Monthly Archives: December 2013

Live and Learn Advent 2013 Edition

My friend Heather and I were joking about how we want to have all these Christmas traditions, but we keep changing things every year. For me it is because each year I get a better idea of what works and what definitely doesn’t each year. Also, being an Orthodox convert there are things I’ve decided that definitely had to drop from my own childhood and even adulthood as a Protestant.

The first two years I did the Advent candle wreath, I had a really hard time finding all the colored candles. Last year I drove to three different candle carrying stores to find them and wound up with candles that were all different sizes. I realized after two years of this that it really wasn’t worth all that trouble and really the colors are not that necessary to the activity. Plus, beeswax candles seem more Orthodox. 😉

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I’ve continued to use our 25 day Advent calendar the last few years too. This year I decided that I would try and fill it twice to make it last the whole 40 day Orthodox Advent. I loved the Pascha Passports that we did at the Greek Church this year and thought it would be fun to make mini sticker icons like that for Advent. The purpose of Advent is to prepare us for and point us to the Nativity (Christmas).

“Because the main focus of Advent is our preparation for the Nativity–the Incarnation of the Son of God–the hymns for the season are shot through with references and allusions to the Old Testament: the Church’s preparation over the centuries for the advent of the messianic Kingdom, which came in the person of Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. It would therefore be no exaggeration to say that Advent is one great Bible study that sheds light on the meaning of the Old Testament as a preparation for the New. It is certainly no coincidence that so many Old Testament prophets are commemorated during this period.” -Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth

What else pointed the world to the Nativity all those years ago? A very bright star. So the idea for Nativity star decorations to go up each day of Advent with the icons of the saints pasted on them was born in my brain and thrown together days before the start of the fast on Nov. 15.

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Except my usual inner overachiever took this a bit too far, especially for some preschoolers. I don’t know why I thought it would be a fun activity to make them sit through the readings of the lives of ALL the saints every single day. Sometimes just one life story is really long and full of so much great stuff. To make little people sit through multiples of those was a bit torturous by me. About a third of the way in I started to dread this activity and we kept getting behind. I’d spend a night every few days cutting out the stars and pasting on the icons and then hanging them all by myself. While I liked the idea of the icon “stamps,” often so much detail was lost because they were so tiny. I love how rich in theology some icons can be with those details. After I found myself OK with the idea of icons (and as a convert from a “tradition” that was based in stark warehouses, iconography was a huge hurdle) one of my favorite icons became that of the Nativity because of how much of the story was there in that picture.

I started running out of cardstock and gold wrapping paper and yellow printer toner too. A trip to the office supply store followed where I discovered that they make metalic cardstock. Leave it to me to be over halfway through a project to discover a much simpler way of doing it that does not involve cutting it out three times (versus 1) and wrestling with a roll of gold wrapping paper.

I was snuggling in bed with my youngest the other night thinking about all this and what I wanted to do differently next year. Making yet another change to our “traditions” of course, ha. I remembered a technique I learned in one of my graphic design classes where you can basically take a photo or drawing or what ever and punch a shape out of it. As if you took one of those shape punches you can find in a craft supply store and did it. Once again my creative brain was working and as soon as he was asleep I jumped on the computer and went to work with my idea. Next year we are just going to focus on one saint per day. I made these PDFs for each of the days with the saint’s icon “punched” in the shape of a Nativity star. I figured someone else might find these useful too, so here are the four PDFs:

Nov 15-26 Stars
Nov 27-Dec 8 Stars
Dec 9-20 Stars
Dec 21-25 Stars

I also decided this year that I’m kind of done with my wooden 25 day Advent calendar (if you are local or family and want it, let me know and it is yours). It took a few days of brainstorming to figure out what I wanted to do: trying to find another wooden alternative online with 40 doors/drawers (does not exist), looking through my fabric stash to maybe make a patchwork looking one, and finally settling on making one myself out of felt, embroidering each day’s pocket with a doodle, something/someone that is significant to that day, etc. The stars I designed for next year are also exactly the right size to fit in these pockets.

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Another thing that is definitely working out this year and will return next year are the Kindness Kids! I know we’re only a few days in of us incorporating them, but we just love them. Here are a few more ideas that we’ve done:

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We have a cousin that shares the name of one of the saints on this day so we drew pictures and wrote letters to our cousins.

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When we were working on letters to cousins, Jillian said we should write to the nuns at the monastery. “Today we celebrate Saint Joasaph. He was a monastic and later became Bishop of Belgorod. You just had a great time with the monastics and our very own bishop at St. Barbara’s Monastery for their feast day. Let’s write them some thank you notes for those treats and toys they gave you!” The Kindness Kids are pictured with the icon for the saint mentioned in the letter, spoils from the treat bags the nuns handed out at the monastery last week and pencils and paper for writing.

