December 11, 2012

Preparing with Simple Traditions by Dwija Borobia

Often I'm awestruck by the sheer wisdom and beauty of the Church and her traditions, everything supporting us as we strive to keep both body and mind on that narrow path. Maybe if I'd been born Catholic or raised Catholic, I'd take these things for granted. Thank God I wasn't. Clearly He knew better than to let me have the best things first, what with my tendency to let the RegularGood go unnoticed.

I love these simple things. These wonderful things. Things like the liturgical year, with its seasons to help us structure an ebb and flow into our lives. We go on with our everyday everydaying and then, instead of rushing headlong into Christmas with our pumpkins still rotting on the back porch and a mile-long to-do list rattling in our heads, we pause. We stop just everydaying and we prepare. We make our homes and our hearts a place Jesus wants to visit. The preparing IS the invitation. The best part is that He always says yes.

As with many good things, our family traditions have gotten better with age. When my our first children were brand new, we would set up our advent wreathe. Then every night they'd open up that little cardboard door in the little cardboard advent calendar from Trader Joe's and eat the chocolate and brush their teeth and go to bed.

Fast forward a decade or so and we still have an advent wreath on our diving room table. This year I cut a few branches from a thick spot in our Christmas tree and tied them together with brown thread ten minutes before we lit the purple candle on that first Sunday of advent. You might notice that in addition to taking good things for granted, I adore doing things at the last minute.
We also have our nativity set on display, minus baby Jesus, who is tucked safely out of sight, waiting to appear on Christmas morning. My two-year old keeps asking "but where IS he????" and I keep saying "He's in Mary's tummy waiting to be born!" and then she says "Mary??? But she's a baby!" and then I say "Mary Jesus' mommy, not Mary your sister, silly!". And a little thing like an empty cradle becomes a moment I'll treasure forever.

As for the Christmas tree, our kids are old enough to decorate it themselves now. It's not symmetrical or magazine-worthy, but it's an exciting, fun way that they can get their bodies and minds working on preparing for Jesus' arrival. But underneath the tree remains empty of all gifts until Christmas. The twinkling lights make us eager for His arrival; the emptiness under the tree mirroring the emptiness of the cradle reminds us that there's something missing. That we're still waiting.

Every Advent we also make sure everyone chooses some toys and clothes to donate. Clear space in the house while instilling the habit of charity? Yes please!

And brand new to all of us this year is the addition of a Jesse Tree to our Advent preparations. Thanks to the work of lovely women (and their children, I'm sure!) all over the county, we have our very own set of handmade ornaments to hang on my totally-last-minute-try-not-to-look-so-surprised Jesse Tree.

 Every evening the reading children read aloud a story from A Shoot from the Stump of Jesse . The younger ones argue about who gets to hang the corresponding ornament. Then they argue about who gets to blow out the candle. Then my husband and I argue about who has to put whom to bed. Not really. We don't have the energy for that kind of stuff anymore.

They're not complicated, these things we do. Not groundbreaking or original. But that's okay. Advent traditions don't need to be. They simply need to unite us while helping us prepare, both body and mind, for His arrival.

Dwija Borobia lives with her husband and their five kids in rural southwest Michigan in a fixer-upper they bought sight-unseen off the internet. Between homeschooling and corralling chickens, she pretends her time on the internet doesn't count because she uses the computer standing up. You can read more on her blog house unseen. life unscripted. and stalk her on the facebook, too.

For more posts on Advent traditions and reflections check out the Advent series.


  1. I also love, love, love the empty cradle. And I never thought about tying it to an empty space under the tree. We just do that because JL will open all the presents otherwise. But now! Now I'm going to tell the kids it's in preparation for Advent!

    1. Another thing I love about Church traditions- spiritual AND practical!

  2. We have an empty cradle at our house, too. Maybe next year we'll jump on the Jesse Tree bandwagon. Love the post, Dwija!

  3. We have the same nativity set, with the same empty manger :)