Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Countdown to Christmas/Advent (10/23/08)
TITLE: The Advent Cradle
By Robyn Burke
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Caroline had been toting boxes down from the attic most of the morning and had earned the right to put her feet up and sip a sweet cup of flavored coffee. The only thing left to bring down was the cradle and it was too heavy for her to lug by herself. She would have Spence tend to it when he came in.
The cradle. Hand crafted from oak, it had been passed down through several generations. Every one of Caroline’s’ five children had slept in that cradle.
She heard the door and felt the cold rush of wind that accompanied her husband through the entrance. He deposited a load of firewood in the wood box and turned, rubbing his hands, looking expectantly for his own cup of coffee. Caroline had already poured it and they sat at the wide kitchen table in companionable silence for a time.
Spence noticed the boxes stacked in the hallway. “Need me to bring down the cradle?”
“If you could before the kids get home from school, I would sure appreciate it.” She moved to the stove to stir a pot of beans that simmered there. “I know I say this every year, but I can’t believe it’s that time already!”
Spence nodded in agreement as he made his way over to the stairs. She went to the cupboard for a dust cloth. It would need a wipe down before it was put in place.
The tradition of the cradle’s place in Christmas was as old as the cradle itself, if not more. Caroline could recall many a lean winter where gift exchanges were few but she could not imagine a Christmas without the cradle.
Spence deposited the cherished rocker near the fireplace. “I’ll bring in a bundle of straw when I come up for lunch.” He kissed the top of her auburn head and headed back to the barn. Caroline hummed as she dusted the cradle, and memories of years past stirred with the swirls of dust.
She must have been about four or five when the cradles part in their family Christmas celebration was made clear to her. The cradle had been placed in a prominent place in the house, along with a bucket of straw.
“This is the season of Advent” explained her mother. “Advent means the arrival of something important. We need to prepare the cradle for the arrival of the baby Jesus.” They were kneeling by the cradle. “Each time you do an act of kindness without being told, you may slip a piece of straw into the cradle. Each time you show love to someone, you may slip a piece of straw into the cradle. If we all do our part in showing love and kindness, by the time Christmas Day arrives, the cradle will be full of straw; a nice warm soft bed for the baby Jesus.”
Sure enough, without exception, the cradle was always brimming with straw by Christmas Eve. Caroline’s children loved the Advent Cradle part of Christmas. Often, to Caroline, it was the best part. With a farm to run and each one having an important part in the daily chores, harmony was essential. The Advent Cradle was a little added incentive, especially during a time of year when outdoor chores became tedious.
By mid day Caroline had arranged the straw bucket and cradle, set up the crèche and baked the first batch of sugar cookies. Together with the children, the rest of the house would be decorated a little bit each evening. The bulk of it would take place when the tree was brought home the week before Christmas. Breaking it up into small sections helped keep anticipation high.
As she rolled out cookie dough she welcomed the season with an attitude of reflection. As she listened to carols she thought of those who were most important to her and how she could best show love to them during Advent. She thought of what is must have been like that night in the stable. A barn filled with animals, a manger of straw, astonished shepherds, two amazed parents and a blazing star in the sky!
She saw the school bus and listened to the excited voices of her children growing louder as they neared the old farmhouse. Caroline smiled, waiting for their entrance and acknowledgment of the cradle as the signal that Advent Season had begun.
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