We are partway through the Advent season, journeying toward Bethlehem, engaging once again in a foundational story about our faith. It is a holy season, filled with ever-increasing light.

In our family, we engage in the tradition of the Pesebre, which is a practice that my husband brought to our marriage from his country of Colombia and his Christian practice of Catholicism.

In Colombia, some families now put up Christmas trees in their homes, but that is not the traditional practice. Instead, families put up large nativity scenes in their living rooms that take up at least half (or all) of the space in the rooms.

In our home, we relocate some of our furniture to the basement during Advent to make room for the large nativity scene. Just as families enjoy putting up and decorating the Christmas tree, our family has a whole day where we set up the Pesebre and do all the decorating!

Our nativity scene grows each year. My mother-in-law gave us the starter set of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, wise men and a shepherd boy when we married; over the years, we have added camels, angels, sheep, more shepherds and so on to the scene.

Live plants are incorporated, plus running water, and Spanish moss that is misted each day to keep it fresh. Birds grace the plants around the scene and it is built on many tiers, looking like little mountains in the living room.

As the nine nights crescendo to Christmas Eve, the figurines in the Pesebre move closer and closer to Bethlehem, and to the baby Jesus. An angel appears one night; the wise men inch closer.

Beginning on Dec. 16, the novena begins: Every night for the nine nights before Christmas, we gather around the nativity scene to say prayers (there is a prayer book), tell children the Christmas story (a part of it each night) and sing songs.

Before this, you gather in your home with friends and family for a meal, meant to be a social gathering. Small, "stocking-stuffer-style" gifts are hidden in the nativity scene for children, gifts from "Niño Dios" (Baby Jesus). Children are encouraged to play with the figurines, to interact with the story through play. Worship and prayer are brought into the home for nine consecutive nights, with generations included and parts to play.

Because our family in Colombia is so far away, we often arrange a common time and Skype with them as we gather across the miles in our homes with our Pesebres. I find this to be the most sacred part of Advent.

This was a new tradition that I have only embraced since Juan and I married. Like most families, we each come bearing our gifts, our traditions and our ways of worship. We still put up a small tree; we still make tons of Christmas cookies; we still decorate the outside of the house with lights. But the focus with the Pesebre is more around the story rather than around the secular parts of the holiday to which we have become so accustomed.

We focus each night as a family on prayer, on thanksgiving for the past year and on God's hope and promise that we seek for the new year. We focus on each other as a family, and we celebrate for many nights. It is time that is set apart and holy for us. We draw closer to God.

It is my prayer that your traditions this Advent season will be holy...that it will be filled with the joy, expectation and Good News that is brought to us each year by the Christ child...that we will grow in our practice of peace for a world that rages around us...that we will recommit ourselves as followers of the holy way and the holy child.

May all God's blessings be for you and for our world this Advent season!

(Rev. Vance-Ocampo is the transitional presbyter for Albany Presbytery, the regional governing body of the Presbyterian Church USA, which encompasses 65 congregations, one immigrant fellowship, campus ministries and one new worshiping community in the greater Capital District. She is on the board of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, overseeing a program of human rights accompaniment with the Presbyterian Church in Colombia. She previously served two pastorates in New Jersey. She is married to Juan Gabriel Ocampo Valle, a native of Bogotá, Colombia; they have a daughter, Sofia Elena. See more of her writing at www.shannanvo.com.)