When I visualize the year, it’s a bit like a clock and the Christmas season is at the very top. Yes, Christmastide is the pinnacle of the year, but in the past I’ve been frustrated about how rushed and superficial it can feel. This year I really wanted to slow.things.down. and also to be more mindful of the liturgical seasons that under-gird our “secular” experience of the season.
We took our time with Advent, slowly constructing what would become the manger scene over the course of the four weeks. We built from the ground up, bringing in first stones, then plants, then animals, and finally humankind. The Blessed Virgin Mary slowly made her way along the Advent spiral, leaving tiny roses in her wake. You don’t need to explain these things to children—they are closer to the Mystery than are most of the adults around them. We did not get our Christmas tree.
We also celebrated the saints of Advent—St. Nicholas and St. Lucia—preparing special dishes and enjoying our little rituals that come around just once a year on their feast days. We made ornaments for the Christmas tree: Beautiful red felt roses, dried orange slices, and pepparkakor with white icing. Still, we did not get our Christmas tree.
The week before Christmas I started to worry that we had waited too long to get a tree. Then my husband’s parents pointed out that they had seen an ad in our local paper for a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm that was planning to be open through Christmas Eve. How wonderful! What a gift to us. On December 23rd, we finally got our Christmas tree (and met some adorable alpacas, too).
On Christmas Eve Day we decorated our tree with lights and the roses, oranges, and cookie ornaments we had made. When no one was looking, I slipped six red candles onto the ends of the branches. When we came home from Mass in the early evening, the whole family gathered by the tree and we lit the candles. The room filled with a warm glow. Zane said, “Mama, our tree has everything on it that you said it would.” We listened to Christmas music and the kids joked and played with each other. It truly was the pinnacle of my year, and a memory I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
On Christmas morning we opened our presents and Zane fed the birds (thanks, Lynn!). We headed out to spend the day with family. The Twelve Days of Christmas passed in a blur, as we celebrated the New Year and the kids went back to school. On Twelfth Night we mulled cider and enjoyed it that evening when we lit the candles on the tree for the last time. We toasted each other—waes hael—and watched the season slowly burn away.
Epiphany came and went and then the following weekend we took down the Christmas tree and put it outside. We left the homemade treats on the branches as little gifts for our furry friends. It didn’t take long for them to disappear—I guess squirrels like pepparkakor, too.