Today’s Writer Wednesday post is all about holiday decor. Although I love Christmas, and go all out in decorating (I even put up two trees!), I come from a tradition where Advent–those four weeks before Christmas–were treated as a mini-Lent. My grandparents never decorated their trees until Christmas Eve, and the actual Twelve Days of Christmas started on December 25 and were celebrated until the Epiphany on January 6th.


Growing up, my parents slowly let the Christmas creep in and we started decorating earlier and earlier. But never before the first week in December. And we certainly didn’t decorate before Thanksgiving.  Now, with a family of my own, I like to take the holiday season slowly and appreciate what Advent has to offer.

So, what is Advent? In Latin, Advent means “coming towards” (“ad” = towards, vent = coming) and around the middle of the fifth century, it became a 40-day period of fasting and spiritual preparation, starting on St. Martin’s day (November 12) and ending on December 25. Advent traditions became popular during the middle ages when candles were lit to show that despite the growing darkness, God would always provide a light for our spiritual journey, especially in the winter season.


Advent is about waiting with faith for God’s promise, while Christmas is about the promise fulfilled. The former is a time of contemplation and prayer, the latter is about joy and celebration. And once upon a time my grandparents (and their grandparents) understood this.


Although the tradition of fasting during Advent has waned, there a number of devotions that support both prayer and contemplation during this time. The most popular are the Advent wreath, the Advent calendar, and setting up Nativity scenes.

But others have regained their popularity, such as the Jesse Tree, Stir-it-up Sunday, and celebrating St. Lucia’s Day. So in the spirit of today’s Writer Wednesday topic, and since my trees aren’t up yet, here are a few of my Advent decorations.



Advent wreath: I have two Advent wreaths. The first sits on my kitchen table. It’s a simple wreath of greenery with four candles, three purple and one pink. We light the first candle on the first Sunday of Advent, then each week add another candle, allowing the candlelight and the day’s lections to guide us towards Christmas day. Purple is a penitential color, reminding us that the celebrations are yet to come–but not yet. And the pink candle, lit three weeks into Advent, is for Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete, which means Rejoice in Latin, reminds us that in spite of the darkness, joy is coming soon.


My second Advent wreath is much simpler. It is a wooden spiral wreath with 25 candle holes. A small wooden cut-out of a pregnant Mary on a Donkey follows the lighted candles, reminding us of our own spiritual journey during this time.


Jesse Tree: The Jesse Tree, which also dates back to medieval times, tells the story of Christ’s lineage. The Jesse Tree, named after King David’s father, represents a direct ancestral line from creation, up to King David, then straight through to the Nativity. Every night during advent, the kids place Jesse ornaments, representing Jesus’ ancestors, on the tree and read the corresponding bible story. The interesting thing about our tree is that I thought the kids would lose interest the older they got. Instead, now that they’re teenagers, they’re the ones who want to keep up the devotion.



St. Lucia’s Day Celebrations: This is the festival of lights celebrated on December 13 in honor of St. Lucia of Sweden, a young girl who was martyred around the year 303 AD, during the reign of Diocletian. When I was a kid, we used to process around school (a public school!) holding real candles (how did we ever survive the 70’s and  80’s?!?) which represented St. Lucia’s triumph over darkness. Then we’d get hot chocolate and St. Lucia buns in the cafeteria. Now, on this is the day, I plug in the lights on my Christmas Dickens Village and my Christmas trees. Once the tree lights are lit, we start decorating them. And while I don’t bake the buns, I bake way too many Christmas cookies to eat while I decorate the trees.


Nativity or Manger Scene: This one is easy and the kids love helping me. I bought this set not long after we were married and we even took it overseas when my husband was stationed in Korea. Now my kids put this up every year and hide the baby Jesus until Christmas morning. They also take turns moving the Wise Men around until the Epiphany on January 6th. (Did I mention they’re teenagers and they still play with the manger scene?)

Oops! How did this photo of a dark chocolate peppermint cheesecake get in here?

Finally, the music. I love Christmas music but can get sick of it quickly. So instead of jumping into the all-Christmas music all-the-time model, I start with some of my favorite Advent Hymns. Yes, some of the oldest Christmas Carols are actually Advent hymns. Maybe you’ve heard of “Lo! He Comes”, “O Come O Come Emmanuel”, “Come thou long expected Jesus”, and” People Look East”. Here is my favorite from youtube.

