if you’ve been following us on social media this past month, you may have seen a few quick posts about our decorations for Christmas. what started as a way of pacing ourselves with -all- the decorations that are waiting to be unpacked from our holiday closet each year, has grown into an intentional family tradition with deeper meaning.
growing up catholic, we were taught that advent was always to be observed prior to Christmas, + there should be no “cheating”. this simply means, that at school + home we were taught to savor the four weeks prior to Christmas Day as a time of preparing our hearts + minds to welcome Christ into our hearts anew. we all can use the reminder of why we celebrate Christmas. advent serves as the “new year” in the liturgical calendar of the catholic church, so it’s always a great time to hit the reset button + see how we’re doing in our everyday lives. whenever I take the time to observe advent, it has resulted in a much more fruitful Christmas. my heart feels complete + full on Christmas morning when I have taken the time to make a thoughtful advent season.
one of my favorite hymns during advent is called “people look east” + it talks about this time of making preparations, as if getting ready for a guest in these, my favorite lyrics:
People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.
ryan + i have found one approach to applying this idea of making preparations during an otherwise much-celebrated time during those four weeks prior to the twenty-fifth of december. it was born out of the desire to teach our kids the beauty of a slow-burn + delaying gratification in an otherwise instant world. I think we had this on our hearts because of how much we loved the anticipation of Christmas as children ourselves. we are not great at delaying all of the happy, fun celebrations– this year especially, we didn’t wait to listen to Christmas music, nor did we wait to start driving around to look at Christmas lights because otherwise it may not have felt much like Christmas at all. it’s no secret that we all struggle with waiting as a society + individually these days, but I want to share here that it doesn’t -have- to be difficult.
i’ve always found a countdown makes time F L Y, almost too fast at times. if you’re looking to slow down the Christmas season + truly savor the meaning + the joy it can bring, I recommend a gradual decorating schedule.
in the words of my dad, “what’s the rush!?” his way of saying those words can make me really stop + think. truthfully, there is no rush. to be swept up in the hustle to check all the holiday boxes is to miss the reason we’re decorating/shopping/baking altogether. I think the only thing that feels worth the rush to me is the need to take care of those few little surprises + small gestures for the people in my immediate household. there is always more to do than we can or should fit into a season, so when we take the approach of delaying things it causes us, perhaps, to slow down + enjoy more of the sights, sounds + longings of this magical time of year.
The gradual decorating schedule we follow, mirrors advent + goes like this:
this is not an official part of our catholic faith, rather it is something we have creatively developed in order to better observe the time.
Week 1: We light the first purple candle on our wreath at church, but also at our table anytime we share a meal –the first candle is always the one directly across the wreath from the pink candle- a hotly contested (in jest) topic year after year among the altar servers in my family haha– During week one, we focus on the greenery. Whether real or faux, the greenery goes up + only the greenery.
The tree is usually the first thing we bring into the house + it sits in the stand, dark + unlit for the first week. It’s fresh cut + brings such a new presence into our home in those first days of advent. It is during this time that the evergreens become more of a symbol, as originally intended, than if we rushed into the ribbon, lights + the ornaments that adorn it in coming weeks. This small time of doing without all the excitement at once brings a sense of balance to a season of preparing our hearts + homes for Christ. I also like to get out our nativity toy block set to help the girls recall what all the excitement is about. Having the simple greenery up over doorways + along the banister, brings an enveloping, cozy feel as we walk into the house as well as from room to room.
At the base of most holiday accents, the greenery + it’s rich symbolism can often be overlooked. If we crammed all the decorating into a single day or week, we’d never be able to appreciate the feeling that comes with having those new sights + smells around the house.
Week 2: The second purple candle is lit on our wreath, which can be either candle adjacent to the first week’s candle. this is the week we bring in a little color to the greenery. from berries to pinecones, burlap to silk or velvet ribbons this is a fun time as things are “beginning to look a lot like Christmas”.
week 3: as kids, you’d think the last candle would be the favorite, but no, for my brothers + I, it was always the PINK candle!!! I love that the pink or rose colored candle is the penultimate candle lit, because it satistfies the child inside everyone with an answer to that all-too-often-asked question, “…is it Christmas yet?” the lighter color is a sign that Christmas is very close. most years, this is the last full week before Christmas Day. two thousand-twenty is of course an exception with four full weeks until friday, december 25. after gaudete sunday, we add our lights all over the place during that third week! this year, I also chose to add a few bells as they too bring a sense of levity + anticipation to the dark, wintry, waiting season.
week 4: we light the fourth candle on the wreath + as I said before, it’s often the shortest week of the advent season depending on which day Christmas falls. once we have reached the last candle on the wreath, we begin to add all the finishing touches to our decorations which is really anything + everything else left in our holiday boxes—think: Santas + reindeer, cocoa mugs + peppermints, all the Christmas books + fun + that of course includes the baby Jesus for each of our nativities!
once Christmas begins , we enjoy everything we’ve been waiting for for all twelve days of Christmas, ending with the epiphany, when we remember the wise men who followed the star that led them to the baby, Jesus. it’s worth the wait for each stage of our decorations to come out of the boxes, because with each week the anticipation builds for Christmas.
it’s difficult to accurately describe the feelings that all of this brings, because it surely means something different to each person, but I want to encourage you to give it a try one year, especially if you have children. the attention it brings to the wait for Christmas is an exciting notion plus– it makes the decorating phase less stressful + much more enjoyable