You cannot say I didn’t warn you. Let the long rambles about Advent traditions begin!
There was a time when Ann Voskamp was not woke and at least a little bit less flaky than she perhaps now is, and as God draws straight with crooked lines, I will resist the temptation to try and defend why her book, A Thousand Gifts, was useful to me in my walk with Christ at a particular season of my life. And I owe her a debt of gratitude (pun intended) for kickstarting a family tradition that we absolutely love, one that I am eagerly preparing for in between typing sentences: The Night Before Advent Party.
It is like a prefunk before a month of anticipation, of waiting and eagerness and drawing near. The house is twinkly, we will read beneath the Chrismon tree (I will pause while you do an internet search. Think Lutheran) and kids will open a box with new jams (is there a better feeling than brand new pajamas and clean sheets?) and bubble bath. It is a glorious fuss, and we have been talking about it for days.
When we first started this, easily 10 years ago (insert all that stuff about time going too fast), I hunted around for recipes, tried to make a dinner that would feel special. I chose something I had the skills to make at the time — which is to say, not much to it. My grandmother gave me a subscription to Taste of Home magazine when I got married, and it taught me how to cook in the early years. It is only fitting that our celebration meal is a holiday tortellini soup from that publication. I didn’t do much bread making back then, and probably on a thoughtless impulse, the first year, I purchased those long crunchy breadsticks called grissini that you buy in the noodle aisle at the grocery store. They seriously taste like nothing at all, but they somehow became part of our tradition.
I did hunt for them this week, for the record. I did not go looking for a silly project. But when my Boy Quail looked at me with those big blue eyes through the longest eyelashes that God ever made and asked what we would do if we couldn’t find the breadsticks, I melted. My days with these lovely children are numbered. Someday I won’t have Quail who walk into the room for no other reason than a hug, who sweep off their hats immediately when I walk by so I can kiss the top of their heads, who so delight in our traditions that they ask for them by name.
So… I made grissini for the first time today.
Because our traditions tell a story. They tell a story about the Gospel, a story about us, about where we have been and how faithful God is and how certain we are that He will continue to be faithful in the future. Tomorrow, we will begin our daily Advent readings and the Quail will open pockets — the messiest, most dreadful knitting job you have ever seen that I made in the final weeks of my miserable pregnancy with my Boy Quail while I waited impatiently to meet him. I suppose I should make them over, do something better than gnarly dishrags stitched awkwardly up the sides. Heck, my girls could do it better than I can by now, and it would take a matter of hours instead of weeks. But I can’t yet bring myself to do it. I love the story. I am not done telling it.
And in the midst of the preparation, the delight, the laughter over memories made and memories still being made, there lurks temptation. My, but it is easy to take a poor night of sleep and use it to justify treating a gift as a burden, to be tightfisted with the money God has given us, to look at all the work involved in making a Night Before Advent party and do it grudgingly rather than treating it like the thrill that it is.
Advent is a wonderful time to get the sin spanked out of your soul.
I don’t feel terribly strong today. My body rarely behaves like I want it to, and today is no exception, and because God is in the manger, that is ok. I have work to do — joyful work, grateful work, heart work. He will supply all my needs.
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.