My earliest memories include the pictures of Jesus my dad painted-by-number and hung in my bedroom and the baby Jesus from the nativity set my parents set up every Christmas on top of our black and white Magnavox TV. The advent “wreath” and stable for the holy family was made by my father by taking an old wood tunnel from his Lionel electric trains. He had inserted a back wall with two nightlight bulbs to light the manger, covered the whole thing with aluminum foil, hammered five large nails into the top of the tunnel to hold three purple, one pink and one white pillar candle, around which my mother draped plastic garland for the “wreath.” Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and a few of the smaller animals from the nativity set would fit inside the tunnel cave; the shepherds and wisemen would be set outside the cave on top of the TV that was usually covered with “angel hair.” It was unquestionably the most beautiful sight of Advent to this preschooler.
During most advent evenings we’d gather around the nativity scene, switch on the lamps inside the stable, light the appropriate number of candles, sing a carol or two, and remember. The candles would stay lit until well after I’d be put to bed. In the morning, I’d tiptoe out of my bedroom to the living room. The smell of the snuffed candles was still lingering in the air. I would peer into the stable to see if Baby Jesus was still there, and I’d lift him from the manger and cradle him in my hand. I’d walk him around the living room like a mother comforts a colicky infant, and I’d tell him about his life … how he’d grow up to save the world.
As I left home and had a daughter of my own, my parents gifted me with that old baby Jesus in the manger. I still bring him out every year, and cradle the infant in my hands and remember. The rituals and traditions our parents first share with us shape our faith for years to come, if not our whole life. What kinds of advent traditions did you grow up with? What do you do with your children and grandchildren? What traditions do you share in your congregation? How do you tell your children the stories of Jesus?