It’s that time again.

The time for unwrapping stored treasures, recalling the day each child made every hand-crafted ornament, laughing about why that star decoration is missing a point or grieving for the poor third wise man who got shattered somewhere during the toddler years.

It’s the time for traditions.

Some of these center around items that have been passed down or annual events we attend or just whose house we go to on which day and at what time.

Others revolve around words. And, friends, these are some of the sweetest traditions of all for me.

I want to share with you four of my family’s literary traditions.

Daily Readings During Advent and Epiphany

I grew up in a Christian home, but I didn’t grow up with an Advent or Epiphany tradition. Sure, I’d heard of Advent. I knew some churches had this wreath thing with candles in it. But, I had little personal experience with it and even less with Epiphany.

Even before I had children, I knew I wanted to be very intentional in the traditions we started at Christmas and the focus we have at this time of year. Once we had our first child, I was probably a little too excited about buying all the cutesy little things for her.

As they grew, I’ll be honest, I floundered a little bit about how to keep all our thoughts turned toward the greatest gift of all—Jesus Christ and the eternal life he gives.

It’s really just been in the past few years that my understanding of Advent and Epiphany has grown. I’ve come from a childhood where, quite honestly, I dreaded Christmas to an adulthood where I now eagerly anticipate the excitement of these two observances—and, I hope, will pass that excitement on to my children.

December 1 was the first day of Advent, and I shared these words on my social media pages to explain what our family does during these next several weeks.

It's the time for traditions. The sweetest ones revolve around words, and I want to share with you four of my family's literary traditions. www.joyerancatore.com

Over the past few years, we have tried to be more intentional with what our family focuses on during this time of year because it’s far too easy to become overwhelmed, scattered, depressed and self-centered.

I know many of you hold different beliefs and traditions this time of year, but I thought you may be interested in how my family celebrates. If so, here you go!

Advent is the time from December 1-25 when many Christians reflect on the Savior who was promised specifically to the Jewish people throughout the Old Testament. We remember how they looked forward to his coming, and we joyfully read how Jesus Christ fulfilled each of those promises when he came to earth as a human to live a perfect life and be the only perfect sacrifice for us. I say “joyfully” because that reminder that God kept all of his promises before also reminds us that he will keep all of his promises again. He has promised eternal life to all who believe in him. He has promised … not ease … but peace to all who follow him. And he has promised to come again and to bring all his children to spend eternity with him. So, it is with a joyful reflection on promises kept that we are able to look forward to this beautiful future. This is Advent—an awaiting for the Savior’s arrival.

A few things we have started doing over the past few years during this time are reading daily Bible verses and devotions both together as a family and individually. This year we’re reading through John Piper’s devotion, Good News of Great Joy, which you can download for free!

Last year, my kids enjoyed coloring through Tasha Wiginton‘s Advent Family Devotional, and they’ve requested I print it out again this year. You can do that too!

We have a garland in our hall with verses to read each day of Advent. I plan to update them so they match the verses from the two resources above … just to keep it all a little simpler!

And, we also have an Advent “candle wreath.” As you’ll notice in the photo, it’s neither real candles nor wreath! I printed and colored this page a few years ago, leaving the candle “flames” plain, and then laminated it. We use a dry erase marker to “light” one flame for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and then the final one on either Christmas Eve or Day. Here’s a link to print out a guide for this.

Now, I mentioned Advent and something else.

Epiphany.

Have you ever experienced a huge let-down after Christmas? There are no more surprises to anxiously await. No more figgy pudding to devour. Maybe that let-down doesn’t come until January 2, but you know it’s coming.

From December 26 through January 6, we add to our focus the fact that God sent a Savior not just to one group of people, but to ALL people … even me!

You may have heard of Three Kings Day or Kings Day? That would be January 6. Around our neck of the woods it means it’s time for king cake and gearing up for Mardi Gras, but for my family it’s a reminder that God came in human form to be the Savior we all need. Those wise men who traveled for a couple of years knew that. That is why they took that hard route to bring gifts to not just a king, THE King. The King of kings and Lord of lords.

So, instead of feeling let down after the wrapping paper’s littered the house, we choose to get excited again! Our tiny wise men continue their slow journey across our living room to where Jesus was growing up, and we read and reflect on the greatest gift—eternal life with God through Jesus Christ. ❤️

So, that’s a little of what our family does this time of year. We don’t always do it all perfectly, and this making of a family tradition didn’t happen overnight. On the outskirts of these pictures are boxes and mess and clutter and dust and dog hair. But, in these little things, we strive to be intentional. We desire to focus on the greatest gift in the midst of the whirlwind of lights, things and expectations.

Socks for Christmas

My sister Jane has been a wonderful example for me in the way of creating special and lasting traditions for our children.

A few years ago, she shared a book with my family that was part of her boys’ Christmas routine—Socks for Christmas by Andy Andrews. This book is the author’s reflections on a Christmas in his childhood when he first realized that not every child gets fun presents. Some parents have to pinch pennies for necessities like shoes, leaving nothing for extras like socks.

Told in a true storyteller’s fashion that has us laughing one minute, bawling the next and finishing up with laughter through our tears, this book has become a favorite read for my kids. It reminds us that getting things isn’t important but looking for ways to give is.

My kids get one more reminder of this book’s beautiful message when they find a pair of socks at the top of their stockings.

The Greatest (True!) Story Ever Told

This tradition has been with me my entire life.

Every year on either Christmas Eve or Christmas day—before any gifts are unwrapped—we read part of the greatest (TRUE!) story ever told from Luke, chapters 1 and 2 in the Bible. This gives us an opportunity to slow down in the busyness of those two days full of food, family and fun to focus on the most important thing in our lives—God.

The Nutcracker

Now, a literary tradition in its strictest definition rests on the written word, but I’m going to deviate just slightly from that with this one.

At the end of the day—or maybe I should say from the beginning of time—we have been a people of STORIES. Before we had the tools for a true literary tradition, we had an oral tradition—stories passed down from generation to generation.

Today we have the privilege of enjoying stories in many different ways—oral, written or performed. Songs are stories in themselves … opera being a great example of that. We have movies, televisions shows, plays acted out on stages, radio dramas. Wherever we look, we find stories.

The story that probably holds some of my most precious childhood memories is The Nutcracker.

This is a tale we’re all familiar with in some way. We can read it in books, watch it performed either through drama, ballet or instrumental performance. This year, we have a brand new magical film version to add to our Nutcracker traditions. (I, for one, cannot wait to watch it!)

But, my little memory of this story rests in the version set on ice. I spent many special moments watching The Nutcracker on Ice, featuring Dorothy Hamill and Robin Cousins, with my grandfather. We would snuggle. There would usually be some sort of snack involved. And, I remember talking—though not the exact words—and laughter. Lots of laughter.

That was my grandfather.

Quality time. His undivided attention. His untiring ear for my little child words. His joyful smile and precious laugh.

We loved that story.

Because of that tradition, I have Nutcrackers in my house. I tear up when I hear any of Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music. And, I know I will bawl my eyes out whenever I do finally watch the new movie.

 

So, what about you? What are some of your family’s traditions? Do you have any specifically literary traditions for this time of year?

If you have any questions about some of the activities or books I mentioned, drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you!

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