She stirred around in her bed, the room barely lit with the twilight of the sunrise peeking through the blinds. As she climbed out of bed, she realized what day it was. That's when she dashed down the hallway in her pajamas to quickly arrive at the spot. Her sweet little hand excitedly reached inside the small pocket designated for Day One.
No, it's not Christmas morning. It's the first day of the 25 Days of Christmas celebration in our home.
We've been practicing this tradition for a few years now, and it's honestly been life-changing for the way our family celebrates the Christmas holiday. It started with the purchase of an Advent Calendar. I found a really cute and large one several years ago when my oldest daughter was born. The idea of a Christmas countdown intrigued me. It seemed so magical and nostalgic and...I don't know...enchanting. So I bought it. And then, I had no idea what to do with it. Was I supposed to put chocolates in each pocket? Or was it ornaments?? No idea. So I stashed it away for when our baby got a little older and we could really get into activities that she could participate in. Then came Baby #2. And I kind of forgot about the calendar (because God only knows how many brain cells one loses between birthing a child and having sleepless nights).
Fast forward a few years. It was November and I was invited to an Advent workshop at my church (yes, similar to the one Lisa attended). The ladies at the event were CHOCK FULL of ideas to help make the holidays even more special and Christ-centered. I learned about preparing our hearts for the birth of our Savior and actually making Christmas a 4-week celebration, not just a single day of gifts. And that's when I remembered about my calendar and had the idea of combining Advent and these 25 days of giving and receiving.
A long time ago, I was in a pretty dark funk. There was a lot of emotional turmoil that I was going through. Some days were spent just going through the motions of making it through that day. But then, rather randomly, I thought to myself, "There must be other people going through what I'm going through, but I wouldn't even know it. Maybe they all look great on the outside, but are struggling on the inside. Just like me." I thought of how good it would feel to have someone reach out to me to make my day a little brighter, so why not do it for someone else? I decided to embark on a project for that month. I included my family in it and we did random acts of kindness each week. We called it "Christmas in July." We were basically spreading love wherever and to whomever we could. You never know what kind of ripple effect one act of kindness can have on a person or how much of an impact you can make in someone's life with such a simple gesture.
My family LOVED it. We were hooked! Later, Christmas was fast approaching and we pulled out that Advent calendar to start thinking of what we would do during December. Now, I'll be honest. That first year was quite a bit of work and required some significant planning ahead for things. (Whatevs. You live, you learn.) The following year I decided to put my "efficient cap" on and simplified things. The whole purpose behind the 25 days was and is to do activities that will help us keep our focus on Jesus and the spirit of giving and receiving, not to feel resentment or the spirit of bitterness and fatigue.
Day One always starts with lighting the first candle on our Advent wreath and reading the corresponding passage from the Bible, while the other candle-lighting days are dispersed throughout the month, ending with the lighting of the Christ candle on Day 25. We believe it's just as important to spread love to each other as it is to others, so we make sure to include days of quality family time. For example, watching a Christmas movie together, having a surprise lunch date with my husband, or spending time baking with the kids as we plan Jesus' birthday party, going to a Christmas concert together, or spending a whole day playing fun board games or outdoor games. My favorite, which we are doing again this year, has been writing a note to each family member letting them know why they are loved and how special they are, to be read on Christmas morning. My husband's and daughters' notes to me had me in tears last year!
Best. Present. Ever.
Other days have included praying for another family, purchasing and taking gifts to our local children's hospital, leaving a really generous tip for a deserving server at a restaurant, sending their grandparents a picture they drew, buying a meal for the car behind us at the drive-thru, taping a large poster board sign to our garbage cans on collection day to thank the garbage collectors, volunteering to walk our neighbor's dog, making dinner for another family that could really use a night off from cooking, delivering donations to the homeless community downtown, taking some baked treats and a note of appreciation to our local fire station, holding the door for people at a store as they walk in, taking some candy canes attached to thank you notes to the cashiers at the grocery store, and encouraging our children to introduce themselves to someone they don't usually play with on the playground.
If you've ever done something similar to this, then you know how INCREDIBLE it feels. When you give, you also receive. We've received happy tears of gratitude from recipients (the waitress at the restaurant), cars waving "thank you" at us (after we tried to bolt out of the drive-thru), shocked but happy smiles (as my then 5-year-old stood at the front doors of the store greeting people for 15 minutes), notes of appreciation from friends (who really enjoyed a home-cooked meal), and a speechless store manager who told us he had never, ever seen anything like what we did for his cashiers at the grocery store. Thankfulness. Tons and tons of thankfulness.
Connection is happening when we give. Whether or not you can see it, feel it, or hear it...it’s happening. And that's what I believe God meant when he told us to love thy neighbor. He has given us the most precious of all gifts in the form of His son, Jesus. And it's awesome to take the gift of Love that you've received, and give it to someone else.
Valerie admires truth-seekers, yearns to learn more about God and herself through life's circumstances, and believes that good food plus good wine plus good company equals happiness. She and her husband are high school sweethearts, and they have the privilege of raising two beautiful daughters. She is not a huge fan of talking on the phone, but would much rather catch up with someone in person. Most days, you'll find her in yoga pants and a ponytail.