27 November 2005

first Sunday of Advent

In an effort to counteract the relentlessly consumerist nature of Christmas these days, here in the House of Soup we have tried to bring back a focus on Advent and the nativity story over the past few years. Celebrating Advent is a lovely way to bring the gentle message of Christmas into our home and in a very short time it has become an eagerly awaited tradition.

We clear our nature table of its assorted seasonal paraphernalia such as leaves, birds nests, odd bits of Lego and assorted found objects. We lay a fresh cloth and arrange four candles. The beloved calendar is dug out of the special Christmas box, and all the little windows closed, with Blu-tak if necessary. (It’s a few years old now).

On the first Sunday of Advent we give thanks to the mineral world. The first candle is lit and each child places a special shell, stone or crystal of their choice on the table. (Last year Son #2 found a tiny bird skull ... ewww). And we say the first verse ...

The first light of advent
It is the light of the stones
Stones that live in crystals
Seashells and bones.

Each Sunday leading up to Christmas we pause in respect for the various kingdoms, mineral, plant, animal and human, that combine to make up our world. And each week a new candle is lit, which stays burning while we read the children a chapter of their bedtime story. Which, in December, by popular demand, is usually The Little Donkey. Happily, it has 24 chapters! By the fourth week, all four candles are burning every night. On Christmas Eve, a special red candle mysteriously appears to join the others.

Every couple of days during this month the children wake to discover that the Advent Fairy has placed something from the appropriate kingdom on the table. So in the first week, the stable and sometimes a little stone path materialise, depending on the time and energy available to the Advent Fairy. (The stable used to be two fat sticks and a bark roof balanced precariously on top, until last Christmas when my father, who was hanging round the kitchen getting underfoot, was given the task of creating a new one. A more stable stable, hahahaha. He took this task very seriously and Mary and Joseph now reside in five star luxury at our place).

The second week some little plants appear; in the third week the odd sheep, chicken and cow arrive, as befits a pastoral stable scene. In the final week a shepherd arrives to muster the sheep into the stable, and towards the last couple of days, Mary, Joseph and a rather dodgy looking donkey appear. As the week progresses, they gradually approach the stable and by Christmas Eve they have arrived.

I am delighted to say that on Christmas morning, in addition to waking hellishly early to see whether Father Christmas ate his treat (mince pie) and the reindeer ate their food (oats and glitter) and what presents have been left under the tree, our children go straight to the advent table to see if baby Jesus is in the manger. (He always has been so far. The Advent Fairy has never been too drunk to remember her duty on this special night).

Note: if anyone notices the time stamp on this post and thinks to themselves, what the heck is she doing posting at 4.00 am? The answer is because I woke in the wee small hours with the sudden realisation that tonight is the first Sunday of Advent and I have not purchased this year’s candles. That and the growing horror that I splashed my children’s underwear all over the internet, have kept me from sleep. So what to do? Get up and blog, of course.

Oh, I also have a funny story concerning Son #1 and the Advent Fairy. Remind to tell you one day.


blackbird said...

A beautiful tradition -- your children will remember it always.

(but now I am sitting here pondering...candles...candles...where can she get candles? because I am like this.)

Bec of the Ladies Lounge said...

What a lovely thing to do - but what about the other rhymes, you must post them all!
Ah, the Advent Calendar. For years now I have been trying (and failing) to find one that does NOT have chocolates inside the windows. Do I just buy one of those and take away the chocolates? Do I leave the chocolates and set up a roster so each child only eats a third of the sweets? Do I give in to the chocolatisation of Christmas and buy three chocolate Advent calendars? Do I (as seems likely) have to make my own in order to get the purity of dates and sparkles that I remember from my childhood?
Help me Pea Soup Suse, you're my only hope.

Jane said...

I must say that after reading your comments on my blog I came straight here to see which end of the day you were at - staying up v late or getting up v early.

I posted the photo of Kaffe for you. I tried to find one that was like he is now - and not too fey.

Your Christmas tradition is just beautiful. Thoughtful, gentle and meaningful. A wonderful antidote to the usual Christmas madness.

(And yes, Thomas is a bread AND butter snob - and so am I. You simply cannot beat excellent bread and great butter.)

telfair said...

What a lovely tradition -- and a great way to connect with your family in a thoughtful dialogue, rather than, as you said, the typical consumer madness of the holiday season.
By the way, I thought the pic of your children's knickers was adorable! Just like a rainbow.

Suse said...


