Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Traditions

I think this is the first year I've realized that Christmas is more than the remembrance of Jesus' birthday, and that Advent is more than a countdown to Santa Claus. (Obviously, it's been a few years since I waited for Santa and spread reindeer food around our backyard with my brothers.)

Growing up, Advent was very present in our house and around our table. We had an Advent wreath, and my brothers and I took turns lighting a new candle each successive week and saying the prayer before dinner. I still remember it:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. In the darkness and in the light. Blessed are you in this food and in our sharing. Blessed are you as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly.

But as things often are when you're a child, I don't remember experiencing any deeper meaning behind this prayer. It was a family tradition and we always fought over who got to light the candles and who got to blow them out. What I do remember about Christmas is the magical feeling of anticipation. The warmth of family and food and laughter around the table. The stillness of walking home in the snow after evening Mass and entering a warm house that enveloped you like a hug. Sitting in the living room looking at the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree while Bing Crosby sang Silent Night.

My parents were careful to focus on the real meaning of the season in addition to the usual excitement of gifts. Us kids added handfuls of straw to Jesus' manger for each selfless deed performed during Advent. I don't remember being told to be good because Santa's watching, but I do remember setting out cookies for him the night before and delighting in the crumbs that he left the next morning, along with a note in curly-cued handwriting congratulating each of us for our achievements in the past year. We also got three individual presents, because  Jesus got three presents from the wise men.

Growing up, my parents certainly fostered generosity. Not in an over-the-top way, but definitely in a way I've come to see was an incredible blessing, not to be taken for granted. The older I get, the more I simultaneously appreciate it and grow uncomfortable with it. My mom and dad have been incredibly supportive of my brothers and me, and it's humbling.

The last few years, I've been the hardest person to shop for because if I want something, it's usually something really specific which takes away any element of surprise on Christmas morning. Also, for the third time in five years, I'm scheduled to work Christmas Eve and Christmas and this year. But I'm actually somewhat looking forward to it for once... oh man I am so ready to squeeze some baby cheeks and fall into the familiar role of NICU nurse. (I had no idea how much this new job would stress me out. But if you know me at all, though, you're probably not surprised.)

All this rambling to say, I'm so blessed to have fond memories of Advent and I'm excited that Ross and I are starting memories and traditions of our own, as well!

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