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Our second daughter is eight. Eight is old. (At least, at our house it is.) And, eight? Eight is great!

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It means someone that you can send to the craft cupboard to “upgrade” the Jesse Tree ornaments, mostly by themselves and unsupervised. Ok, maybe a bit supervised.

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It means being able to reach the Jesse Tree above the piano without help.

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It means being able to start muddling through the missal during Sunday Mass. To muddle through seems to be defined by the Mirriam-Webster dictionary as “to achieve a degree of success without much planning or effort.” Tell me about it. I’m finding that doing a quick run through the missal before Mass greatly increases the chances of Missal Success and decreases the Great Sadness Caused by Missal Failure and Confusion. But maybe this is just my daughter.

It means being able to follow along with the hymns using the hymnals. Even if it takes almost the entire song in order to find the number in the book.

It still means needing to be reminded to be reverent by kneeling up or standing up straight at Mass, to listen and not get distracted, but it seems to mean not needing to be shushed as much. And she doesn’t throw down the hymnal, run down the aisle or need to be taken to the foyer. Praise. The. Lord.

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It means a more advanced version of the Faith and Life book that her little siblings are using. This yellow book is for kids in grade three. Smaller type, more detail, wonderful artwork.

It means a small session with Mama or Daddy after bedtime prayers to work through a simple examination of conscience before going to sleep. I was kind of hoping this would work itself out without any supervision – along the lines of “Ok. Don’t forget to examine your conscience before going to sleep.” But it worked just as well as “Ok. Don’t forget to brush your teeth before going to sleep.” They seemed to need a bit more hand holding and instruction before they could a) do it themselves when prompted, and b) develop the habit and remember to do it without prompting.

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It also means that they’re not likely to rough-house beside the ridiculously breakable Advent Wreath Situation and break the candleholders. No, that would be the six-year old. In cahoots with the five-year old.

Sigh.

Everyone has always told me to cherish these moments when the kids are little because it goes fast. And boy am I ever finding that it does. It goes very fast.

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Some of the most beautiful hymns are Advent hymns, I think. This is one of my favourites. The first part is very simple and works as a nice bedtime prayer with little kids during the season of Advent (or when you’re lighting Advent wreath candles).


1. O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

Refrain:
Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show Your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.
O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

2. O come, desired of nations,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Will break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.
Refrain

3. You come in peace and meekness,
And lowly will Your cradle be;
All clothed in human weakness
We shall Your Godhead see.
Refrain

Just a quick note to say: Hallmark Cards seems to carry Advent candle sets for $7.95. Each of these three stores seem to have a few boxes left.

Hallmark
250 The East Mall, Unit #123
Cloverdale Mall
Etobicoke, ON M9B 3Y8
(416) 239-0272

Hallmark 5244
25 The West Mall, Unit #1153
Sherway Gardens
Etobicoke, ON M9C 1B8
(416) 626-5584

Hallmark
270 The Kingway, Unit #54
Humbertown Shopping Centre
Etobicoke, ON M9A 3T7
(416) 231-3591

We tried Michael’s, dollar stores, various party stores, convenience stores, but no one seemed to have all the key descriptors (some had purple, but no pink; some had purple and pink, but only small ones, or only scented ones, or only in large decorative jars; etc.) But wreaths, real or otherwise, and candleholders, seem to be available everywhere.

Do you know of another source of Advent candles in our neighbourhood?

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Serpent and Forbidden Fruit, from TheBashfulDaisy

I found TheBashfulDaisy, another seller on Etsy, who is selling these cute Jesse Tree ornaments made out of clay.

On her description of the ornaments, she adds a few words about the Jesse Tree: “Today, the Jesse Tree has found renewed popularity. With an ornament and Scripture reading for each day of December, it vividly highlights God’s hand throughout the Old Testament as He made way for the coming Messiah.”

The story of Adam and Eve is so powerful that even the littlest of my children will start firmly and loudly and passionately warning Eve about the serpent’s evil intentions. It doesn’t ever work, and Eve and Adam ultimately end up disobeying their Creator. It doesn’t end there (thankfully) and God promises a Saviour and Redeemer, who “makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience, of Adam.” [from the Catechism. Read that bit when you have a moment. It’s cool.]

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Check out this Fra Angelico painting: with Adam and Eve on the left, sadly leaving the Garden of Eden, and the Angel Gabriel and Our Lady on the right (bonus points if you find the Holy Spirit), right in the middle of the line described in the Angelus, The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. And between these two events are all the people, famous and featured on the Jesse Tree or otherwise, waiting waiting waiting for God’s promised Messiah.

