Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Memories of Advents Past

Hello there! My name is Mary, and I am daughter of the fantabulous Good Books Lady, Wendy. Nice to meet you! Today I'll be sharing a post about some of my childhood memories of the Advent season that we celebrated in our Orthodox Christian home (on the "new calendar," from November 15-December 25) and about how I'm now the mommy of a sweet two-year-old-boy and working to keep the Advent season a special time in my own home. I'll also be guest posting next week when I'll share with you about the Library Book Advent Calendar I'm making for our son! These posts are specifically about my experiences and ideas, but I've tried to include lots of hyperlinks to past posts and external sites for your reference. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the journey! Blessed Advent!

*Don't forget to check out Good Books for Young Souls Giveaway on the beautiful book Can It Be True? by Susan Hill, Illustrated by Valerie Greeley. Comment on today's post or yesterday's post for a chance to win this beautiful book!*GIVEAWAY OVER!

This is me...25 years ago in our church's Christmas Play!

Childhood memories and the foundations of faith during Advent

I remember Advent from my childhood. Advent was a time of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, but also of great blessing and anticipation! In the Eastern Orthodox Christian Faith that I practice, Advent is a 40 day observance as we journey to be with Christ when He comes, glorified in the flesh, born of the Virgin in a humble manger.  Advent means “coming” or “arrival”, especially of something important or anticipated: in this case, the Incarnation of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  

We would light the candles of our Advent Wreath each night, and sit around the table in the darkness, save for the flickering flames. My dad was usually the one to read the scriptures for the day, and we would each get to build our own advent chain with illustrations based off of what we listened to.  We would sing an Advent hymn. My brothers and I especially loved the journey of Advent through the Old Testament, beginning at the beginning with creation, and then on through the stories of the prophets and saints who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah. As children, you don't really understand all of the imagery and prophecy and foreshadowing and perhaps don't quite grasp what it means that Jesus is coming to be born among us as the incarnate God, but WOW, looking back, when I hear these verses as an adult and hear the genealogy read on Christmas Eve, I think back on these childhood memories, and appreciate how those times laid the foundation for a faith that has become my own.

Me and my brothers with our godparents and godbrother around my mom's
German Christmas Pyramid, fondly known to us as "the whirligig."
It has beautifully carved nativity scenes displayed on each of three tiers!
The Advent Season also meant the celebrations of two of our favorite saints: St. Nicholas of Myra and St. Lucia of Syracuse! These feast days were landmarks of the season, and brought more church services with beautiful hymns. And as the Nativity drew closer and our Advent candles burnt lower, it meant our parish's annual St. Lucia procession and Christmas program! Things we loved; things I still love!  
My parents seemed to strike a healthy balance of helping us to keep focus on the season of Advent in the midst of the consumerist “holiday season” all around. They didn’t expect us to be monastics, and we still had our fair share of cheer, a Christmas tree, and did activities that helped us to anticipate the Nativity! 

Me and my younger brother, Jonny, making gingerbread to give to friends and family on Christmas

But we ended our days with our thoughts turned heavenward, to the Christ who was coming to save us. For 40 days we fasted, and once us kids were old enough, we participated in abstaining from meat and dairy products together with our parents. We gave charitable donations as a family, whether we gave away clothes and toys and food, or gave financially to organizations. And of course, we attended church services that helped us to maintain focus on the season of Advent!
I am so blessed to now be a wife and mother, raising my son in the Orthodox Faith and in an Orthodox Christian home. I have been married to my wonderful husband for almost 7 years (we met at my home parish 11 years ago!) and our sweet son was baptized into that same parish that I was baptized into 27 years ago. I find such guidance and peace in the wisdom of our Mother the Church, and the beautiful faith we practice there! I remember last year when my son was just 15 months old at Christmas, I would show him an icon of the Nativity at church and he would say "Jesus!" "Baby!" and "Tokos!" (for "Theotokos"). I thought How incredible! Even in infancy he has a frame of reference and is learning his faith through looking at icons! This Advent, he is just over two, and is quite the talker. He absolutely loves going to church, will make almost anything he finds around the house into a censer, and prays daily for our clergy. He already has his manger scene out and it is one of his favorite storytelling toys (though we try to treat this toy with the special respect it deserves)! 

For myself, I have found that the blessing of motherhood has challenged and increased my faith, and being equipped with the tools and pillars of the Church (scripture, services, prayers, sacraments, feasts, saints, etc) I feel so blessed to hold my son's hand as he learns his faith and learns to love God on his own. Advent is such a rich time to help to teach him the beginnings of that faith as we anticipate the birth of the Godman Jesus on Earth, come to save us from our sins. So as we await this coming, I hope to teach him to the best of my ability, as I learn anew myself! There's a saying in Orthodoxy, that you cannot and should not ever "know it all" in regards to faith. We are always learning! So I learn humbly to stand in awe before Jesus our Lord alongside my little ones, my husband, and the Body of Christ--His Church.

The "whirligig" Nativity is still captivating, all these years later!

Next week I'll be sharing a "how to" post about how I made a Library Book Advent Calendar for my little guy! In the meantime, my mama has compiled a helpful list of Advent and Christmas Resources you can take a look at. And here are a few additional Advent ideas that I remember our family carrying out in my childhood...
- Wake up at dark-thirty on St. Lucia's day (Dec. 13) and dress up like this amazing saint to bring coffee, cocoa and Lucia buns to your family!
- Make a tradition of giving gift-filled stockings or shoes on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6--since really, Santa has nothing to do with the Nativity, but coincidentally the feast of St. Nicholas falls during the time of preparation for Nativity, and he's famous for giving gifts!) Just a note since I know some families are hesitant about this...my brothers and I never once thought it was odd that St. Nicholas visited us on his feast day, while Santa visited most other kids on Christmas. :)
- Spend the day and evening on St. Nicholas Day doing charitable works in secret. We would sometimes donate clothes or toys to a needy family at church or in the community, and it was such a joy for us when we pulled it off without them knowing!
- Minister to the homeless and the elderly. For years, our family regularly visited a sweet wheelchair-bound elderly woman, Margaret, who was paralyzed from MS. She was a treasure! We would spend extra time with her during Advent!
- Give charitable contributions as a family. My parents used to sit us down with a stack of Monopoly money (representing our available funds) and a stack of donation letters to various organizations and let us help decide what to give where. They'd encourage us to give from our own allowances!
- Go to church, celebrate the feasts, fast and pray and sing together! Your Nativity celebration will be much the richer when the time finally comes to say "Christ is Born! Glorify Him!!!"


  1. Precious memories, sweet Mary. Makes me a little nostalgic. Sure do miss y'all.
    Love you,
    Aunt Melissa

  2. Adorable photos! Thanks for sharing your childhood memories. As an adult convert to Orthodoxy it's always fun to hear the traditions of those who grew up in the faith. We are amazed at the faith of our young son who just naturally embraces all that he encounters with a simple and heartfelt faith and look forward to sharing this 40 day advent preparation time with him. This is the first year he can really participate AND anticipate what is to come (at age 4) :)

  3. Giveaway over - thanks to all who left comments on today's and yesterday's posts! Winner was TawniM. FYI: I use List Randomizer from random.org