4 Short Advent Reflections

Our church invites people to submit reflections/activities/encouraging words to be shared via email during Advent. Each of us wrote one, and I think you can hear our voices very clearly in them.
From me:
Mary Elizabeth Coleridge was a British novelist and essayist who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th century, but she is best remembered now for her poetry. Her work often has a mystical element to it, like in this simple, short poem about Christmas with a shocking last line that reminds me of the Magnificat’s promise:
“I Saw a Stable”
I saw a stable, low and very bare,
A little child in a manger.
The oxen knew Him, had Him in their care,
To men He was a stranger.
The safety of the world was lying there,
And the world’s danger.

Much of Coleridge’s poetry has been set to music, including this poem. You can listen to it here:

From the youngest:
I like a sketch comedy show called Studio C. It’s a good fit for kids but my whole family likes it. They made a Christmas Compilation. It’s an hour long, but you can watch just one skit when you need a little laugh.

From the middle child:

Ever since I was little, my favorite holiday has been Christmas. I’m simply enamored by the sparkling lights and the excitement in the atmosphere. But I struggle with the arrival of the holiday. For me, the buildup is almost better than the actual day! Because when the day comes, I’m struck by the fact that I must wait another year for the excitement and cheer of waiting. The gifts are not my favorite part. It’s the sense of togetherness I gain from being excited for something with other people! I guess that makes Advent my favorite time of year, even more than Christmas!

And from the oldest:

A favorite part of this holiday, for me, is its fascinating cultural history. From its early beginnings as a way to absorb and de-paganize solstice festivals to Charles Dickens nearly single-handedly bringing it back into vogue, Christmas has had its ups and downs.

To me, the most humorous part of Christmas’s long history is Oliver Cromwell’s–Lord Protector, commander of the New Model Army, and all around most puritan of Puritans–War on Christmas. Now, it technically is a little facetious to say that Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas. What actually happened was that the extremely Protestant Roundhead faction (and I mean Protestant in the “Witchfinder General”/“Popish plot” kind of way) beat the monarchists in the English Civil War. Suddenly, real, classic Puritanism in its most fun-hating form takes control of the country, and Cromwell, their leader, appoints himself dictator and begins a war with Ireland that basically amounts to an attempted genocide, executes the king, and crushes a Scottish rebellion, but more important for our story, he implements a series of extremely harsh restrictions on celebrations and veneration of saints. Basically, he sees the myriad celebrations and feasting held in honor of saints, the largest among them being Christmas, and he, because most of England was seeing Catholics in the shadows and Frenchmen in the walls, declared the holiday to be “pagan” and “popish.” He banned reverie and celebration, passing an ordinance that people should treat December generally and Christmas in particular “with the more solemn humiliation because it may call to remembrance our sins, and the sins of our forefathers, who have turned this feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights.” (You do celebrate Christmas this way, right?) This deeply angered the public, triggering a weeks-long period of pro-Christmas rioting/general merriment that Cromwell was unable to control. Eventually, Cromwell would go on to die, have his body be dug up, hanged at Tyburn, and then beheaded, his decapitated head eventually stuck on a stake in front of Westminster Hall, a harsh punishment even for this true enemy of Christmas.

All in all, an anecdote in the history that reminds us that this wondrous season hasn’t always been Coke polar bears and mall Santas. It combines a few of my favorite historical topics: weird Puritans, anti-governmental rioting, and of course, Christmas!

Oliver Cromwell's Head • History in Numbers

Foxhole Advice: What to do when you get presents you don’t like

January 2,

My grandparents give me lousy Christmas presents each year. They are either things I’m not interested in or presents that are for kids younger than me. (I’m 10.) I know it’s the thought that counts, but my grandparents don’t really seem to be thinking about me when they give me these gifts. Should I just pretend I like their presents or tell them how I really feel?

Don’t Call Me Ungrateful, Please

Dear Not Ungrateful,

In my opinion, the best option would be to either subtly imply that you would like something more to your liking, for next time, or simply return the presents to the store where they were purchased. If they were from a big box store, such as Walmart or Target, buy something you would prefer to the lackluster gifts. Your grandparents are far away and probably won’t notice that you don’t own their gifts anymore. 

Mr. Prickles



Dear Not Ungrateful,

First, let me say I LOVE the double negative in your pseudonym! But, graver topics are on the floor: Christmas presents.

If you feel like the fits aren’t a good fit for you, then it means that your grandparents are struggling to buy or make what you would like. Help them out by giving them ideas! Decide on one kind of thing that your grandparents could give you and ask for that year after year (or until you grow out of it).

For example, maybe there is a series of books you love (The Nathan Hale series is a good choice if you like history and graphic novels!) or a kind of book you like (like stories about World War II). Many schools participate in Scholastic Book Clubs. Create an account and a wishlist, then share it with your grandparents. They can buy the books online and have them shipped to your school, and when they order books this way, your classroom gets free books from Scholastic. 

Or maybe there is a kind of art supply you like and could always use more of. Things that get used up (paints, crayons, sketchbooks, fancy teas, bubble bath) are things you can always use. 

Communication is the key here. You can tell them what you want without sounding greedy. Try this: “One of my goals for next year is to get better at crocheting so I’m asking people who usually buy me presents to help stock my supply of yarn” or “This year, I’ve really gotten into history, especially the Civil Rights period. If you were thinking about buying me a present, I’d love to read more about this time period.”

Check in with us next year to let us know how this works out for you!




Dear Not Grateful,

You are kind to care about your grandparents’ feelings. 

This isn’t a problem about Christmas, I think. It’s a problem about the rest of the year. Your grandparents don’t seem to know you well enough to give you a present based on your interests. Let them know what interests you far in advance of Christmas. Better yet, get them interested with you Even though they are far away, you can share some interests in common. For example:

  • Play online chess or another online game together
  • Make a craft together (like each of you piecing half of the squares of a quilt).
  • Set aside time after your favorite football teams play to discuss the game over Skype or Facetime.
  • If you perform in a concert or play, send your grandparents a video of it.
  • Take photos of the artwork you make in school and ask your parents to post them online where your grandparents can see them.
  • Ask your parents to buy you a set of 12 nice notecards and 12 stamps, then paperclip a stamped, addressed envelope with a blank card inside to each month of your calendar. Each time something exciting happens that month, write a short note inside the card (“Band concert today–We played music from Harry Potter!” or “Lost our basketball game tonight, but I scored more points in a single game than I ever have!” or “Earned an A+ on my Newberry Honor diarama!”) several times each week, then mail the card at the end of the month. 
  • As your grandparents get to know what you are good at and what you enjoy, they will become better gift-givers. Best of all, you will get to know each other better!