O Emmanuel, Jesus Christ,
desire of every nation,
Savior of all peoples,
come and dwell among us.
(the Advent Wreath prayer for the first week)

The season of Advent starts on Sunday, November 30. Hanging each of these ornaments (or even just thinking about hanging these ornaments) is helping me revisit Bible stories that I take for granted and discover layers of meaning that they have for me. It’s also a chance my husband and I have to share them with my children, during a season that’s perfect for that very thing: tracing through the great stories of the Bible in anticipation of Jesus’ birth.

Super duper good news: it’s not even Advent yet! This little-known often-overlooked liturgical season which helps us prepare for Christmas only starts on November 30 and continues until December 24, the day before Christmas. So, for the perennially-late and forever-procrastinating sorts like me, we’ve got TIME. I usually get hit by the reality of the Advent a few days before it starts, if I’m lucky. My hint is usually that the rest of the world gets into full Christmas mode and I think Ha! The radio stations are playing Christmas music and the malls are shiny and decorated… it must be… Advent! But since the malls and the radio stations are getting started earlier and earlier, it means that I get a bit more time.

Time to do what?

Well, at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ. Advent is the period of waiting and preparing that happens beforehand. Sometimes called “little Lent,” it is a time that involves increased prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

For us, the prayer part of Advent has involved three very old yet simple traditions: lighting candles of an Advent wreath each night at dinner along with a little prayer, and hanging an ornament on a Jesse tree (usually at night before bedtime) along with a little Bible story, and setting out the Nativity scene (without Jesus, because… he’s not there yet.).

Basically, I need to buy/make a wreath and four candles, and find the Jesse tree ornaments and the nativity scene somewhere in storage. Seems so simple…

Advent wreath. Image by Andrea Schaufler.
This is what we’re going for.

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This is usually what happens. No wreath. Candles don’t quite stay in candleholders. Fatter candles?

E for effort, I say. Also, I’ll need to hunt down the card that has the Advent prayers for when we’re lighting the candles of the wreath.

The ornaments of a Jesse Tree represent the descendants of Jesus form the Old and New Testaments. It’s such a great way to get familiar with the Bible characters and their stories.

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We made these simple Internet-downloaded and kid-coloured ornaments a few years ago. I’m sure these are somewhere. Probably near the Nativity scenes. Behind the sleeping bags? Beside bathing suits and flip-flops?

OR you could make your own felt ornaments.

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Or buy fancy ones from Etsy. At all price points. (from InspiredTraditions on Etsy)

Some kind people have put together the accompanying Bible readings to go along with each ornament here or here. Or sometimes we just use the Bible story books that we already have around. Or sometimes we just say, “This is Noah’s ark… ok, time for bed.”

It’s not yet Advent! There’s time!

Sometimes, it feels as if the world is saying Hurry up! Advent says, slow down. Although it seems as if the world is in full Deck the Halls mode, Advent says, let’s keep it simple. Although it takes some doing to guide the mood away from frazzled and stressed to calm and quiet, it really is worth it. Advent involves low-key and simple traditions that serve to gently turn our heads towards an empty manger, our hearts towards Someone who is coming again.

I am often tempted to turn Advent (and Christmas, for that matter) into a big Pinterest-worthy extravaganza. It usually doesn’t work. I suspect that the Holy Spirit is reminding me that, at its heart, Advent is about making room in my heart for Jesus who is coming. Making room implies less, not more. Less stuff, less things on the schedule. Less means that I might hear voice calling out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord! Make his paths straight!’

The Advent Wreath

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[left] November 30; [right] December 1; Sigh. Candles don’t usually fit into candle-holders, right? For now, the only one that needs to be standing is the first week.

The candles of an Advent Wreath are a beautiful and quiet way to mark the days leading up to Christmas. Last year, we made a super cool Advent wreath made out of everyone’s hands traced and cut out of green paper. I had great hopes for making a similar one this year, every since the lady at the local religious goods store upsold me some Advent candles a full TWO WEEKS before the season started. I had so much time! Well, here we are, a week into Advent, and I believe we’ve cut out a grand total of five hands. Not quite enough to make a wreath. We may give up and try to purchase one. Or not. The kids are so awe-inspired by lit candles that they may not remember/notice that there was actually no wreath beneath them in 2013.

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Given the baby crawling around enthusiastically foiling our craft attempts, this was a big accomplishment.

Sometimes, the prayer that we use when we light the Advent candle before saying Grace is not handy (read: lost) and we’ve adopted a new tradition of singing the refrain of O Come Divine Messiah. Short and sweet.

The Jesse Tree

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They’re not lost!

Because our nine-year old is a gift, she’s taken it upon herself to keep this tradition going, despite her parents’ lack of involvement. (God gave her to us first because he thought we would need someone that came pre-parented as our first born.) On the first Sunday of Advent, we all read the Creation Story and ceremoniously placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil on the lowest branch of the Jesse Tree. Our evenings since then have been more than a little hectic and I noticed today that she’s put up the the next few symbols (Noah = the ark, Abraham = a tent, Isaac = a ram, Jacob = a ladder). The ladder symbol is on the tree but do the little kids remember who Jacob is? Probably not. Hopefully we will get a moment to address that at some point, before they leave home.

