Published in the Rains County Leader on December 1, 2015:
Advent is the first season on the Christian Calendar, leading up to Christmas and including the four preceding Sundays. Advent began this past Sunday. The church I grew up in didn’t follow the church calendar, so I didn’t know about Advent until I married Christian’s father and joined an Episcopal Church. That church included Advent candles in their Christmas decorations, but I still didn’t know much about the significance. I knew there were four candles, one for each Sunday, and a center candle called the Christ Candle that was lit on Christmas Day. That was the extent of my understanding. Still, when I saw a pretty Advent wreath centerpiece while I was shopping for decorations, the wreath became one of our Christmas traditions.
We didn’t have family devotions, so I placed the wreath in the center of the dining room table, and before we ate, Christian would light the appropriate candle or candles. At the end of the meal, since he had become obsessed with birthday candles on his birthday in October, he would sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and blow out the candles. He loved our little celebration, so we did it every night instead of just on Sunday. It wasn’t exactly orthodox, but it worked for us.
I now know that the first Advent candle is called the Candle of Hope. Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation, the fulfillment of hope, the realization of promises given throughout the Bible. Of course, to children, their Christmas hopes are not usually so lofty. Instead, they hope that Santa will visit and leave lots of toys and goodies behind. As a parent, it’s fun to fulfill those hopes while surrounding the whole process with an air of mystery and fantasy. Unfortunately, we don’t always think about the fallout when the truth is revealed.
Christian continued to believe longer than most children. First, he was an only child, so he had no older siblings who were eager to spoil the fun, and second, we were very good at creating a fantasy. One Christmas morning after all the gifts had been opened, he went outside to compare loot with the neighborhood kids. He came in a few minutes later, in tears because the other kids had said that his gifts came from his parents and not from a large jolly man in a red suit. He was crushed, both by our deception and by the loss of hope for future Christmases.
We fessed up and explained that, although there was not an actual person who flew around the world and delivered presents, there was a feeling of love and generosity that was especially strong at Christmas. We told him that we attribute a lot of the gift giving to Santa because it’s fun to pretend, and it’s also fun to make other people happy. We went on to tell him that, now that he was in on the secret, he could be Santa, too. He could sneak presents under the tree and into stockings on Christmas Eve just like we did. The light of hope rekindled in his eyes, and for a few years Christmas Eve was hectic as we all tried to be the last to bed so ours would be the last gifts under the tree.
In his teen years, Christian became disenchanted with the nouveau riche lifestyle we were living, particularly the excesses of Christmas. He lost interest in the elaborate decorations, the shopping, and the gifts. I think his hope was that the spirit of generosity would extend beyond our family to those who had less than we did, but while we put toys and canned goods in several collection boxes and picked a name off the angel tree, it wasn’t enough for him.
Now that he is a father with children of his own, he has had to walk the tightrope between being a Grinch and giving in to the constant pressure to join the excess. He and his wife have two adorable children and have to contend with several sets of overindulgent grandparents, but they have still managed to foster a good measure of the true spirit of Christmas in their family. This week, he posted his six-year-old daughter’s Christmas list. I’m sharing it exactly as she wrote it.
- A slepover with Ellie
- To buld a Snow Man
- To go ice scating
- To go slebding
- A candy cane
- To go to Colorado (Note: She was born in Colorado, and many friends and family live there)
- To give the Homelis some of my toys
That gives me hope.