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Patrice and William Athanasidy pose with their three children.

By Patrice E. Athanasidy

As the fourth Sunday of Advent approaches, we are getting ready to put up our Christmas tree. It has been tough to hold out this long when most everyone else has had their tree up for weeks, but we like to keep the full spirit of the Advent season.

My children have reminded me that they can’t wait for the tradition I have of surprising them with one new set of ornaments as we put up the tree.

When I was a child, Grandpa John always brought new Christmas ornaments on New Year’s Eve and hid them on the tree. He would ask us to find the new decorations. My sister, brother and I would squeal in delight as we found the teddy bear, toy soldier, or reindeer that he had brought from his florist shop display. Some of those ornaments now hang on my family’s tree.

The last week of Advent feels a little like those moments of surprise with the new ornaments – the excitement about something new, yet within a familiar tradition. Christmas reminds us of the birth of Jesus each year, yet there is always something new and surprising about this wonderful season. The joy of the birth of Christ feels new as I watch my children understand it a bit better with each passing year.

We take hours to decorate our tree because Charlotte, Peter and Kit expect “the stories” that come with the ornaments. Bill and I have a few from our childhood. We have a gazebo because that is where Bill proposed to me. We have an ornament for our first Christmas together from my cousin, and one for when we first bought the house from my parents. All three children have ornaments from their first Christmas. We collect them on vacations and receive them as gifts from family members.

We have ornaments that mark when Charlotte started playing violin; Peter was obsessed with trains; Kit began dancing. We have ornaments from Disney, Williamsburg, Hershey, Cape Cod, Yellowstone and more. By the time the tree is decorated, we have taken a trip down memory lane and thought of many of the people we love.

We have another tradition. As we put the tree away each year, I write about our Christmas holiday time on the back of our Advent calendar. We toss each calendar into the ornament boxes almost like a time capsule. Some have quotes from when the kids were very little and gave their first impressions of Christmas. Some talk about special larger family gatherings. They all keep our family memories of this most special time of year in one place. We often read them as we put away the decorations, taking another trip down memory lane.

For us the tree is as much a symbol of our family as it is of Christmas. It shows different parts of our lives on each branch and surrounds them with the soft Christmas lights, making the memories feel warm and bright at the same time.

When we have guests, my children often pull them over to the tree. I am fascinated by the stories they tell as they point out their favorite ornaments. The decorations for them are the tangible, visible signs of the joy that goes with Christmas. We celebrate Jesus’ birth and the gift of family and love that are part of our lives because of him.

It’s almost time to say “Merry Christmas.”

Printed with permission of Fathers for Good.

Topics: Advent & Christmas , Family

Fathers for Good is an initiative by the Knights of Columbus.

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