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“On Friday we celebrate St. Lucia. Help Mama make St. Lucia buns today so you can take them to your family and friends on Friday morning just like in the book.”

In the end, though, none of this really is or needs to be the focus. They are just tools to help point is in the right direction and help us on our journey.

“Advent therefore signifies the Church’s journey throughout the ages–its preparation for the coming of Christ into the world. Every Advent we are called to participate in the Church’s journey from expectation to fulfillment, from preparation to joy. Thus the Church’s services do not speak of Christmas as a mere event that occurred some two thousand years ago, but as something that is real and present here and now: ‘Today the Virgin comes to the cave’; ‘Today the Virgin gives birth”; “Today heaven and earth have been made one.’ It is this ‘today’ of the Church–the ‘today’ of God that traverses the centuries–which gives full meaning to Advent and to every Feast and season of the Orthodox Church.” (same source)

PS: Orthodox Mom is doing a giveaway of some Kindness Kids on her blog since the Christmas section at Target is already pretty decimated as I discovered on my trip there last night. So if you want to win a pair, head on over!

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Kindness Kids

The first time I saw Elf on a Shelf, I was seriously annoyed. Like someone took my mom’s elf decorations from my childhood and the concept she put forth that they were watching us and would tell Santa if we were naughty and turned it into this huge marketing scam of a book and doll that you now had to buy into and do all this stuff with for your kids. Grrr!

Then I started seeing the bazillion Pinterest boards from friends and others and reports on their elves from them. It was cute and creative and no fair because we do not do Santa (my kids can watch a few Santa containing movies, but we don’t emphasize it).

Some of the ideas I saw and liked, but some I was like, “Seriously, you made that big of a mess for this made up elf story thing?” Then there were reports from friends of kids doing naughty things once the elf showed up and blaming it on the elf. The whole contradiction of an elf that makes messes and is so mischievous while expecting kids to be on their best behavior during the Christmas countdown did not sit well with me.

I did have friends that made the thing more wholesome, but there was still the issue of elves and Santa. Why would I make up this really not-so-great commercialism-driven version of Santa when we have the real deal St. Nicholas which is way better?

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I saw this post fly around among certain friends and family members that tend to be more like-minded with me. You guys, those way cute little “elves” nearly got me. I have a very low ability to resist German toys, miniatures, and things that are knitted. Still with the elves though. Killing me.

Plus, we have all these great saints during the Nativity season like St. Nicholas and St. Lucia that show us how to be kind and live our lives. We can read about what they did and then put it into practice in our own lives.

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Well then Orthodox Mom did this post and many of my issues were solved. And the dolls were at Target. And so cute. And I could no longer resist Waldorf-y dolls in fair isle knitwear!

This afternoon I decided I was just going to do it and I had some vague ideas about how to incorporate it with our Nativity saints project and a few other things I already had planned for this season.

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I found everything at Target pretty easily and got home. The dolls are actually skiers and ornaments so I had to make some slight alterations to them. Then I searched for vintage travel stickers and printed them out on label paper to cut and paste on the suitcase.

Once I had the whole thing assembled, I snuck into our garage, out the side door and gate and then put the suitcase on the front porch and ran back around trying to walk into the house casually.

Stephen was super wrapped up in putting together and practicing church music and I sort of forgot to tell him what I was doing as I was doing it. So he answers the door and is pretty unsure about the safety of this random thing on the porch and is in the middle of closing the front door and telling the kids not to touch it as I come around the corner. He explains the “strange” circumstances to me and I try to convey with wink, nod and smile that it’s definitely OK and hand the suitcase to the kids. They immediately tear into it and are enthralled with the dolls as Stephen reads the note inside which explains everything. The kids immediately named the dolls Rosie, Daisy, Charlie and Linus.

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Since tomorrow is church my first idea was to have the kids light a candle for someone and say a little prayer. I am the candle stubs lady (among other things) at our church and I collect them until we have enough to send back to a monastery which will melt them back down, filter out the wicks and make new candles with them. I knew we had some that would be the perfect size for our Kindness Kids. I really want to tie in our other thing we are doing with the lives of the saints readings we do each most days too. I went to the OCA Lives of the Saints page and tomorrow’s saint just happened to tie in perfectly with my candle plan. St. Patapius was known for healing many people and with several family members and friends ill right now we can ask him to pray for our loved ones as we light our candles.

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I love that it forced me to pick an important part about the life of this saint and make it simple, kid-friendly and practical for my kids instead of what I have been doing which is just reading the official mini-biography that they really do not have the attention span or comprehension for.

I am not completely sure about all of our plans, but I do have a few ideas in mind. I may write another post about this later in the season recapping.

Happy Advent!

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