Advent, My Way


December is here, and for many people, that means one thing—Christmas.

Christmas is a complicated holiday for me.

It means little.

It means a lot.

Three sources conspire to create my mixed feelings.

First of all, I consider myself a “cultural Christian.” I’m a non-believer but I grew up in a very religious, Evangelical Protestant home, full of Christmas pageants and soaring hymns. I don’t believe in the stories but they hit me, at Christmas, on a very nostalgic, sentimental level.

Second, I am not a shopper and that means a lot of the focus of preparing for Christmas is lost on me. All my close family is the same—we don’t enjoy shopping and we buy what want we want or need when we need it. It has been years and years since we went the route of piles of Christmas presents.

Third, I live far from those close family members. The people I would want to celebrate this holiday with, who understand the holiday the way I do, all live far enough away that hours of driving and/or flying time would be involved. And no one wants to travel at Christmas.

For most of the year and most of the month of December, I’m fine with all of this. I’m all aloof and logical.

The month goes by and I don’t shop and don’t think much about decorating. I tell myself no one is going to see it but us and decorating is a lot of trouble, just to take it down again in January. We buy a wreath or two, do minimal fuss, and move on.

I don’t do special baking, although I like to bake, because we always have tons of chocolate around the house and we have friends who love to bake, and give, Christmas goodies. And if I bake cookies, we’ll just eat them!

I don’t shop because we’ve all agreed not to. Obligatory Christmas spending seems silly.

See? All aloof and logical.

But then Christmas Day comes, and I feel let down.

I tell myself it’s just another day

And yet . . . it feels like it should feel special.

I always reach Christmas Day wishing I had done a little more. Not more shopping or baking, but more to get in the mood, to remember my roots, to honor tradition, to make the end of the year feel warm and cozy and satisfying, even if the religious aspect isn’t meaningful to me.

So, this year I’m going to try to do that and focus on the advent, not of a religious event, but of a time of year that has had, and still does have, significance in my life.

I’ll be doing posts that encourage me to “think Christmas” and enjoy the mood and small projects and meaningful memories of the season.

To start this, I want to remind myself, and you, of a post I did a couple years ago. One thing we do find time for every year is the making of pomanders. To be honest, this is almost entirely my husband’s project but it is one that I love the best.

Pomanders are made with big, lovely oranges and whole cloves. The minimal time invested will provide weeks of incredible, powerful fragrance that seems the essence of the season. This is the perfect time of year to make pomanders, before all the other preparations get too overwhelming. Believe me, the pomanders will last, until Christmas and beyond!

You can find the full instructions here. We can make these together!


By the wonders of polygenesis, my blog friend Kathy is doing a similar blog project this month. She’s taking a more spiritual approach—you can find her here.

77 thoughts on “Advent, My Way

  1. Oh Kerry, I can’t say how much I found myself smiling and nodding all through your post – I can relate so closely! We have stopped gifts because they seem meaningless and are stressful to organise. We don’t tend to see many people because they don’t live close by. We do decorate, but I am always reluctant too – mind you, once everything is up, I am glad! And I hate the act of writing christmas cards, so always put on christmas music and pour a glass of sherry (which I associate with christmas!) to get myself in the mood. I am really looking forward to your forthcoming posts, which I know will really help me find my inner festive cheer! Thanks so much 🙂

  2. 🙂 Yes yes and yes. Pomanders sound like a lovely project, something to do while I’m not decorating or shopping or wrapping. Jim and I are going to see Son for Christmas. Though there will be presents, they will be small and simple, things we can pack and he can pack in small luggage (as he’ll come in from OK, where he is training now.) I may need to make one more Christmas stocking, as we’ll get to meet his girlfriend for the first time. That will help make it special.

  3. These pomanders do smell good! I had some sitting on the mantle above the wood stove last year. Your post last year gave me the inspiration..:)

  4. I am also following the Advent route this Christmas; mostly in a spiritual sense ~ searching for the Christmas spirit. I planned to blog about my Advent journey. HA! It’s not happening at the moment. But I am so with you and Liz on Christmas. Each year it seems to weigh more heavily on my attempts at well-being. I will look forward to your posts.

