This is our first Christmas season since 2013 that hasn’t been overshadowed with vehicle woes. In 2014, James had just moved back from living across the country for 6 months and we had to scramble to sell my car from high school before the insurance expired. In 2015, that new car became a pile of scrap metal on the drive home from Thanksgiving, so December was a blur of weary, and hurried, car shopping. Last year, a terrible oil change (thanks Walmart) resulted in total engine failure on the way back from Thanksgiving and our car was abandoned in Pennsylvania, marking the beginning of 5 months of trying to get it repaired.
But this year, this year we stayed put for Thanksgiving, and it was so glorious that I didn’t even take any pictures to show you. We didn’t tempt our car fate again, and we rolled into December with a working vehicle, and souls not already weary from one 12-hour-one way trip, while staring another one in the face in a matter of weeks. This December has brought its own trials, but we are so thankful to have started it with the contented feeling of being tucked away in our own home, with no car shopping, car borrowing, calls with insurance, or haggling with mechanics to maneuver.
Since we always travel between our two families over Christmas, James and I have carved out our own traditions throughout the month of December, instead of Christmas day itself. This way, no matter where we are traveling between families on Christmas day, we can revel in the traditions we grew up with, without missing the new ones we have made as a family. Last Sunday we spent the evening doing our annual Christmas decorating celebration: walking with our tree from Eastern Market, decorating it with all the best music, and then eating gingerbread cookies while we watch Elf. I love these simple rituals. Henry was ecstatic to “help” decorate the tree, which quickly resulted in us moving all breakable ornaments out of his grasp. He spends every day removing everything from the bottom half of the tree, only to find it restored the next morning for more destruction. We loved our annual Messiah service at church last week, and tonight we checked out the trains and music at the Botanic Gardens. I love these celebrations of Christmas around the city.
But this year James and I have also been more aware of the weighty responsibility of teaching Henry what Christmas is, what Advent is, not just how the world celebrates in December. My parents did a phenomenal job structuring our entire Christmas season around Advent, and James and I were suddenly aware that we have, not a baby, but a toddler who wants to participate and loves ritual, repeats everything we say, and is paying attention. To us, to the world we lay out for him, to the things we set up as valuable.
And so we are stumbling towards Christmas, bumbling our way through Advent, trying to establish rituals that will soak into our family culture and direct our children towards the meaning of Christmas. Evenings can be tricky to plan on quality family time with James’ hours, so we have been carving out some peace at breakfast, lighting our Advent wreath, and working our way through this book. To be honest, it has not been our favorite. But a friend just sent me this one (that she found on Mary’s great list of Advent resources!), and I ordered this one after seeing my friend Fran share about it. I know Henry can’t do crafts or any of those things yet, but I was excited to download some Advent printables that go with the Jesus Storybook Bible. After we read, we are picking a different Christmas hymn each day (and yes, I realize that technically you aren’t supposed to sing them during Advent- I object), and singing it as a family, letting those true words soak in. It’s not glamorous or creative, but I like to think that this year is about the discipline of doing something, and next year we can try to make the thing more impressive. Yesterday we sang “Away in a Manger,” and I was so excited when Henry kept on singing “Away, Away!” all day…. until I realized he was actually just singing this song from Moana. But it’s ok, that we don’t have it all together in perfect Advent commemoration. Advent reminds us that it isn’t about having it all together. It’s about the waiting and the darkness and the uncertainty ended on Christmas morning.