Thursday, December 4, 2008

In the Good Old Days

The other night, I was reading a bedtime story to a little six-year-old friend of mine. She looked at me, at one point, and said with a sigh, "I miss the good old days when..." and gave an example of something she missed doing. It was so odd to hear a six-year-old talking about the good old days! She was right to miss them, though.

I miss the good old days when Advent was a real season that we celebrated.
My great Catholic parents made a point of it. Would you believe our Christmas tree did not go up until a day or two before Christmas? We never turned our Christmas lights on until Christmas Eve and we kept them on for the 12 days of Christmas...or longer.

Every night, we gathered around the Advent wreath and lit the candles, said the prayers and sang a hymn. We had a chart to keep track of our good deeds. On the feast of St. Lucy (December 13), we were given one seed of wheat for each good deed we had done. We planted our seeds in our own little pots of dirt and placed them on a window sill to grow as gifts for Baby Jesus. It was a great competition to see who had the most wheat and the tallest.

Very late on Christmas Eve, we would all gather by the tree where a nativity set was displayed below. The manger was always empty until that night. We would have a family procession and sing "Silent Night" and the youngest in the family would place the infant Jesus in the crib. We would sing other carols afterward. Sometimes I would play "The Little Drummer Boy" on the piano while my brother Greg accompanied me on his snare drum. (We are all so much older now but we still have that procession and the youngest still places Baby Jesus in the crib.)

On Christmas Day, we opened gifts with tags that said, "From Baby Jesus" or "From Saint Nick." We never got anything from Santa Claus. In fact, a funny story in our family is that, one year, a neighbor up the street asked two of my sisters what Santa brought them for Christmas. They said, "nothing." The neighbor thought maybe we were poor and couldn't afford presents and sent down bags of gifts! My mom had to explain to her that Santa didn't come to our house, but, not to worry, we got our share of presents from Baby Jesus and St. Nick.

Christmas-caroling was usually impromptu but you could always pull a little group together. We would go to the neighbors who didn't have much family or company and sing a few songs and visit awhile. This is a tradition that has passed down to some of the nieces and nephews. Last year, we piled into a few cars and went to a neighboring town to sing a few carols for a woman with a homebound, disabled son. Such a simple joy to give that costs only a little time.

I could go on and on about our family traditions and how Advent was a time of joyful expectation and Christmas was all about the birth of Christ. But you probably have your own memories of how it was -- in the good old days.

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