  5. I, too, will be following you on the Advent route. Christmas is a simple time here…I have already put up some decorations inside and will do an urn and decorate the front porch today. My celebrations are centered around lights – candles, fairy lights – and foods that warm and sustain us. We do give – to animal shelters, etc, and the nieces and nephew, adults now, get a few things, mostly hand-made. For us, this is a time to relax, curl up around the fireplace, nibble, read and listen to music. Walks with the Poodles, a few visits with friends, no family…they’re too far away and we also do not travel at this time of year. All good!

  6. It seems we have similar backgrounds and current feelings about Christmas. I always think about the Jewish friends of my youth who celebrated with Chinese takeout and a movie. Since my son has grown up and moved out I do minimal decorating – the red and green quilted items are out, the swag is above the front door, and the hand knit stockings are hung. This year I think we’ll be with my husband’s family, who live about 5 hours away. It’s always exciting to see if we’ll be driving through snow. I’ll have to give your pomanders a try. They would give a lovely fragrance to the house.

  7. Kerry, even though we believe differently, we still are alike in so many ways about the “over the top” expectations. Thank you for sharing your perspective and still embracing me! Big hugs to you! I am going to try out a pomander…I first saw them in elementary school and wanted to make one, but mom said no. Now I’m the mom so I will say Yes!

  8. If I could write as well as you, this is the post I would have written. There are things I enjoy: the pre-Christmas baking; planning Christmas stockings (Father Christmas does visit, but he needs a little help); decorating the tree; singing with my choir in the lead-up to Christmas (this year we’re singing at Fountains Abbey just after Christmas, and that will be special. Seeing family, of course. Maybe it’s time to make pomanders again. I made them once, maybe 30 years ago. I still remember how sore my thumbs got, poking the cloves into the oranges. But the ones we kept lasted years and years, and still smelt good till they finally got lost. I look forward to your next few posts (well, I always look forward to your posts, but you know what I mean)

  9. P.S. Oh! I’ve just read your pomader post. Sore thumbs no longer necessary! Yay! I remember having to source orris root though, to dust them with to act as a preservative. Do yours last well?

  10. I think you are on to something – you need to do some Christmas prep, but not the shopping kind – special projects, a bit of decorating, doing things that bring you good memories of Christmas past. And I hope you find something special to do on “the day” that brings you joy. We do some decorating – I love lights, so we always have a tree, and a few lights on the railing of the porch. But I also have already done the rest of the “decorating”. My grandmother’s Christmas dish towel hangs on the oven handle, her linen fingertip towels hang in the guest bath, I took down a wind chime and put up a star garland, and I swapped out the regular dishes and potholders for the Christmas ones. A has put up her very minimalist Christmas village on the sideboard, and hung a cross stitch picture her sister gave her. Done for a bit. I find those little touches make the house feel much more festive, and they don’t take long to do – about ten minutes while I am putting away the Thanksgiving things. I always plan to have more red around this time of year (our house is very much pale blue/gray and wood) but I never think of it until now, so it doesn’t happen. But someday – red and white snowflake pillows on the sofa will be part of the holiday decorating. 🙂

  11. Kerry, I so relate with your experiences during the Christmas Season – no longer being religious, gifts/shopping loosing their need/appeal – and heart connections spread far across the miles. I do enjoy a few strands of lights in the house and decorate our Norwegian Pine who lives in the house year around sparsely with lightweight ornaments. I’ve even been known to hand hearts from this dear tree in February! And I’ve enjoyed making pomanders in the past – though didn’t know the great trick of removing the peel where one places the the cloves – this re-sparks my interest! As a musician, I also grieve a loss of songs, as singing the old carols with words that I can no longer relate to, though it can be joyful at times, is more likely to be less than satisfying. I am fortunate that 25 winters ago a dear friend invited me to a winter solstice sing around the fire side. I’ve been collecting winter songs and songs of love and peace ever since. It is my joy each December to look forward to gathering with others who delight in singing these songs. Libana Songs are great chants for singing outside around the fire and George Winston and other Windom Hill Artists bring calm to me as I listen to their mesmerizing melodies ..

