Advent is my favourite season in the life of the church, a period of anticipation of the events of Christmas. Technically it is marked over the four Sundays leading up to Christmas but I think most of us do advent from 1st December onwards. If anything, it's just easier to remember it that way! For many these days advent just means a chocolate calendar counting down the days although I've seen some interesting indulgences on offer this year, a whiskey advent calendar with a miniature every day, a Kelloggs cereal variety pack advent calendar and even an erotic advent calendar with sex toys (thanks to a minister friend for sharing an article about that one!).
For us as Christians the countdown to Christmas provides an opportunity to spend time reflecting on why the events of Jesus' birth is so special. Thinking about how He is the culmination of God's plan to save us. And making that intentional is in some ways easier with children as they get so excited about Christmas but also more difficult – as an adult we can just read a devotional or even do a challenge a day. But throw in a few pre-schoolers or young children and it’s hard to find the energy to do something everyday, or even explain it to them effectively. So how do we do an intentional advent in our house?
This is not a Pinterest perfect “how to make your own advent calendar” kind of post. Some of these are things we've been doing for years, others are new to this year as we build on the advent season as the boys get older. But hopefully it'll make you think about your advent plans before December hits (is it really only two days to go?!):
I think this is our third year of doing a Jesse Tree and I’m really excited as both boys will get it this year in a way neither of them has in previous years.
A Jesse Tree spends Advent looking at the fulfilment of Jesus as the prophesy “stump of Jesse” – essentially working through the Biblical narrative and working towards Christ’s coming and how it was all part of God’s plan. Each day you read a story and use a visual representation as an ornament to hang on your Jesse Tree (we have a small gold tree that we use for this) – this is the part that means it can work really well for even young children, and for us – with Daniel and his learning disability.
We’ve previously used a version which was characters from the Bible each day, I printed off black and white versions which we coloured in as part of our devotional time before putting them up on the tree. This year I bought Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift which is just BEAUTIFUL! It has a daily reading, story, ideas for activities and discussion questions. To be honest, we won’t do all of the activities and probably my boys are a little young for the discussion questions but the stories and Bible readings and ornaments are all achievable for the stage they’re at!
It is even lovely for me to see how God’s plan weaves together all the stories of the Old Testament and a reminder of how great Christmas is!
We light a lot of candles in Advent, as an anchor for our devotional each day. This year I’ve got different coloured candles so we can do the traditional four week lead up to Christmas but with colour as an added visual for Daniel. I got this idea from the fabulous Sacraparental website. Essentially the four colours represent an aspect of Jesus we celebrate – green for hope, blue for peace, yellow for joy, red for love, and a white candle in the middle for Jesus that gets lit on Christmas Day. As in church where the first candle gets lit the first Sunday in Advent, then the first two candles the second week, we will light the green candle each night for week one, then green and blue in week two and so on.
My boys love the candle/devotional rhythm so I’m hoping the colours will add an extra dimension to it this year and give us plenty of opportunity for conversation around what Jesus means to us.
Switch all the books
We switch all the books in the boy’s library table (bar a few ‘you choose’ type books) to Christmas books for the month of December.
The majority are around the Christmas story, but not all. This again allows excitement to build as they read lots of stories around the nativity (eg one is about children putting on a nativity in school, one about the animals in the nativity story, a few of the actual nativity, then some Christmas stories, and then the likes of Mog’s Christmas…!)
Because Rory can’t have chocolate he has a sticker and book type advent calendar that I bought in the Bookwell at Belmont. Daniel’s has a small chocolate each day but is a Crayola advent calendar with the nativity story that he colours in a bit of each day.
Last year we had the Real Advent Calendar which was nice but I’m excited about slightly different versions this year. We previously did them in the morning but this year with colouring and stickers it may well be a later in the day thing! Although with our usual 4.30/5am risers...I suppose I've no excuse!
We have carols on in the car constantly in December and play Christmas music (again, mostly Christian) in the house. We listen to music as much as watch TV so most days we have a decent slot of time dedicated to singing and dancing – it’s just the music becomes mostly about Christmas in December, again allowing us to let the messages of Christmas sink in another way.
On Christmas morning we have milk or coffee in our bed together as a family, read the full nativity story and unwrap the first present of the day – the Jesus in the manger from the nativity scene. We then go downstairs and place Him at the centre of the nativity before going to open the rest of their presents. Last year we were surprised how excited and willing the boys were to do this. Normally we try and bring them into our room in the morning and get declarations of “I’ve done a poo” (even if they haven’t) or “I want porridge and banana and milk NOW”!
Thinking about others
We pick up something extra in most of our grocery shops over Christmas and put it in the food bank, trying to pick the extra Christmas treats like a Christmas pudding or sweets or a nice cereal. I’m not great at doing much else though – I’m in awe of people who do 24 days of random acts of kindness or a reverse foodbank (where you gather up 24 items over Advent to donate). As I said earlier, that feels just like a bit too much energy required! We don’t even write more than a couple of Christmas cards each year as I’m too disorganised!
This year with The Star movie out, I’m also considering a cinema trip. Our boys have never been before and have only started watching films recently (we’re basically doing Shrek / Shrek 2 / Shrek 3 on repeat in hour long stints on Friday afternoons). I do think it might be a nice idea but am very nervous about how both of them might take the noise and size of a cinema.
Writing it all down, most of our advent things are home based. I would love any ideas any of you have on outward looking advent (I think ours is upward looking which is great, but not as comprehensive as it could be!)
We also have a lovely wooden (and not expensive) Nativity scene that is on display as part of our decorations, but I’d love a version they could play with and add to their toybox for December – anyone have a good value kid friendly recommendation?