At Home

on a quarter past November

I set an old photo of the girls sleeping under our Christmas tree as my laptop’s background screen a few weeks ago. The more you carry the responsibility of the festivities, the more you relate to “Christmas people”—the ones who seem to launch into the holidays promptly after Halloween. Launch early or you’ll probably wake up halfway through, right?

But I was drawn to putting up the photo as a reminder of all the simple things we love about December, like blankets and lights, even as I fill online carts with gifts and scrutinize lists for fairness, and dance with the creeping acknowledgement that we have far more than we need already.

The trees are all sticks now, the temperatures are dropping and the hours of dark are growing each day, so this time of year it does feel natural to fixate on the special moments ahead. I rarely buy a wreath from the small market near us, but I absolutely love to look at them every time I stop by for groceries, often times in the dark of early evening (4:30 around here). Just after Thanksgiving they make great piles of wreaths on the long wooden tables lining the entrance. The wreaths are trimmed with all sorts of things–juniper berries, dried orange slices, evergreen springs of different varieties with cranberry colored ribbons and dark twine. Taking a moment to gaze at them each time is a favorite private tradition.

Last week I happened upon this Calm Christmas podcast, a warm and lovely listen. Listening to her soft British accent, the entire time I was visualizing Kate Winslet’s cottage in The Holiday. The first episode for this year was just released last week, and she plans to do one every week through December.

Last year here I asked for ideas of holiday things a family could still in isolation times. Jayme shared with me the idea of a box of candy bars and energy bars put out for the package delivery people, with a note thanking them for all they do. She said her children loved peeking through the window to see what they picked out. We did the same thing, filled up a big box, and had so much fun with it. All December we kept the box stocked and the kids often went outside to greet the drivers, and watch them choose something. Honestly, it was one the few times there were treats in our home that were not intended for the girls to immediately consume. It was wonderful for all of us, the girls have brought it up as a fond memory a couple times throughout this year.

Taylor wrote to me about their family carol sing along, just the four of them around the tree with a guitar.

Emily wrote to me about the a cross to cradle wreath, a wooden wreath holding candles for each night of December, to be lit with an accompanying evening reading.

Margaret wrote about the muslin bags she reuses each year for an Advent calendar–tucking in chocolates, notepads, ideas for a day off together.

If I had to sum up my personal goals for the season, they would be to clear some of the administrative tasks of the household to one side before December begins–treating the month as an extended sabbath of a sort, the seventh day of rest. I’m not sure exactly how to go about doing that. Perhaps a meal plan. Perhaps clearing out the drawer that holds old bills, cards, notes, receipts. Perhaps letting go of a holiday card, this year. One success of this school year so far is that we’ve gotten to a good system with keeping the house clean together, so I can count on help with that. I’m not planning to make a homemade Advent calendar for the children, but I wonder what a personal calendar for myself might look like. This is a goal on my mind because one of my current pitfalls of parenting to wooshing around completing tasks all day, ever in pursuit of the next accomplished moment. The reason for this is entirely understandable–the list of things to do each day is truly bottomless. But accidentally it’s become a focus of my days, and I’m ready to play with that and switch it around.



  • Jayme

    Rachael, love your posts as always and was touched by the surprise mention. I’m glad that your girls also love the “treats for the delivery drivers” tradition (one that, to be fair, I stole from another, more creative, mother!). I’m very intrigued by your house cleaning system (an ongoing source of stress here ?) and would love more details if you care to share!

    Don’t have many pro tips re: holiday planning, but this one is a gem: I always buy my gifts early and take one night at the very beginning of December (usually a Friday, so I can sleep in the next day) and pull an all-nighter to wrap all of them. I start as soon as the kids go to bed, and while I’m wrapping, I watch my favorite holiday movies, drink coffee, and eat (too many!) cookies. What might seem like a tedious chore has become my personal Christmas party with myself and I’ve grown to love it – especially since my kind husband takes over parenting duties solo the next day. It frees up the rest of the month to relax, and allows us to get to bed early on Christmas Eve (so Santa can come!).

  • Taylor

    Always love your reflections, Rachael! I was just talking with a friend today about how I love Advent in my personal reading and prayer but I’m totally ok with “Christmas” activities for the family. So much of the season is about celebrating in sync with our community around us and I don’t always want to fight that. I’m eager for the lights and music and snacks, myself 😉

  • S

    Five years ago (pre baby) I spent hours and hours sewing the Purl Soho advent calendar. It’s my favorite Christmas decoration, and now that we have a little one I hope to make family stockings to match.

    This year I want to do a Christmas devotional after dinner as a family each night, and eat through a cheese advent calendar which I spotted at Aldi (ha!). I love the notion of planning and preparing now so that the month of December can be restful and anticipatory.

  • Margaret

    It was lovely to see this and be reminded to think about this year’s Advent calendar. We’re looking for even more handmade ways to celebrate the holiday this year, inspired by Bill McKibbon’s Hundred-Dollar Holiday.

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