There's no denying that Christmas takes a lot of thinking about. I've been overwhelmed right from the start of my home-keeping, what with the first three of my seven children and my mother having a birthday in December. Somehow getting presents and in the right balance (do you know what I mean about balance? Hoping that one person doesn't feel less "gifted" than the other?) has always been a challenge. And the spiritual dimension: we can't just complain about secularization, consumerism, and taking Christ out of Christmas. We have to do something about it. And that doing happens right here in our homes.
Add to that my difficulty coping with a time horizon beyond a week, and you get a sort of Christmas anxiety stew.
Yet the Chief and I agreed early on to keep the season of Advent. I remember our first tree: we didn't have decorations or lights, and I was too pregnant and carless to shop -- so we left it bare! And its bareness was completely and utterly right to us, though I have no doubt we appeared to be insane and quite inexplicable to our friends.
Later Advent sometimes seemed another burden to me, especially as I learned of more customs I could be including. Jesse tree? Oh my. And speaking of insane (and completely impractical without servants), how about that great German custom of revealing the Christmas tree completely decorated on Christmas eve? Maybe you can do it, but I have enough on my hands with, well, you know (see above) -- without trying to pull that one off! Sorry, Chief, no can do.
Sometimes I wish I could be like a lady I once knew who, after homeschooling for a few months, had a nice tidy nervous breakdown and stayed in bed for three weeks. Maybe the good God sent me so much to do in December so I would keep it simple and know, early on, my limitations.
So, to start bringing in your Christmas decorations while still making it Advent: try to put out just those things that give an air of expectancy. I think that some decorations say "Christmas is here!" (like Santas, which I love). Others say "This part of creation is waiting along with you!" It dawned on me to sort of separate them out and label my boxes (Advent and Christmas). So I don't actually get everything out at once. I've also just gotten rid of a lot of things. I found that we need more prayer and worship, and fewer things.
Do you have a little cracked cup or stray demitasse that you love but don't know what to do with? Have you ever heard of the custom of placing straws in the manger to make a soft bed for Baby Jesus with your good deeds?
Children love this custom. But for a long time I was deterred from doing it for a very silly reason: I didn't know what straw was. Go ahead and laugh!
As a city girl, I thought that straw was something very particular, very special, known only to farmers and shepherds...where would I get straw? How do you ask for it? I finally overheard someone say that she grabbed a bunch of dried grass and cut it up for her straw for the manger. Oh man. Okay! Now we can do straw!
Place your creches in your rooms without their Infants. (Hide them in your sideboard or your dresser drawer -- but make it the same place and make it known to someone else, because Christmas morning without Jesus in the manger because Mom forgot where she put Him is going to be quite sad.)
This creche is tiny. (That cup is smaller than the votive candle behind it...) It belonged to the Chief's grandmother. The figures are made of plaster and are easily broken, so I keep it on the dining room mantelpiece. Since the Infant isn't detachable from his manger in this one, we put our straws here. If I had learned about "straw" sooner, when everyone was little, I probably would have needed a bigger "straw" container. But this is perfect for now. See, you can start late! You can start now!