Earlier this year, I wrote and submitted this story to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s 2021 Christmas edition. It was not accepted, but I know there is a LOT of competition, for the Christmas edition especially. So that’s okay. I still wanted to share it with you here, since we are in the Advent season right now. This story is based on real events from my childhood. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!
The Advent Log
By Jessica Hinrichs
A crisp breeze blew and the autumn leaves crunched beneath our feet, leaving an earthy scent lingering in the air. Dad, my two brothers, and I hiked deep into the woods behind Grandma and Grandpa’s house until a fallen tree came into view. Though I was just eight years old, the beautiful Black Cherry tree had been there as far back as I could remember.
“What’s the plan?” asked my brother Nathan.
“I’ll chop most of this up to use as firewood,” Dad answered, resting his axe on the ground. “But, in the meantime, we need to find the perfect log for a special project I have in mind.”
We shuffled around the fallen tree, searching. My brother Marcus spotted a large log, about three feet long and about as round in diameter as a dessert plate. It appeared to be straight and in good condition. “How’s this, Dad?”
“Great! That’s an exquisite log!” Dad answered.
I raised one eyebrow. Exquisite? It looked like any old ordinary log to me.
Nevertheless, we lugged it home and got to work.
Dad drilled 28 one-inch holes along the length of the log, then coated the rich cherry bark with polyurethane to help preserve it and make it shine. “What are we making?” I asked, perplexed.
Dad smiled. “You’ll see.”
After the log dried, my brothers and I worked together to secure twelve-inch-tall taper candles into the holes Dad had drilled. Most of the candles were white, but one candle in the very center was red. Dad positioned the finished log as the centerpiece on the dining room table. Mom dressed it up by wrapping a fresh pine garland around the length of it as decoration.
Inhaling the sweet pine scent, I stared at this enormous candle holder that now occupied much of the surface area of our table. I furrowed my eyebrows. “What is this?”
Dad stood back and motioned his hands as if to say Ta Da! “This is an Advent Log.”
“What’s Advent?” I asked.
Dad explained, “Simply put, it’s the Christmas season. Advent is the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Christians celebrate this special season of waiting as we anticipate the birth of Baby Jesus. Do you see that red candle in the center?”
“That’s called the Christ candle. It represents Christmas Day. We’re going to light one new candle on our Advent Log each night, as we countdown to Christmas Day.”
I grinned. “Sounds fun!”
The next evening, my whole family gathered around the Advent Log. The soft glow from the Christmas tree illuminated the nearby living room. The smell of gingerbread wafted in from the kitchen.
We dimmed the overhead lights and I lit the first candle. We sat still, listening to Dad’s low soothing voice as he read a Christmas devotional out loud. Then the whole family sang Christmas carols. I sang a solo during “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and I giggled when my brothers used silly voices during “We Three Kings.” Dad prayed, then Mom let me use the candle snuffer to put out the single candle.
The next night, we lit two candles. The night after that, three. And so on. My brothers and I took turns lighting the candles, alternating sides of the Advent Log each evening. Gradually, the candles on the outer edges melted down shorter than the inner candles, creating a cascading effect as we worked our way toward the center Christ candle.
Night after night, we gathered around the Advent Log. Sometimes my brothers and I fought over whose turn it was to light the candles. Sometimes our silly singing voices overshadowed the sacred carols we sang. Sometimes my brothers wagged their fingers through the flames or picked at the wax dripping down the log. Mom and Dad scolded them. “Boys, don’t touch! That wax is hot!”
Though the Advent Log was sometimes an invitation to this sort of childhood miscreance, it was mostly a tranquil and reverent scene. The daily practice of gathering around the log for this time of reflection instilled in each of us that the true meaning of Christmas was the birth of our Savior. Our hearts felt light with Christmas cheer as we awaited Christmas Day.
Snow fell on Christmas morning, blanketing the ground in idyllic powdery perfection. My brothers and I bounded out of our bedrooms, still cozy in our warm fleece pajamas and thick winter socks. Dad lit the fire and Mom made our favorite Christmas breakfast—savory cheesy sausage balls and warm sticky cinnamon rolls. A few leftover gingerbread cookies made their way onto our plates as well.
My brothers and I were eager to rip into our stuffed stockings and piles of presents under the tree. “Not so fast, kids! We’re going to celebrate the ‘Reason for the Season’ before any of that,” Dad reminded us. So we gathered around the Advent Log one last time. Dad read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke and we sang carols, my brothers and I sounding extra spirited as we anticipated the Christmas festivities to follow.
The Advent Log, now fully lit, glowed and twinkled like stars in the Bethlehem sky. As I watched the flickering flames, I felt a warmth in my heart, and it all made sense. The Advent Log had transformed from an ordinary log into a bright shining reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.
Year after year, my family used the Advent Log to celebrate the Advent season in this special way. It became a cherished Christmas tradition.
Time passed. My brothers and I grew older. One by one, we each left home to start our own families.
The Advent Log was packed away and forgotten.
Years later, my first nephew was born. As Christmas neared, my brother Nathan held his infant son and fondly recalled the many Christmases from our childhood spent around the Advent Log.
And Nathan had an idea!
He drove over to Mom and Dad’s house. Dad was sitting in his high back chair, a book in his hand and a mug of tea on the side table next to him, when Nathan walked through the front door. “Nathan! How nice to see you, son!”
“Hi, Dad!” Nathan greeted him. “Whatever happened to the old Advent Log?”
Dad tapped his chin. “Let’s go look for it.”
Together, they searched the basement until they found the Advent Log. Remnants of wax drippings were still visible on the outside; the inside still held sweet memories of bygone times with family. Dad and Nathan cleaned up the dusty, old log. Soon, it looked as good as new.
Nathan hauled home the refurbished log. And that year, he began the Advent Log tradition with his own family. One day, he will pass it on to his son too, and our cherished Advent Log will live on.
As it turns out, it isn’t an ordinary log at all.