Once again, Desborough & Toller URCs published an advent booklet with a reading for each day, written by a member of the congregation.
This year, each day took its inspiration from a line of the carol 'Once in Royal David's City'.
Here is one of the two that I wrote.
I was just 18 when I took that school trip.
We had travelled over 4 hours, by coach, to a remote kibbutz before heading to Bethlehem, which at that time was still within Israel. The land was undulating, and in the distance, the hills has a smattering of snow. As we drove through the countryside, we saw burnt out tanks, relics of the 6 days war. With the dry, arid environment, they looked as fresh as the day they had been hit, over 17 years earlier.
The coach was filled with young teenagers who were boisterous; laughing and chatting whilst at the back, I and my friend were feeling bleak from the landscape we had driven through.
The Church of the Nativity, as we arrived, was a plain solemn looking building. Set in a courtyard, we stayed back from the loud tourist hoards and walked in silence towards the entrance.
Nothing could have prepared me for the inside. The far end of the church, directly in front of us, was ornate and gilded. The smell of incense was overwhelming. This seemed a world away from the Bethlehem of the Bible.
We waited until everyone else from the group had finished and then went through a doorway. Carefully, we wound our way down the steps to the Grotto of the Nativity. It was the four of us. Myself, my friend, my teacher and a guide from the Church.
The grotto was so quiet after the noise of the coach and church. The guide pulled us towards the altar and showed us, underneath the fourteen-point silver star, marking where Jesus was born.
He looked around, conspiratorially, and beckoned us over, indicating for us to touch it. We three leaned in and placed our hands there, together. As we did this, I looked up at the cave we were in, below the church that was bustling, and in that quiet, sacred space, I connected with something bigger than myself.
My first visit to a Christmas Market, in Germany, was in 2006 when I was in Munich for work.
Between 2012 and 2016 I visited Munich for work every December and spent most of my evenings wandering around Marienplatz and taking in the Christmas vibe whilst keeping myself warm drinking Glühwein.
One year, I was so cold that it took me nearly an hour to defrost back in my hotel room.
In 2007, hubby and I went to Cologne and visited the 8 markets there.
German Christmas markets, also known as "Weihnachtsmarkt," have a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. These markets originated in the German-speaking regions of Europe and have since spread to other parts of the world.
The first recorded Christmas market was held in Dresden, Germany in 1434. These early markets were held in church squares and were a way for people to buy and sell goods, particularly food and handmade crafts, during the holiday season.
Over time, the Christmas market tradition spread throughout Germany and other parts of Europe, becoming an important part of the region's cultural and economic life. Today, German Christmas markets are known for their festive atmosphere, which includes the sale of traditional holiday foods, drinks, and gifts, as well as live music and other entertainment.
Every one of our nutcrackers and incense burners, that we get out at Christmas, have been bought at one of the Christmas Markets we have visited in either Germany or the UK
In the UK, Christmas Markets have started to become a regular feature with a Medieval one in Lincoln and the now famous Frankfurt German Market in Birmingham.
As a child, my Aunt would be the one who brought us our Advent Calendars.
There was a shop called 'The Library & Music Shop', so called because it sold books and music ... I know, and they had Medici Cards. The Medici Society was founded in 1908 as a publisher of art prints and cards and I always thought that Medici cards were obviously the poshest because people would talk about them with that hushed voice of reverence.
The Advent Calendar theme would always be either religious or feature Father Christmas and the numbers would appear non sequentially so you had to hunt the number that you were looking for.
Each window would open to a drawing with the final one, the 24th December showing the manger scene. This always confused me because Christmas Day was the 25th. Never did get to the bottom of that one.
Advent calendars have their origins, as do many modern Christmas traditions, in Germany during the 19th Century. Just like Christmas trees, we, here, in the UK, embraced them.
My mum worked for a lovely couple who were German / Austrian and one year they gave me an advent candle. I liked sitting in the twilight and watching the candle burn down to the next number.
I treated a friend to one, as a present, one Christmas. They lit it, and promptly forgot about it.
Well, as you can imagine, it burnt down, past the next day and a few more days.
All I got was a complaint from them that it was a waste of time. Perhaps, occasionally, traditions are wasted on some people!
These days, you can have presents in your calendar.
Hubby has a tea advent calendar. It's a great way to try out different flavours and an excuse to take a little time for himself as he makes his cup of tea and sits and drinks it.
I have indulged in a chocolate advent calendar. Rather than just gobbling the choccies as I do with other things, I'm going to take a moment, each afternoon, and sit and eat my daily truffle.
Now that is a form of mindfulness I can cope with.