When He is the Gift

The day the snow fell early, softly covering the hard brown ground, I let holiday music play. My mama, with her round hazel eyes, she would have scolded me for playing Christmas music in October.


Growing up in that big, rambling townhouse on the dead-end street, it was law: Christmas music could not be played before December 1st. “I want to enjoy Thanksgiving!” My mama would say when her rowdies vehemently protested. We didn’t like it, but what could we do? My mother was pretty good at enforcing law.

This year will be our first Christmas in our new home, our first house, with a new baby. I feel it strong, this rising feeling of determined resolution, to celebrate Christmas with intention, like my mom.

Even if I do play Christmas music in October.

We had a lot of traditions, but my favorite by far, was celebrating advent. We did the Jesse Tree , and my mother made each of us a pine green or Christmas red advent calendar. We did “calendar” for years, so that meant that my mother made at least ten felt calendars, decorated in gold or silver glitter.

I’m not sure how a mother of a baker’s dozen has time to make pretty holiday calendars, but my mother somehow did. I think this as I bounce my one baby to sleep. Celebrating advent was important to my mama.

Amid correcting schoolwork, baking Christmas cookies, nursing her baby, reading books, and sorting laundry, my mama stopped, she slowed to breathe in Christmas with her family.

I want this. I want to catch the vision my mother had for advent. A time to slow, to wonder, to believe. It’s the only way, I know, she had time to make calendars. Calendars that planned the month of December. When we’d bake cookies and read the Christmas story and decorate the tree.

My mother brought us to the story of Christmas, the story of Jesus, and she planned our lives around it.Nativityscene

  • Every day had a small slip of paper with a verse or two of the Christmas story. Here’s what my paper for December 3 said: “Day 3: Luke 1:30-31 – “But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.”
  • Throughout the month we’d have days we’d draw a paper that said Gift on it. Throughout the year, my mom would collect small, inexpensive surprises for our advent calendar gifts.
  • Other scraps of paper would have a Christmas festivity or tradition penciled in. While some of these could change from year to year (there was the one year we went as a home school group to the Nutcracker Ballet), my family also had special holiday traditions we did every year (and still do to this day). One of the messages left in my calendar says Decorate the tree and house for Christmas, sing, & drink hot cocoa while another note reads, Make cut-out sugar cookies as a family. 
  • Looking back, I think my favorite part of how we did advent calendars was acts of service as siblings. Before December first, we would sit down and make one or two slips of paper for each brother or sister. Excitement always ran high when we’d stuff our notes into each other’s calendars. I spent a lot of time imagining what my siblings would give to me. Here are some examples, saved from over fifteen years ago:

December 2: Renee, I will take you to the library. Love, Andrea

December 7: Renee, I will dry your morning dishes for you. Love, Brian

December 9: Renee, I will play Farm Country Ranch with you. Love, Ben

December 16: Renee, I will play a game of your choice with you. Love, David

December 23: Renee, I will play checkers with you. Love, James

This wishing to make Christmas more than bright paper packages, stockings, cookies and Michael Buble? This longing to live Christmas, to breathe it in deep, to experience advent?

To experience advent. 

All of these holiday desires tumbling when I sit to watch Christmas at the Farm live one rainy November noon.

This year we anticipate Christmas with an advent of sharing, and I feel like a child again. What better way to experience advent, the coming of the Gift, than to share the anticipation and give it all away?

I can think of none.IMG_6634

The nostalgia of commercialized Christmases fade dully in comparison to a Christmas where He is the feasting, the celebration, the gift.


“I don’t want a Christmas you can buy.
I don’t want a Christmas you can make.
What I want is a Christmas you can hold.
A Christmas that holds me,
remakes me, revives me.
I want a Christmas that whispers, Jesus.”
— Ann Voskamp


5 thoughts on “When He is the Gift

  1. I love your ideas, Renee! My favorite one being the acts of service that your family exchanged with each other. That’s beautiful. I bang my head against the wall and say: NEXT year I will get my act together in time to do this whole advent calender for my family.

  2. All the memories!! Where does the time get to! Oh for one Christmas to go back to and relive all those wonderful memories! All of us kids at home, The chaos, The laughter……. We certainly are blessed to have so many good memories! Thank God we can make more, But we can only go back to those good old days in our reminiscing….. so let’s make it count this year and the years to come!! 🙂
    Merry Christmas!! Love you sis!

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