By Joan Bay Klope
The members of my family enjoy weather. In late September we gas up the back-up generator, clean out rain gutters and replace flashlight batteries. Next, we check our emergency rations, pull out our heavier winter jackets, and drape fleece blankets made by Grandma Rosie across the back of our couches.
Then we tune our eyes to the skies and watch the leaves blow away. Sometimes we head to a local beach to watch the clouds and waves. It’s part of the joy of living in the Pacific Northwest. I’m an enthusiast because I grew up in the southern region of our country and weather was rarely an issue. Who would have thought that someday we’d change our menus around the weather, happily wear layers, and frequently drink coffee with friends at a nearby coffee house just so we can gaze out on the thousand hues of gray?
There are no nearby rivers to rise dangerously or trees to crush down upon our home from ice storms, so weather during the fall and winter becomes an interesting daily topic instead of a genuine concern. The first snowfall of the year prompts phone calls between my children and their grandparents. And if the wind blows in any significant way, we stick small flashlights in our pockets and wonder out loud which board game we will play when the lights go out.
Country living is glorious in so many ways. The absence of street lights creates a darkness that allows for heavenly views not available in town and I’m particularly fond of calling out into the night to our sociable Paint horse who loves attention.
“Ollie—you handsome boy!” I often holler from the back door. The sudden sound of hoofs moving in his corral, along with his friendly whinny, reaches out to me from the darkness in a comforting way. I’m reminded that man and beast cannot be separated by the darkness.
Even though my children are in their teens and twenties and sudden darkness is no longer scary, the first few moments of stormy darkness inevitably cause us to jump up and scramble for a bit.
Perhaps it’s our innate need for light and the sense of comfort it gives us that makes Christmas lights so appealing. I’m especially fond of the twinkle of outdoor lights, and just this week I suggested to my son that we drive around town to look at the displays. He thought the idea was particularly good as he will take his driver’s test at the end of the month when he turns 16 and he can’t get enough of driving these days.
The activity takes me back to my childhood when my very best friend Tedi and I would help her parents decorate the outside of their family home to celebrate the holidays. Tedi lived one street over and for 11 months of the year it was a typical suburban neighborhood. But in December the street transformed into Candy Cane Lane as every neighbor (but one!) went to enormous lengths to transform their Southern California front yards into imaginative Christmas scenes.
Tedi’s talented mother created a gingerbread village and I recall many warm Christmas vacation nights when we would sit out in the display and wave to the hundreds of people who either drove or walked by. Classmates and across-town friends would call out their approval and we felt oh, so important.
This is the Advent Season on the Christian calendar and the various activities and traditions that are part of this joyful time help believers anticipate the “arrival” of Jesus Christ as a newborn child. When the church first began observing Christmas in the fourth century, a short time – varying in length from three to seven weeks – was added as a period of preparation.
But not until six centuries later did Western culture finally establish a standard, four-Sunday season that encourages families to focus on Jesus’ birth. Advent calendars have grown in popularity and can be found most anywhere. Our family’s calendar unveils the story of Christ’s birth little by little, for 24 days. When my kids were little, we took turns reading and the kids begged to read ahead. This anticipation is what the Advent Season is all about.
My favorite Advent custom includes the preparation of a wreath from freshly cut greenery which sits on a table and holds five candles, four placed evenly and snugly within the wreath and one in the center. These candles should be dripless, at least 10 inches in length to accommodate the regular lighting, and traditionally include three – a purple, a white, and a pink.
During each Sunday observance, an additional candle is lit and scripture can be read. It’s a great time to turn on Christmas music and pray for those who have sent Christmas cards that week. Detailed family Advent worship ideas are available at most local churches, online, and at Christmas bookstores.
“I am the light of the world,” Jesus grew up to claim centuries ago. Today we find light not only tantalizing to our eyes but nourishing to the soul as well.