The Nativity Sets

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The pretty one out of reach

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The Toddler-friendly one on the living room floor

Both the ceramic Baby Jesus and the plastic one are hidden away. I hope I remember where I placed them in time for Christmas.

Here’s wishing you a calm and quiet Advent. Or even small bits of calm and quiet in Advent, whatever you can scrounge together during what can be an intensely busy time. We do what we can. God really does give us what we need when we need it and he has our families, yours and mine, in his loving heart.

I wish I could head over to the mall (since it’s too late for online delivery now, for those of us procrastinators) and buy these things for my family. Actually, they’re mostly for me, but I’m sure my family would really appreciate them.

  • A replacement heart for myself, of the Meek and Humble design
  • An Even More Magic Eraser than the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, the faster-than-the-speed-of-sound kind that erases harsh words in mid-air, before ear arrival
  • Or even better, a Minty Fresh Harsh Words Mouthwash (safe for daily use) that obliterates harsh words and reformats harsh tones even before they leave my mouth
  • Some sort of a Generosity Booster Energy Drink, preferrably Ice Wine or coffee-flavoured, that can leave me cheerfully able to play tic-tac-toe, lego, war, read books, and otherwise able to sit at rug-level for hours on end
  • Patience pills
  • Bulk-sized box of Smiles
  • A large, gold statement necklace and burgundy tights (Actually these can be wrapped. I’m just adding these just in case.)

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Look at him. That man can do anything.

Addendum
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Actually. Here’s the man that can do anything. (Not Robert Powell, silly. Jesus.)

Sometimes we find ourselves in darkness. For whatever reason, whether it be sickness, ongoing personal tragedy, the mounting stress of holiday “responsibilities,” or maybe just plain old loneliness, this can be a difficult time of year. Sometimes the three purple candles and one pink candle just isn’t enough to dispel it. Or, if you’re house is already resplendant with shiny Christmas decorations and enough lights to make Toronto Hydro smile, or if you’re out and about in the brightly lit malls, all the lights might serve to create a stark, stark contrast with your personal difficulties.

If you’ve ever tried to comfort a hysterical and crying toddler, you might have said something like, “It’s ok. I’m here. It’s all good. I’m here. Nothing to be afraid of.” In the child’s misery, it takes them a while to feel your arms rocking them back and forth. It takes them a while to hear your voice. For what seems like forever, they are blind to you. But after a while, they do notice your presence. Sobs turn to sniffles, sniffles to steadier breathing. Their little body might relax against your arms and the darkness is dispelled.

For me, an old paperback entitled The Wonder of Guadalupe by Francis Johnston served as that motherly hug during the darker parts of this Advent season. I found myself reading about this fascinating miracle a few days after the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe

“Listen and let it penetrate your heart, my dear little son,” Our Lady says at some point to Juan Diego. “Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Our Lady, even tired and pregnant with Jesus, has room on her lap for me. (I can attest that there is room on the lap of even the most pregnant person for a sad, little person – maybe even two.) She has room on her lap for all who struggle with darkness. Even when we forget, blinded by our grief, she knows and will never tire of reminding us that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, who is the Light.

Sometimes it takes me a while to notice her presence. But it’s always better when I do. Better and a little bit brighter.

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Find the Fisher Price Nativity set. Check. Find Baby Jesus. Check. Hide Baby Jesus. Check.

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Clear the top of the piano. Check. Dust the top of the piano. Check. Extract St. Joseph and Mama Mary and donkey from large creche box. Check. Fiddle with St. Joseph’s staff for too long and then give up. Check. Contemplate super glueing it to his hand…

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Transfer dried arrangement in a vase from decoration duty to Jesse Tree duty. Check. Consider watering the limp plants…

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Compare our humble colouring page download Jesse Tree ornaments to the fabulous ones that Susan from the parish office lent us. Check. Sigh. Internally celebrate the fact that we didn’t lose them since last Advent. Check.

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Totally copy a great Advent wreath craft idea from a facebook friend. Check. Consider our collective level of table manners and consider laminating the whole thing. Check. Find candles. Nope. No luck. Schedule Advent-candle-hunting errand. Check.

Recycle all toy store flyers. Check, check and check.


