as an 82-year-old). It shouldn't have surprised me that they chose to stay and call our church home. You can feel the love radiating from the building upon approach.. But, since we have no programs for seniors, or anything geared specifically towards that age group, I didn't figure we had much to offer them. I'm still not sure that we do, but they have offered us so much. It just so happens that they don't have any grandchildren living nearby to love on, and my children don't have any grandparents living nearby to love on them (though they get PLENTY of it long-distance and when we visit Alabama). Mr. Belton and Mrs. Ruby came and shared Thanksgiving with us . They will be sharing Christmas with us as well. They have added a whole new element of love to our lives, and it certainly doesn't hurt that Mrs. Ruby is the best dessert maker in the world. We have been so blessed by them.
Our church also serves a meal down at the Rescue Mission on the fourth Saturday of the month. It just happened to turn out that the fourth Saturday fell on Christmas day this year. It seemed obvious that we should celebrate Jesus' birth best in a place where He would most likely be, and my conscience just wouldn't allow me to cancel a thing like that in the name of celebrating the Savior of the world (who so often spoke of loving "the least of these"). With all the holiday traveling and gatherings, I was a little concerned that I might end up providing a meal to 50 hungry men by myself. As it turns out, I will have no such fate. We're going to have quite a crowd serving down at the mission and afterwards, we'll be meeting back for dessert back at our house. They've left very little of the cooking up to me, which will most definitely will work to the advantage of the men we will be feeding. Our church didn't have to be convinced that we should spend Christmas night this way. It was obvious to them as well. I can't think of a better way to celebrate Christmas, and, I can't begin to tell you how grateful I am to be a part of this family that loves Jesus and His world so much.
Sunday after church, we will be heading over to Alabama to spend Christmas with our families, and once again I have the same kind of anticipation I had when I was a child, and a I have a hope for a Christmas magic greater than any we've ever experienced before. It is my prayer that we will make memories for our children...of a celebration that is fit for a King.
May you experience true Christmas magic, a real Peace on Earth. May you be blessed so that you may be a blessing to others.