    • How wonderful–I will go listen to those! I still do like the religious songs, even though I’m a non-believer, I guess for pure nostalgia. I’m big into nostalgia! If you try the pomanders let me know–we’ll be making them this weekend!

      • I still like the religious songs too, and I needed something to sing that felt true to my soul. There are other songs, but I haven’t found a way to send them to you. I didn’t admit in my first comments, that I’ve learned that I’m allergic to oranges. So I’ve pondered making these with limes/lemons -I saw photos online, but didn’t think they are as pretty or even apples – though I’m not sure they would have much of a scent. Happy Pomander making to you both!

  12. However you spend Christmas I wish nothing but happiness and joy for all of us. We cannot help thinking about family and friends past and present at this time of year. Over the years Christmas has become a more simpler time (now our children are all grown and on their own) with the commercial side all but gone. Our children live close by all within a 2 hour drive time so we get to see them. So for me the best part of Christmas is family, laughter and of course good food. Oh yes I still like to get a new book or music. 🙂

  13. Our family made the decision to eliminate exchanging Christmas gifts years ago. What a relief!

    I used to really get into decorating both interior and exterior, but that has lost its appeal as well. Am I getting old? That must be it.

    But for me Christmas morning wouldn’t be the same without the aroma of fresh kielbasa, not smoked, fresh, slowly cooking in the cast iron skillet. Those nice crusty links are served with hash browns, eggs and a good dollop of hot horseradish and maybe some pickled beets. Sounds weird maybe but that’s what our family had at Christmas and I love it.

    I made pomanders in the past with the little oranges from my hardy orange tree. It was a heavenly aroma. I think I’ll do it again!

    • Oh my goodness–now I want kielbasa for breakfast! I don’t think I’ve ever had it fresh–that was NOT on the menu in upstate New York. Our loss! Let me know if you do the pomanders!

  14. I have finally got over the ‘slightly let down’ feeling of Christmas day, although for a long time my feelings were exactly those you describe. Now I rather love the minimal way we approach the day and last year’s picnic in the limery, complete with tartan blanket, was a triumph because we were doing exactly what we wanted in our own personal way.

  15. I am in a .’No-Christmas’ year Kerry – it comes every second year. I do love to celebrate Christmas with my girls – it harks back to their young days and a time that was made really special for them. We get together every other year and have a party for a week. This year I hold Christmas alone. I am not religious, but I love the spiritual significance of the season – you know, peace on earth and all that. Here of course it is long hours of warm daylight, light when I go to bed, light when I wake up. Early morning walks are a wonderful event, late evening walks are a peaceful exercise. I can muse and meditate upon the good world, the beautiful world and the hopeful world. Somehow it always seems more powerful at this time of the year.

    • I would like the “peace on earth” angle if I felt more confident it could be achieved, especially in these troubled times! But, you’re right, this is a good time of year to commit to working toward the goal, no matter how elusive. I have a hard time getting my head around a summer Christmas but I’d love a long, light-filled day right about now!

  16. I love everything Christmas, except the commercial craziness( no shopping for me anymore until January) and the debates wether to wish each other merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays, or warm Winter solciste …I can wish anybody happy anything and they can do the same to me! I find it hard this year to get into the Christmas spirit though…the weather was so long so hot, it feels that Fall just started! xo Johanna

    • The commercial craziness and the arguments about politically correct holiday greetings get me down, too! I say “happy holidays” because we all seem to have holidays of some sort and I want them all to be happy! And, no matter what someone says to me, I say “Thanks! And same to you!”

  17. Excellent post Kerry! I agree wholeheartedly with Johanna. I am a practising Christian and find the commercialization of the festival really off-putting. I have a week or two in October/November when my heart sinks and I realise that ‘that’ time is nearly upon me and I’ll have to start the annual round of shopping, meal planning and other associated jobs. However, once I get going it’s never as bad as I think it’s going to be. We don’t decorate until a day or two before Christmas Day though we do have an Advent Crown, an Advent candle and Advent calendars!
    I would love to make pomanders! I will see if I can find the time in the next week or two. I am always exhausted by the end of Christmas Day but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I love having my family around me and I love exchanging presents too. The carols, the church services, the decorations, the food – I love it!