Our first Jesse Tree! and our not-so-wreathy Advent Wreath…

Like I mentioned in a previous post, we’ve never tried to have a Jesse Tree during Advent. But since we got our act together, our family is enjoying this new tradition. We downloaded a set of colouring pages and the kids set out to colouring, cutting, affixing string. This worked out really well since this is what they enjoy doing left to their own devices anyway. (If your kids or you are not the colouring, cutting, affixing string-types, the Internet offers a wealth of ready-made ornaments in exchange for your hard-earned money.) Each evening we read about a person from the Old Testament and hang up their ornament. Having a children’s Bible or Bible stories is handy.

But without further ado, ten reasons why I’m now a Jesse Tree fan:

10. Now the kids* know who Isaac was. Actually, they were more interested in what a ram is. Curly horns? Fascinating!
9. Now the kids know who Sarah was, and that she had a baby named Isaac, who was Jacob’s daddy, who was Joseph’s daddy… Joseph, the guy with the technicolour dream coat?? Yes! He’s the one! It’s all coming together…
8. Now the kids know who Abraham was, and that God promised him that he would be the father of a great nation that numbered like the stars!
7. Now the kids know who Noah was. Well, I guess everyone knew about Noah from before. But now they really know about Noah.
6. Now the kids know who Adam and Eve were.
5. Now the kids know what the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was. (Try to say that three times fast.)
4. Now the kids know the story of Creation.
3. We got some exercise hunting around the neighbourhood for dead branches.
2. It takes the attention away from our not so “wreathy” Advent Wreath (Candles? Yes. Wreath? Not so much. It’s a Minimalist Advent Wreath, kids! Mama, what does “Minimalist” mean?)
1. And the number one reason why I’m a Jesse Tree fan: I don’t hear “Why don’t we have a Christmas tree yet?” so much. We do have a tree! A Jesse tree!

(* By “the kids” I mean everyone three and up. Ok, maybe five and up.)

So there you have it, folks: ten good reasons to try this Jesse Tree thing! And more and more reasons every day! Really, when else will you have an excuse to work in Abraham into daily normal conversation? Although we’re trying our best to keep up with the daily ornaments, I’m sure life will throw some curve balls and we might miss a few (or a lot), but so far the experience has been highly positive and this tradition seems like a keeper.


St. Clement Church all in red, during the recent Volunteer Appreciation Night. Photo by Azure Blue Photography

It’s already Wednesday! Here’s my pre-Advent to-do list:

1. Pray

This helps me remember that preparing for the birthday of our Lord does not consist (primarily) of running around like a chicken with its head cut off. A grumpy chicken with its head cut off. I need to fight for those minutes of peace and quiet when I can sit with just God, humbly asking Him to help keep me focused On What Matters. He can do greater things in those minutes than I can.

2. Find/buy an Advent wreath, three purple candles and pink candle

Having an Advent wreath is a simple yet powerful tradition that we find really creates a mood of peaceful expectation (as different from, say, a trip to Toys’R’Us). It’s a daily chance at a time when we’re all together (usually dinner works well) to stop and remember Who we’re waiting for. And something about candles mesmerizes little kids. I’ve posted the short prayer that we use as we light the appropriate candle(s) each night and Father Zimmer has shared a blessing for the wreath:

Family Blessing of an Advent Wreath
God of hope and love, we praise you for sending Jesus your Son,
to save us from our sins and to be light in our darkness.
Bless us as we gather in his name,
and bless this wreath as a sign of your unending love
and of Jesus’ presence among us.
Keep us watchful in prayer as we await his return in glory.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen!

3. Find the toy Nativity set and hide baby Jesus

Here’s our great toy one. I can’t wait until our two-year old gets introduced to it this year (I’m sure he doesn’t remember last year). We’ll see how well it can withstand the current set of little hands. Baby Jesus makes His appearance on Christmas morning.

4. Situate the wise men and the three kings somewhere far away in the house (ready for their “journey”)

5. Read about Jesse trees


Jesse Tree stained glass window, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Having a Jesse tree is an Advent tradition that we’ve never tried before. As far as I can tell, it involves a simple tree which slowly gets decorated with ornaments that represent characters or stories from the Old Testament. Here’s a nifty chart with all the ornaments descriptions.

“Making a Jesse Tree helps us understand that many people lived before Jesus was born. They waited for him, just as we wait for his birthday now. These people were good, holy people and have interesting stories! We will read a story and think of a symbol to make, something that will remind of the person. Then we will hang that symbol on the tree, and read another story.”
Our Sunday Visitor, About the Jesse Tree

The ornaments can be as simple as cut-out colour pages or as fancy as these ones. You could also get inspired by the beautiful stained glass one from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (see above). I need to read more about it and see how we will make this tradition our own. I will keep you posted.

What are some of your family’s Advent traditions?

What is this?

Here a volunteer parishoner at St. Clement shares her personal experiences as her young family tries to keep the Catholic faith alive in their homes, living out the promises of their Baptism. Thank you for stopping in and be sure to share some of your stories as well!

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