Christmas has always been a special time for me.
It’s that time of the year when loved ones living far away come home (though not every year, but this is typical in many Filipino families), when you wake up at 04:00 in the morning to hear mass starting December 16 (known as Simbang Gabi) followed by eating breakfast with your companions (which normally includes the famous Filipino rice cakes – Bibingka and Puto Bumbong), when you hang your parols and wait for carolers to ring the bell, when malls close at 12:00 midnight to give way to your holiday rush, when you visit different spots in your city to watch different kinds of light shows and Christmas events, and when you gather everyone together in your dining for your Noche Buena while listening to Christmas songs (possibly with Jose Mari Chan on your playlist). This Filipino way of approaching Christmas has always been fun for me, but now that I am a mother, I am looking at more specific traditions that I can do with my son.
These traditions I share below have won me so far, and truth be told, I don’t know if I will do all of them, or just choose one that will stick with us for the rest of our lives. But before I even forget them, let me share my finds here.
1. GIVING BOOKS ON CHRISTMAS EVE AND SPENDING THE REST OF THE NIGHT READING THEM (A TRADITION IN ICELAND)!
This is probably my most favorite! For a book lover, this is heaven on Earth. Imagine getting even just one book, and having the whole night to read it?! I should mention that this is done while also eating chocolate on the side. In one comment on THIS Facebook post, a woman said “It is the best. We exchange gifts the 24th of December, (called Aðfangadagur). And we spend Christmas day reading in our pajamas, eating leftovers, ginger cookies and drinking hot choccolate.” I am so sold. I hope my son will be, too. To learn more about this tradition, click THIS.
I want to do this and also, read one story from an inspiring book (something like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or Christmas Miracles) for the whole family each year.
PS: Another idea is to wrap Christmas books in brown paper, open one a day in December, and read together until Christmas Day!
2. THE JESSE TREE (AN ADVENT TRADITION)
I learned about this from Amy (Midwest Montessori, Montessori Parent), and if you’re a Christian/Catholic family (well, Christmas is really a Christian celebration), this is such a great way to wait for the coming of Jesus. What is a Jesse tree? Amy wrote this in her blog: “So a Jesse tree is just a small tree with an ornament for each day of advent which represents a part of the BIG story leading up to Christ’s birth, starting with the beginning of time. As a Christian Montessori family, I thought this was a good way to make the stories tangible. The kids love finding the new ornament and then listening to me read the story in the accompanying book.”
3. THE NATIVITY SET (AN ADVENT TRADITION)
I learned this from Monica (Monica Manifests, Waldorf Parent). She and her children decorate the Nativity Set and read stories from the book “The Light In The Lantern” to accompany the living set! She said, “Note that when we celebrate advent, we patiently wait for the arrival of baby Jesus (who isn’t born yet!) so the baby isn’t there, but will appear on his BIRTH day.”
Another mom does it a little differently. Esther of Story Of This Life shared that starting last year, her daughters would receive small gifts under the tree or on their bed, etc with one character from the Nativity story. “It starts with an empty stable and slowly, day by day, they add each piece to the story, reading each scripture passage behind each piece each day. Finally, on Christmas day, they open their final gift to complete their nativity – Baby Jesus!” Esther shared a beautiful file for your date and item guide. You can find it HERE.
What a beautiful way to wait and celebrate the coming of Jesus, right?
PS: For the year 2018, I felt my son was still too young for the idea of this tradition (of waiting for tomorrow to reveal another character or object), so I asked my brother-in-law (who’s a pastor) to just tell them the story of Nativity a few minutes before Christmas Eve. I put our Nativity Set on the dining table and let him tell them the story of Nativity and Christmas.
4. THE CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN (AN ADVENT TRADITION)
Advent literally means “coming”, and although it was originally a 40-day period of fasting to prepare new Christians for baptism in January, the Roman Church moved the tradition to December (for the birth of Jesus) by the 6th century.
There are multiple ways to anticipate the coming of Jesus/ Christmas!
For Christians who are strict with dates, it begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. For some families, they begin on December 1. For some, they just do a countdown of the 12 days before Christmas. How early your countdown will be really depends on you.
Many families just give a little gift each day of December (or 12 days before Christmas) and the main gift on December 25. Personally, however, especially if you have time, I like the idea of a trivia or activity-laden advent countdown!
If your child is in the stage of loving trivia, I think this ADVENT CALENDAR from Why Christmas (twitter version HERE) is a good source! If you’re looking at different kinds of fun activities, I think this ADVENT BOX from Nicole Kavanaugh serves as good guide (which you can of course tweak depending on what suits your family). I also prepared my rough list for next year. You can check it HERE.