Now I’d love to learn about your holiday decorations and traditions. Do you deck the halls early? Or closer to Christmas?

Please join my 2012 Golden Heart sisters today for our Writer Wednesdays blog party. Here’s who’s participating today:

Novels with Romantic Elements – Jean Willett | Paranormal writers – Kay Hudson | Contemporary romance writers – Priscilla Oliveras – Tammy Baumann | HistoricalWendy LaCapra

Writer Wednesday List

All photos courtesy of Sharon Wray. Copyright 2015.

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  1. Sharon, I love how you and your family have kept up such great traditions! (We have a manger scene VERY similar to yours that my kids still look forward to seeing every year. Beautiful pictures as always and I love all the history you always manage to impart.

    (The recipe for that pie would be greatly appreciated as well!)

    1. Thanks you, Tammy. I’m not surprised you have a similar manger scene. I think I bought mine at Sears or JC Penney. lol!
      As far as the recipe is concerned, if I can find it you can have it too. I shared that cheesecake with a girlfriend of mine at a nearby restaurant and it was so divine and wonderful that I wish I had a piece right now.
      But if I find it, I’ll send it right over. 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful traditions. I, too, find comfort and joy in our religious traditions. In our house, when my girls lived at home, I’d place our advent wreath on our kitchen table and we’d light the candles for dinner each night while singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

    We didn’t celebrate with a Jesse tree, but we’d have an advent calendar and like you, we put out our nativity scene without baby Jesus. Then, Christmas Eve after mass we’d gather to read Twas the Night Before Christmas and The Nativity Story before one of my girls would place baby Jesus in his manger.

    Simple acts that bring the family together. Moments to stop in our busy lives and think about our blessings and what we have to be thankful for. Times for us to focus on what’s important– the love we have for one another.

    Love seeing all your pics and truly appreciate your blog! Hugs

    1. I, too, find comfort and joy in our religious traditions. And, like you, I believe it not only brings the family together but holds the family together through difficult times, just like your gingerbread houses. We used to have an advent calendar, but it got lost somehow and I haven’t found one I love well enough to replace it. But I’m always looking out for the perfect one!
      And thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them and you! Hugs back and a very Merry Christmas.

  3. What a wonderful reminder of religious traditions I grew up with. We always had an Advent wreath and I still have one. I’m not familiar with a Jesse Tree, but now have more history to enjoy. Thanks for sharing the history and beautiful music. I needed that this morning to remember the reason for the season. I appreciate the beauty you share in your blogs.
    Merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks so much, Jean. I didn’t grow up with a Jesse Tree either, but once I had kids I decided it was something I wanted to do. And I’m still surprised by how much the kids enjoy it even though they’re getting older. And I absolutely love that version of O Come O Come Emmanuel. I’m glad it brightened your morning!
      Merry Christmas to you too!

  4. Sharon, your posts are always full of such beautiful pictures.

    When I was a very little girl, the Christmas tree magically appeared on Christmas morning, put up and decorated by my parents, Eventually that moved to a family decorating party, but never earlier than a few days before Christmas, and it came down on New Year’s Day. We did celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6th–my little brother and I anticipated that little stocking almost as much as we did Christmas morning.

  5. Kay, I think the earliest we ever put the tree up was around St. Lucia’s day, but never earlier. I’m glad to know we weren’t the only ones who waited!

    I was always so jealous of the kids in my neighborhood who celebrated St. Nicholas Day. They didn’t get big gifts, but small stockings filled with tangerines and peppermints and sometimes a PEZ dispenser. I think I just liked the idea of being remembered by St. Nicholas. And I was worried that if he didn’t remember me on December 6th, would he find me on Christmas day.

    What a wonderful family memory your parents left you! 🙂

  6. Heather Ashby says:

    Beautiful post! Beautiful Home! Beautiful traditions!!! Merry Christmas, Sharon – after a proper Advent, of course. Hugs.

    1. Thanks so much, Heather! I hope you have a Merry Christmas as well!

  7. A truly lovely post, Sharon. The advent tradition of quiet & reflection followed by feast and celebration makes so much sense. How better to sincerely appreciate all that togetherness has to offer that to precede it with a period of meditative respect?

    Thank you for sharing your photos and your traditions! Happy advent.

    1. Thank you, Wendy. I do truly love Advent, mostly because it gives me an excuse for always being behind in everything from shopping and baking to decorating. 🙂
      Happy Advent and Merry Christmas to you too!

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