Our days have become very short. As we await the turning point of the winter solstice, lights are appearing in windows and on lampposts, adding warmth to the fullness of the dark nights. In our classrooms we are lighting the advent candles each morning and taking time to honor the kingdoms of nature. This first advent week is the week of the stones. Children hear stories about the mineral kingdom and find crystals, seashells, and special rocks in their wreathes. Next week we will think of the plants, and the following week, the animals. The fourth week of advent honors the arrival of the Christ child: the week of the human being. This week represents many things to many people. It is the birth of something uniquely human: the ability to act consciously and to strive and grow inwardly. I think of the advent candles as a representation of my higher self - a reminder that such a part of me exists. The advent light encourages me to be a little more loving, a little more giving, and a little more forgiving.
But, I have always found that during advent my best intentions are challenged more than ever. December is one of the busiest months of the year. It is filled with activity and preparation. We send cards to one another with messages of peace and joy, but it often feels anything but peaceful or joyful. During this season we want to focus on what is best in ourselves and in one another, but we are often faced with just the opposite. When I am stressed, I find I retreat from being conscious about my actions and instead revert to bad habits and poor planning. This creates more stress and it can be hard to dig myself out.
Recognizing that it is unlikely I will ever rid myself of the stress and chaos of this season, I am striving instead for presence of mind. Life with two young children can be unpredictable. In the middle of my most careful planning will come a melt down, or a loud argument, or perhaps vomit. I have been striving to ride the wave of unpredictability that is life and say to myself, 'this is' rather than 'this should be'. Bringing my attention to the moment at hand is as much a gift to myself as it is to my children. Creating moments where I am as present as my children always are has been my goal this advent. I want to honor my family and this wonderful world with my careful attention. Simple family traditions help me to focus on making these moments happen.
Here is a link to a lovely description of how one family celebrates advent in their home.