We follow a mixture of traditions at this time of year. I am half German, and a lot of what we do is based on German practices, tempered by English ones. Because we are not religious, and because we want Christmas to be more than a mere consumerist present-fest, we also think about the winter solstice.
We have the same advent calender every year. It comprises twenty five miniature books that tell the nativity story. Every day we read the story for that day, and hang the book on a little metal tree. Every year we have a mad panic at the beginning of December, trying to find where we put the tree last year. Steve is going up into the loft tomorrow to look for it…
Our real tree only goes up on Christmas Eve, and remains in the house just for the twelve days of Christmas. As a child I was always torn between being jealous of other peoples’ December-long decorations, and loving the magic of Christmas Eve when the tree finally appeared.
We bring lots of foliage indoors – the tree, obviously, but also holly, mistletoe and ivy. We have candles everywhere, including on the tree; the practice of burning candles on a tree comes from the tradition of burning a Yule log on the shortest day of the year.
Our tree decorations are simple: we hang straw stars and angels, as well as glass baubles, and a few decorations made by my boys over the years. It is topped with a straw angel made years ago by one of my German aunts, which is a version of the corn-dollies kept over the winter to ensure a fertile crop the following year.
We have a very old crib that I inherited from one of my German great aunts. Every year I tell myself that I really must mend the donkey’s legs, and stick the wise man’s head on with something better than blue tack. Every year all the pieces get wrapped up and put back in their box, unmended. I have gone through this thought process so many times that it has become something of a tradition in itself.
This year, as you can see, my advent ‘wreath’ is more of an advent ‘arrangement’. I could pretend that it’s an artful and carefully-planned minimalist decoration, but that would be somewhat stretching the truth!
I’d love to hear about some of your traditions – what special ways do you have of celebrating at this time of year?