Blackbird - I will purchase candles today at Target. Thanks for pondering though.

Bec - the other verses will be posted. I don't like the choc calendars cos they are full of chocolate and pics of 'Santa', as opposed to angels, donkeys (see the donkey theme here?), stars, mangers, etc. It's hard to find nice ones. Every year I say I will make my own, but I haven't. And I do love our cardboard one. It folds into a rectangle so you can put a(nother) candle inside it, and as you open the windows they glow. We got ours at the Steiner Store. There is probably a similar type of shop in Sydney.

Jane - thank you for your nice words. And for posting a picture of Kaffe just for me! On your blog! Along with condensed milk!

Telfair - is that your actual name? Oh sorry, I mean, thanks for your beautiful words. They are muchly appreciated.

christina said...

THIS IS EXACTLY HOW MY FAMILY CELEBRATED ADVENT--except for the Advent fairy, which is a wonderful addition that I want to do for my son. Oh thank you so much for reminding me of the magic of it. I love the book My Little Donkey, too. Loved it!!

christina said...

Oh, and you simply have to look at these lovely advent calendars!

Kim said...

Bec (sorry Suse) I got a gorgeous calendar from the teddybear shop in The Rocks. It was only stupidly expensive rather than horrendously so. It's got cute little felt thingys that you take out of a cute little pocket and hang on the cute christmas tree.

Now Suse... this is such a stunning stunning thing to do. And yet again, you win in all parenting and childhood memories are made of this stakes. As a once good Christian girl you made me actually go and look up precisely what Advent is. Far out. All this goodness. Stop it.

Gina E. said...

Are you quite sure you want to move out to this side of town? Last year one of the churches set up a 'stable' in the town square, complete with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and a donkey, courtesy of the Donkey Shelter at Diamond Creek. I was admiring it all when I heard a teenager say "what the hell has a donkey got to do Christmas? And why haven't they got a Santa Claus there?" Sheeesh...That's what you're moving to, my dear.

kath red said...

i love it. I feel remiss not doing anything too special in the lead up to christmas. how old are the kids when you start such a thing.

Jeanne said...

I was listening to Loreena McKennitt sing "The Wexford Carol" on her CD "To Drive the Cold Winter Away" when I started to read your post this evening. A beautiful accompaniment to a beautiful story.

Susie Sunshine said...

What a wonderful, meaningful and calm tradition.
I love it.

stephanie said...

a wonderful tradition. thanks for sharing how it's done at your house. i love how connected to the earth and nature it is. it is about birth really.

Sharon said...

What a wonderful story... Last year-post Christmas-I was very fortunate enough to purchase a nativity scene... It is from 'willow tree' the same people who make the angels with the wire wings and no faces which have become very popular... Now I am not a particularily religious person but have been hanging out to get this out and display... It has such a gentle energy that I feel peaceful just looking at it...

Elizabeth said...

That is a wonderful tradition. I love that the elements of the natural world are there. I made an advent calendar when my first was wee with ornaments instead of chocolates. Now my two share it and take turns every other day. I have made a few concessions to the chocolates but only good Belgian chocolate! We all want to hear more of the rhymeas the Sundays pass.

David said...

I love the way you express yourself, so glad I went to michele's now I need to figure the tuesday thing - or not I may shut down my blog for december, rather than write dark pieces. Hello to you - Bless you

Sarah said...

This is so beautiful! I'm visiting your post for the first time through a link at Google and am entranced.

For the person who asked about chocolate and dividing it amongst children - why not instead put a scrolled piece of paper, or one folded up tiny and tied with a ribbon, on which is a special treat for the day which they can all share - eg, an Xmas story read by you at breakfast, a nature walk after lunch, going out for ice creams after dinner, the promise to join them in a board game, the announcement that today they can put up the Xmas decorations, etc.

Suse said...

Hi Sarah, thanks for reading a post a whole year old! Your profile doesn't show an email address or blog so I can't get back to you, but wanted to say I appreciate your comment and all the suggestions therein - they're lovely.

If you visit my blog again in a few days I'll be posting about Advent 2006 - this Sunday and each Sunday leading up to Christmas.

Happy advent to you and yours.

Sarah said...

Hi Suse,
I found your website when I was googling for Steiner Advent Calendars! I didn't even realise how old the post was until after I'd commented. I loved your ideas and am excited to read you will be refreshing the topic again. You have a really nice weblog :-)

Mine is at http://skylark.homeschooljournal.net