So, it's the end of November: the radio stations are already playing Christmas carols and the shopping season's in full swing. But, despite the crazy-busy commercial atmosphere of December (and I'm out there shopping for presents too), Advent is meant to be a season that lets us take time to slow down, to simplify, and to meditate and reflect on Christ's coming.
Even if the malls and grocery stores are filled with noise and bright advertisements urging you to buy more, more, more! you can still make your home an oasis of peace this Advent, and draw your children into the stillness and joy of these weeks before Christmas. Here are a few easy ways to celebrate Advent together:
1. Put up your nativity scene, but don’t put the Baby Jesus figurine in it…yet.
Most of us have a nativity scene (or two, or three!) tucked away among our Christmas decorations. Pull it out early, and set it up where your kids can reach and see it—but don’t add figurine of Baby Jesus. Let your kids know that you’ll add him on Christmas Day.
This gives young children a beautiful visual to remind them that the people of God had to wait for the Messiah…and that we’re waiting still for his return.
Let the children add a straw or a twig each day to the manger, though. This will keep them actively thinking about the coming Christmas story all through December.
2. Put up your Christmas tree, but don’t decorate it…yet.
Similar to the tip above, this helps your family remember that we are waiting for a joyful occasion. Buy your tree, set it up—even string up the lights!—but wait to put the decorations on till Christmas Eve.
Bonus: You’ll still get that delightful evergreen smell in your home all December long!
3. Celebrate the smaller holidays.
Can’t quite wait for the excitement of Christmas? Whet your appetite by celebrating St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6 and St. Lucia’s Day on December 13. Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike can appreciate the stories of these two faithful people who served God by serving others, and both days have traditions that kids love!
On St. Nicholas’ Day, have the children put out their shoes the night before (filled with carrots for “St. Nick’s horse”), and fill the shoes with some small treat overnight for them to discover in the morning. (Chocolate coins are traditional, and Trader Joe’s and other stores often carry them for a good price in December.)
On St. Lucia’s Day, it’s traditional for the oldest girl in the family to wake up the rest of the family with a crown of candles on her head and a breakfast of fresh-baked goods, but the tradition can be simplified by making it into a cozy breakfast in bed with flashlights just for the fun of it.
4. Remember the less fortunate.
In all our preparations for our own celebrations, it’s important to remember that Advent and Christmas have always been a time of giving. Kids can help with this! They can pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas child, help pick out presents from World Vision’s Charity Gift Catalog, or simply go along with you as you help out at the food bank, visit the elderly in your community, or donate to the local food drive.
5. