Monday, November 21, 2011

Advent Tree

I can't believe it's nearly Advent -- this year just flew by!

This is an updated repost from last year.

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Advent preparations

We've celebrated Advent with an Advent wreath nearly every Christmas since we married, but two years ago we added a new tradition: An Advent Tree!

It came about like this: We usually wait till just before Christmas Eve to get the Christmas tree and for some reason the kids always panic -- they always think we're not going to be able to find one this year. It almost happened once, ten or twelve years ago -- there had been a drought out west so there were fewer trees available than usual, and nearly all of them were sold out by the time we went shopping. We ended up with a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Well, six years ago when we first moved here to Virginia, we went to a church that put a Christmas tree up in the Parish house right after Thanksgiving, and had the children make ornaments on the first Sunday of Advent to put on it. Each ornament was decorated with, or made in the shape of, a traditional symbol that represents Christ -- a lamb, a cross, the Chi Rho, Alpha and Omega, and so forth. This style of ornament is called a "Chrismon," which means "Christ Monogram." I thought it was a neat idea and tried to figure out how to do it at home -- I mean, really, where would I put a second tree?

Finally I figured it out -- we didn't need two trees. All we had to do was put up the Christmas tree at the beginning of Advent, call it an Advent tree, and then decorate it with Chrismons. On Christmas Eve we could remove the Chrismons (or not) and add our usual Christmas ornaments. It worked out so well we did it again the next year and the kids are looking forward to it this year. We'll make the ornaments tomorrow so they'll have plenty of time to dry and can be decorated on Friday.

Here are the specifics (sorry I don't have any pictures -- I never have pictures).

Here's where you can find an explanation of Chrismons and a PDF file of patterns you can print out.

Here is a recipe for the ornaments. I cut them all out with a 3" biscuit cutter which is a nice size for decorating. The first year we used white fabric paint but last year I tried Wilton's fondant icing writer and sprinkled them with gold, silver, or pearl dust. They turned out beautifully. After Christmas we hung them outside for the birds. (Well, that was the intention anyway, and I thought we'd done it, but Elaienar tells me that none of them made it because the younger children insisted on saving them.)

The designs I have used are fairly simple -- Celtic cross, shepherd's crook, crown of thorns, cross and crown, eternity cross, IXΘYΣ, and several others that don't require much detail.

Thanksgiving weekend we put up the tree, with its lights and the star topper, a brass Moravian star, pierced, with a light inside. Saturday night before evening prayers, we turn on the lights (but not the star) and let the kids each pick one Chrismon to put on the tree, and talk a bit about the symbol and what it means. On Sunday we have the lights on all day, and that night we let them add a Chrismon, or one purple or silver ornament from our collection (purple being the color of Advent). The next week we add one Chrismon a day, but we leave the lights off until the next Saturday night. Then we do the whole thing over again so that the tree grows more and more festive as Christmas approaches.

On the 24th, we remove some of the purple and silver ornaments (because we have a LOT of Chrismas ornaments) and add the rest of our Christmas stuff. That night we turn on the star as well as the lights, and leave them on through Epiphany (except for while we were sleeping or away from home, of course). We take the tree down a day or so after Epiphany, and we generally start back to school on the next Monday, known traditionally as Plough Monday.

The kids love crafty stuff and I normally don't do much of that kind of thing with them, so it makes a nice change, and adding the ornaments day by day builds excitement in a way that's just perfect for this season of anticipation.

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