Yes, I sound like a bit of a Grinch. But you would be too, if on CyberMonday you sat at the Credit Union filling out twenty-nine forms, one for each separate purchase made on Black Friday by some blackguard who boosted your Visa Debit card. And all the while, “Frosty the Snowman” is playing on the Muzak machine. That was me last Monday. I wanted to bang my head against the wall because I couldn’t plug my ears and write down my sixteen digit account number twenty nine times simultaneously.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, all right. And already I am exhausted by its it’s din and demands. I’ve begun to envy the man in the red suit–he only has to check his lists twice. So rather than continuing to be a Debbi Downer at this party that gives my children such joy, I got out the Advent wreath. I defiantly hung up the handmade Advent banner, a relic of my Martha Stewarty days. Santa may be lurking on the outskirts of town, but Jesus dwells in my little house. I will welcome this season that remembers Immanuel’s imminence. That is what celebrating Advent means — to anticipate and cherish the promises of the Incarnation and Return of Christ.
It is a centering tradition that is well-made for this restless season, and it is my favorite activity, next to gathering stuff to fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Both activities are an antidote to the toxic wastes of Xmas, with all of its orgiastic gluttony and greed. I urge you to also celebrate Advent as a family. It can be done simply, you don’t need to craft an ornate banner, you just need to raise one. Download John Pipers devotional for free here, and make your own war against Frosty the Zeitgeist.
Last night we set up our own perimeters. We lit the first Advent candle on the wreath, and read our devotional and hung the first motifs on our gorgeous banner. One of my sons got out his violin to accompany us on “O Come All Ye Faithful”, and that provided the key for our Rat Terrier to croon along with the rest of her pack . We sounded so terrible we were all convulsing in laughter at the chaotic mess of it– a typical Butler family scene — but we made a hilarious and joyous noise unto the Lord, and if Jesus liked our worship half as much as we did, he was edified, indeed.
If you want to make your own heirloom banner, this book by Ann Hibbard has a pattern for one — and in this Google preview, you can read some practical tips on avoiding the pitfalls of Xmas. Ann has written a devotional with Scriptures and interesting questions that all manner of ages can discuss, with hymns to sing everyday, all this to accompany the hanging of ornaments on the banner. In the appendix of the book you will find the directions for both an Advent wreath and banner, and also some suggestions for celebrating Epiphany as well. When I made my own banner I gilded the lily– instead of the suggested felt, I used a pre-quilted fabric, and green velvet for the tree. The tree’s ornaments I copied and outlined with metallic and glittery fabric paint. I’ll post a picture of it here soon.
Jenn Wilkin’s advice on dealing with the red-suited fat man is just the tactic we used to address the Santa question. She is strategic, and does well to establish her family’s boundaries about him. We too didn’t lie about him, and we didn’t ignore him — we dealt with him diplomatically, considering him the ambassador for that neighboring culture of Xmas. We wanted to give our children the gift of some silly fun, and to relieve them of the burden of being, in Jenn’s words “an apologist for an adult view of Santa. In other words, we didn’t want to send him into preschool having to conceal from (or reveal to) his friends the terrible secret that Santa was a fraud. By giving him the chance to figure out the secret of Santa on his own, we bought him some anxiety-free time with his peers in which he could share their excitement over Santa without having been deceived by a parent.”
I share her measured and wise approach — except that our children never sat on Santa’s lap, ever. Yuck. That is a kind of scary-clown ritual I have never understood. But our tribe does not do its hunting and gathering in the malls, and grandma never was interested in subjecting the children to such a terrorizing visit either, so it never presented itself as a problem for our family, as it seemed to do for the Wilkins.
So as these Gospel Coalition writers urge, consider skipping the Christmas season. Celebrate Advent with your family instead. When your heart is filled with those ancient songs, like the Crusader hymn, “o Come o come, Emmanuel; To ransom captive Israel” you will not be a captive yourself of the spirit of this age. You will not be exhausted by Xmas. You can actually contemplate with excitement the Billy Graham Organizations “25 Ways to Make Advent a Season of Gospel Sharing” and know that you indeed have resources to share, have that answer for the hope that is in you, the promise of Messiah’s return, when all things will be made new. Because He is renewing you.