ADVENT In The Heart and Home {Guest Post by Anna of Sweet Nest}

Every family develops their own special traditions and memories. No two families are alike, but there's always something in another's family that can inspire your own. I hope you are enjoying the Advent In The Heart and Home series. I've been so blessed already! Today is no different.

My guest today is Anna from The Sweet Nest. Be encouraged...her simplicity is truly...sweet!

Merry Christmas, friends! It was with great joy that I accepted Ruth's request to share with you, some of our favorite advent-season traditions. Over time and through much trial and error, I have realized that any traditions we have grown to love have been ultimately rooted to two things: Expectations and Simplicity.

Expectations can be a killer. It can drain joy and smiles and leave behind a colander full of disappointment.

It has been my experience that deciding ahead of time what will become a treasured moment ... doesn't always fly. Turns out, people don't like to be bossed into special moments. And believe me. I've tried. Sweet traditions seem to evolve on their own accord. Yes, they often require a little effort or forethought, but they may or may not "stick." Initially, they are best offered up without expectation.

In thinking of what traditions, specifically, have meaning for us, I realized I couldn't ask that of myself, but must ask the children what their favorite traditions are. My husband and I have offered up all sorts of Christmas season experiences over the years, but in general, their response is the deciding factor in what "sticks" and what doesn't. Here is what they said they loved:

Cozy
Cozy to them meant candles and Christmas CDs, twinkling Christmas trees, and stockings hung. Baking cookies, reading books, piecing puzzles, and watching old movies. It meant time together. Atmosphere. All of the little stuff that added together becomes tradition and memories. Not complicated. Not even specific. Just Cozy. Your cozy may look different than our cozy. Don't try to measure up or compare. What you are already doing is enough and it's special.

Advent Readings For the last four years we have read one of the books from Arnold Ytreeide's series. We light the advent candles and cuddle in for a good nightly read. The stories are exciting, they reinforce God's plan for His people, and they remind us of who Christ is for each of us.

Each Sunday of advent we replace the evening meal that we normally would have with one made of rice and beans. This is to serve as reminder to us of all of those in this world that would be grateful for such a simple meal. You'd think the kids would grumble but I'm always surprised by their enthusiasm. The money saved by making this our meal is represented by a dollar bill placed above the plate of each person. This gets tucked into our "Blessings Jar" along with any other donated funds from chores or savings. We choose some person or group that we know could use the gift and send it to them after Christmas.
It's simple and not a huge amount of money, but a very real way to show the children how they can show love in Christ's name. All three of my children agreed on these three as their favorite traditions. It's not the activities, really, it's the intent and the togetherness. It's what has emerged as special to our family.

So how to figure out what works for your family? It may be different than what works for ours.

However, next to managing healthy expectations, advocating Simplicity will bless any family. If it's complicated, someone is going to get stressed out or bored. Totally not the point, right?

Here are some tips I like to refer to as "Operation Holiday Simplicity":

1. Pray that the Lord would show you how to navigate this season in a way that would bring Him glory and honor.

2. Say "yes" to down time! Just because you have a day free doesn't mean you should fill it up with holiday plans. Be willing to let fun opportunities pass by so you can fully appreciate those that you purposefully choose. Added bonus? You're making room for spontaneous jigsaw puzzle sessions or Christmas stories by the fire.

3.  Do it if it is fun. Only if it is fun. Christmas cards? Only if you enjoy the process and won't groan at the postage. Of course we all love to receive them, but nobody will think less of you if you don't send them. Baking cookies? Bring me a plate if you spent a glorious day making them. But if you dread the making, the chilling, the rolling, the cutting, the frosting ... just make some hot chocolate and everyone is still happy.

4. Find simple, sustainable traditions that bring Christ into your home. We all have our favorites that work for us, but our family is learning to slow the daily pace down enough so we can truly set the focus where we want it to be and simply enjoy the season.

5. Let go of the expectations and just enjoy. This means being willing to bag the most brilliant idea if it isn't working for the family. This is a biggie for me. I'm prone to over-planning which can really be a drag for everyone else. Appreciating the days for how they offer themselves up is a skill I'd really love to make habit.

Truly, this is the season for expectations. But in all the treasured moments we find, may we remember our true joy does not come from that which we create. Let us hold loosely to our own expectations, and simply take on The Expectation of Christ. He is coming ... and in Him, our expectations will be met in full.

“I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem!
Luke 2:10-11