My five favourite memories, traditions, etc. around Advent and Christmas…
1. Advent calendars. Over the years, they have varied from the paper ones with a door, picture and Bible verse to chocolate ones (my son’s favourite!), to a wall hanging of a Christmas tree with an ornament to be hung each day until you put the star on top Christmas Eve. It’s the first sign of Christmas to me—at least the first one with any meaning (ads for Christmas specials in late October do NOT count).
2. Calling out Santa Claus. I think my mother invented this one, because I have never met anyone else whose family did this. About a week before Christmas, it was time to start calling out Santa Claus; my sisters and I went into the hall or one of our bedrooms and sang Christmas carols. The front door would open and we would hear Mom welcoming Santa—but we couldn’t go into the living room, we had to keep singing carols. After a bit the front door would open and close again, and Mom would bring us into the living room to find the candy Santa had hidden—small candy canes, chocolate drops (which my family called “hump ups”) and French creams (which I can’t find any more). This was practice for Santa in finding our house. Every night, a couple of candies apiece. A foretaste of Christmas morning.
3. Advent wreath. When I was young, we would make our own, since we had cedar bushes in the yard. We shaped the curving branches on a round tray, with candles in star-shaped holders, and it sat on our dining room table. We lit one candle more each week at Sunday dinner. As an adult living in Germany, I made a few and bought a few. The German ones are highly decorated, with ribbons and faux pearl strands and sparkles everywhere.
4. Creche/Nativity/Manager scene. This went up about the same time as the Christmas tree; I loved hanging the angel on the hook in the stable ceiling, so she (he?) hovered over the manger. We also had one made of spools that one of my older sisters had created. I liked having that one in the bedroom. The two souvenirs I didn’t pick up in Germany were a cuckoo clock and a nativity scene. We used the one that had been in my then-husband’s family for years, mismatched angels and all. That meant more to us than a newly-purchased one, however lovely. My first year of ministry, I gave myself a nativity set; my intention was to add to it each year but that hasn’t happened. I also began collecting small ones. Oh, and Baby Jesus doesn’t appear in the manger until Christmas Eve, and the Wise Guys don’t show up until January 6.
5. Christmas Eve services at my childhood church. I don’t suppose they were any more creative or different
from a thousand other churches’ services, but every year we would go and see our friends, take Communion, and sing “Silent Night” in the dim light of candles. And I had goose bumps every year.
6—Bonus! Because I have to add this one. Baking Christmas cookies with my sisters. I don’t know if we actually did this every year or if I am just remembering vividly two or three years. The five of us would gather in the kitchen and bake--sugar cookies, Mexican wedding cakes, cream wafers, stocking cookies, candy cane cookies, spritzen, fudge... And one year in particular I remember my sister Faye teaching me and my younger sister "Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella," and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Christmas cooking and baking are still one of my favourite parts of the season, with carols playing (or being sung) in the background.