5. ADVENT SPIRAL WALK
The Advent Spiral is an important part of the Waldorf calendar. It symbolizes finding light in the darkness. Advent is not just one moment, it is a period of time. Especially in places where there is winter, this time of the year could be really cold, lonely, depressing. This is such a wonderful tradition to remind people of the lightness that is to come.
How it’s done: You create a spiral using natural materials (leaves, mostly). Because of the weather in countries with winter, this is usually done indoors, but if you have a place outdoors with cement/fire-resistant flooring, you can also do it outside. In the center of the spiral, a single candle is lit. Each child walks the spiral alone to the center of the spiral, where they light their own candle then place that candle somewhere in the spiral as they make their way out. When all the children have walked the path, the whole spiral is aglow with lights. It is such a beautiful representation of how one candle can light so many, of how all of us, by giving light and letting others shine, create a world full of light and hope. I want to start doing this next year.
6) ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING
In these traditions, you can do several kinds: you can do the traditional Catholic way of lighting 4 candles (mix of pink and purple) on a wreath before Christmas, and 4 new white candles on Christmas Day. You can also do it the Waldorf Way by lighting one candle for each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day. Their wreaths are often accompanied with this poem and materials related to the poem:
The first light of Advent is the light of stone–.
Light that lives in crystals, seashells, and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of plants–
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.
The third light of Advent is the light of beasts–
All await the birth, from the greatest and in least.
The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind–
The light of hope that we may learn to love and understand.”
Many Waldorf families celebrate Advent by looking each week at the natural kingdoms on Earth: minerals the first week, plants the second week, animals the third week and humans the fourth week, all waiting for the birth of Christ. If I remember correctly, they light one more candle in the middle on Christmas Day (please correct me if I am wrong).
Some Waldorf families do it that way, and some do it this way: the advent spiral candle. It is similar to the Advent Spiral Walk I shared above, but instead of walking around it, you place a candle on the spiral per day, read stories that lead to the story of Christmas/ Nativity, and wait till you finish the last candle. I think this is such a great way to introduce the concept of time and waiting for children, too! You can buy a wooden spiral candle holder, or, as my friend Monica has done, you can also make your own using salt dough (details HERE).
Nicole Kavanaugh, who practices Montessori, made a slightly different version of the Advent Spiral for her children. In their home, only one candle moves (signifying the movement of Mary pre-birth) and 4 candles by the end of each week. It’s also a great way of doing it, if you were to ask me. You can read about it HERE.
7. FAMILY BONDING
This is a non-negotiable for all of us, I think! Christmas is a wonderful season to celebrate with the people you love most. In our family, this is how it works: We spend Christmas dinner with my in-laws, then we go home to spend Christmas Eve with my side of the family. Then, we wake up early to spend Christmas morning with my husband’s immediate family. For lunch, we spend it with my clan. This is the time of the year when we get to see everybody – cousins, aunts, uncles, and it’s festive, yes, but it could also be too busy.
For some families, I like the idea of having a games night as part of the bonding (board games, trivia about the family, charades, etc), or exchanging gifts a la White Elephant. I learned that Nicole’s family’s tradition is to open a new board game on Christmas and play it all day. My family in the US waited for the Christmas Eve countdown by having a trivia game about our family (I thought it was so fun, cause we were also playing with them through Skype – and I learned a lot of things about our family members!).
Personally, I like what my sister and her husband did one Christmas, and they invited me. Sometime before December 25, they gathered their Christian friends and together, we just talked about how the year was for us – what did we like? What did we think we could have improved? What were we thankful for? And then we moved on to what we looked forward to for the year ahead, and what we wished for each other.
It was simple and beautiful. It reminded me of the real spirit of Christmas. And it’s something I want to do with my own family every year.
So there, those are my top 7 Christmas traditions. And as a bonus…I am also adding one for NEW YEAR (aside from the beautiful year-end tradition my sister started with her child)!
THE GRATITUDE JAR
www.somewhatsimple.com’s post about thisIn this tradition, you make a jar for the family where you write all the things you’re grateful for – you write one a day, or whenever you feel like it. While waiting for Christmas Eve, you can start reading each aloud so you can be reminded of how great the year has been. If you need prompting (and free printables), you can head over .
SPECIAL NOTE: There’s a tendency to focus on the outwardly things (and commercialism) during Christmastime. We do not practice Waldorf philosophy in general, but I appreciate THIS ARTICLE by a Waldorf Mom and feel it’s really helpful for all of us – to remind us of the real purpose of Christmas. Hope it’s a worthy read for you, too!