Letters from Alison

A Letter about Celebrating Christmas

Advent Wreath, Christmas

A Letter to My Friend Sarabeth about Advent Traditions and Celebrating Christmas in 2016

November 23, 2016

Dear Sarabeth,

When you texted me yesterday to ask me for ideas about Advent, I was in the middle of crying through the end of Ta-Nehisi Coate’s book Between the World and Me. 

I was sitting and wishing that the world could be different from the one that he describes in his book. The whole book is a letter to his fifteen year-old son, a son who is growing into a man. You and I are currently parenting boys who are becoming men. I have written many letters to my sons, especially to my oldest since he left home. I published one of those letters yesterday on my website. But today I am struck only by the fact that I won’t ever have to write words to my sons like those that Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote to his. Words like these:

Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black people were born into chains—whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains.
You must struggle to truly remember this past in all its nuance, error, and humanity. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs can never compensate for this.

 -from Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Today my son is driving to Arkansas for Thanksgiving. He is still new to driving and every time he makes a long drive, I get a little anxious. I hope he will make it home safely. I pray that he will not get lost or get into an accident. I pray that he won’t text or look at his phone while he’s driving.

It never crosses my mind to pray that if he is pulled over by the police for speeding or for some other infraction, that he won’t be shot and killed.

I don’t pray that the eyes of police officers will not fall on his face and wonder if he is up to some kind of trouble.

Yesterday I saw in the news that it was the anniversary of the deaths of JFK and C. S. Lewis. It was also the anniversary of the shooting of twelve-year old Tamir Rice by Cleveland Police two years ago.

And I wonder why we remember some deaths but not others. Why do we value some people over others when Jesus holds every life as precious?

And this is where I was sitting when you texted and asked me about Advent.

And so I stopped, I did a quick search on my blog, and got lost for a minute thinking of all the many ways I have celebrated Advent with my kids in years past.

This year when we moved (again) and I got rid of everything (again), I did not keep any Christmas decorations. I look at the pictures and the books and the gatherings from years past and I feel so far away from those seasons.

How do we celebrate when people are in prison and enslaved and in refugee camps and stuck in the middle of war zones? How do we celebrate when in our own country, the divides between people seem wider than ever?

And I wonder even if I make a list, and try hold a light up in the darkness, if it will only be an unheard whisper amidst the throngs of Black Friday madness as we all let the hurting fade into our frenzy.

So I closed my computer and went to bed. And then today I thought long and hard about the coming Christmas season. I thought that even if I am too late now with my list for you, that I still need to make it. I need to make it for myself. Because I still want to be a part of the people who are climbing to the light.

Somewhere beyond the barricade there is a world I want to see.

I am still waiting for Jesus, and while I’m waiting, I am looking hard for him in the faces of every person I pass as I walk through my new home town.

All over the streets here in Tübingen, vendors are selling advent wreaths made of evergreen. Even my German teacher said this week that everyone in Germany will be preparing for Advent. I bought a wreath on my way home today.

My first steps toward Christmas, and towards hope.

So this Sunday, I will join in with people all over the world in marking the first Sunday of Advent. I will light a candle in the dark. And I will try to let it shine.



PS Here’s my list:

Christmas, Scotland, Baking


(especially with little ones!)

Read Christmas stories!

Here are some of our favorites:

The Last Straw Fredrick H. Thury

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey Susan Wojciechowski

Christmas Tapestry Patricia Polacco

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Barbara Robinson

An Orange for Frankie Patricia Polacco

Welcome Comfort Patricia Polacco

Christmas Day in the Morning Pearl S. Buck

How the Grinch Stole Christmas Dr. Suess

The Legend of the Christmas Stocking Rick Osborne

Silent Night (just the words of the hymn) illustrated by Susan Jeffers

I Spy Christmas Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo 

Angela and the Baby Jesus Frank McCourt

The All I’ll Ever Want for Christmas Doll Patricia K. McKissack

Great Joy Kate DiCamillo

Read Christmas books/devotions.

Again, my favorites:

Unwrapping the Gift by Ann Voskamp

She also has a beautiful children’s version, and you can download ornaments to color in and hang if you do the Jesse Tree from her website. You can also buy a gorgeous, wood-carved advent wreath made by Ann’s kids who use the money they make to support kids they have adopted through Compassion International.

Preparing for Christmas by Richard Rohr

Watch for the Light is a collection from multiple authors

WinterSong and A Widening Light are books of Christmas poetry that I love

Christmastide: Prayers for Advent by Phyllis Tickle

Our friend Jerusalem Greer has a section on celebrating Advent in her great book for families, A Homemade Year

Other EASY, practically free ways to celebrate:

Make salt dough ornaments.

Make gingerbread men.

Make other treats to share!

Take treats to your neighbors.

Make a nativity out of these prints and toilet paper rolls.

Listen to Christmas Music! Of course. For kids, Slugs and Bugs Christmas is our fav. But I like all kinds of Christmas music.

Join a choir!

Make a Jesse Tree.

Volunteer to be a Salvation Army Bell Ringer.

Read the Christmas story from the Bible every day in December. My mama did this with us when we were little, and by the time Christmas came we could say the whole story. Just like Linus.

Advent Calendar, Christmas

Use a pocket advent calendar or 24 brown bags or 24 envelopes to make your December plans. I’ve done this for years and it helps me to be intentional about doing one small thing every day to mark the season. Some of the ideas require a little more planning, but others are simple or easy. I also put in any big events that are already on the calendar, like our church Christmas service or any party that we are all invited to, because then there’s no need to plan something else for that day. If I fill the calendar up the week before December 1st, I can do whatever planning I need to do for the bigger events. And the events/activities have evolved as the kids have gotten older. For example, I used to put “Read Christmas stories and make hot cocoa” but last year, instead I wrote “Visit our friends’ little kids at bedtime and read them Christmas stories.” A few more ideas: Go ice skating, Watch a Christmas movie, Make cookies, Go for a winter walk in the woods, Drive around and look at Christmas lights, Walk around with coffee and cinnamon rolls and hand them out to whoever is on the streets, Sing Christmas songs, Make Christmas cards, Play board games, Make a silly video for a faraway family member or friend and send it to them, Paint Christmas trees and hang them on the wall.

Ok that’s all I can think of! Now I need to find 24 envelopes and get to work. 🙂 XO

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