For years, advent – the four weeks prior to Christmas – in the O’Connell household has been celebrated with the gradual building of an advent nature scene on our kitchen table. I love this tradition, because it blends the Christian tradition of the advent wreath with a deeper appreciation of the natural world.
It begins very simply on the first Sunday of advent, when we put out a plain advent candle holder on a blue silk, and over the course of advent the scene builds until it is complete on Christmas Eve. Because we are Catholic, we use a traditional set of purple and pink advent candles, with the pink candle being lit on the third Sunday of advent, but you can use whatever candles you like.
We honor the mineral kingdom, by adding a few beautiful stones, crystals and shells. Each night at dinner, beginning with the first Sunday of advent, we light the first candle.
When our children were young, here was their favorite blessing (sung) for advent dinner times:
Winter is dark, yet each tiny spark
Brightens the way to Christmas Day.
Shine little light and show us the way
To the bright light of Christmas Day.
We honor the plant kingdom, by adding pine boughs and a few pine cones. Some bright red berries would be lovely as well, if you have them. Each night this second week, we light two candles.
We honor the animal kingdom, by adding some hand-crafted animals. We prefer the animals that might have shared the stable with the Christ child, like sheep, camels or donkey, but feel free to do it your own way! We light three candles each night at dinner this week.
We honor the human kingdom, adding Mary and Joseph to the scene. We light all four candles this week.
We add the babe to the manger. The scene is complete.
Warmest winter holiday greetings to you and your families. May all your traditions serve to bring you closer together and help you find the light in these dark and deep months
Mary O’Connell is the Director of the Milwaukee LifeWays Early Childhood Center, and is Director of the LifeWays training in Wisconsin.