  18. The topic of Christmas is kind of like religion and politics all rolled into one. You’re a brave woman to tackle it after the recent election. 🙂 Christmas has religious and personal meanings to me. I’ve always loved it. It has lost a lot of the joy and fun since I am reduced at this point to buying gift cards to meet individual needs. In the past, when my daughter was young and then the grandkids were young, I loved looking through catalogs, walking the aisles of ToysRUs or visiting the American Girl store, and then watching their eyes as they opened that gift they had only hoped for but didn’t think they would get. But, those days are over and dragging everything down from the attic gets tougher every year. This year, I spent a couple of hours in the attic sorting and bringing down only things that had meaning. I even bought a smaller tree. There are plenty of decorations and lights, and the smaller Nativity set instead of the big one brighten these gloomy early December days. I’m sure there are some Hallmark families out there, but I think most of us are just regular folks trying to live up to the holiday expectations but dealing with the evolution of life. When I saw your pomanders, I could almost smell hot cider. And, if it wasn’t so late, I’d be thinking about toffee. 🙂

  19. I’ve never made a pomander. Great idea. Christmas gets more simple each year. But I’m keeping the joy of the season in my heart to find ways to share with everyone I see. I’d like to do that more of the year but they make me take down my lights by Jan 15th. 😦

    • Try the pomanders–they have a sort of “Little House on the Prairie”simplicity that is very appealing.And you can enjoy them long after those lights have to come down!

  20. Perfect post Kerry. Thank you for acknowledging the unspoken. This is the time of year that I struggle with. Some years I ignore it and other years I try and participate in my own way. The very best holidays have always been around an experience with those I love. It can be as simple as walking on our frozen lake. I think its all about special memories.

    • So many people struggle at this time of year and I think that gets lost in the forced merriment that is all around us in the media. We should be reaching out to each other instead of shopping in the wee hours! And, yes, quiet moments that are personally meaningful–that’s where it’s at. Go walk on that lake (but be sure it’s frozen first!)

  21. I celebrate Christmas in an eclectic way – I’m a pagan not a Christian, but my partner loves Christmas – fortunately I think there are many layers to this yuletide festival and much magic. It does get harder to feel that magic through the commercial side of the season and as I get older, but I am feeling it more this year.

  22. First of all, thank you for introducing me to the term “Cultural Christian”. That describes me perfectly. My parents took us to church, we did a nativity scene here and there, but they were not believers and neither am I. I do celebrate the holidays though with a tree, a pine wreath, and even an advent calendar, though in our house it’s just an excuse to get a piece of chocolate once a day till Christmas. I loved the Santa years, when my boys were young. It helped revive Christmas for me and allowed me to make it special for them. My dad died when I was 9 and that took the wind out of my sails from that day forward. I remember that first Christmas as a dark and depressing time.

    So, it’s a mixed bag for me too. I do like the scents associated with this time of year including pine boughs, spiced apple cider, hot chocolate and soon, hopefully, oranges. What a great idea! We have an orange tree out back. I’m sure the rats will be able to spare a few. 😉

    I love your open and refreshing honesty, Kerry.

    • Pomanders from your own oranges?! How wonderful! My father died not long after Christmas one year, when I was a teenager and that did change the holiday in many ways. He, and his parents, were the really religious ones in the family and, when they were all gone . . . well, we made new but very different traditions.

  23. This series is just what I need to get me in the Christmas spirit. I always start out a little reluctant as I don’t like crowded stores, and it just seems like more work. I love the carols, the lights, the trees, and decorating so I warm up to Christmas as it gets closer, and do end up enjoying it.

  24. I haven’t made any pomanders yet, but I often do. Good reminder, Kerry, and thank you!
    Advent is a sacred time for me, though it’s not as clearly defined as Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Honouring Advent makes me feel that Christmas is much more than one day, and much more than the shopping or opening gifts. The first Sunday of Advent starts the season for me, and I find myself becoming more reflective, and also remembering. Christmas carols are part of it for me, as is thinking about the special cards and calls to relatives far away.

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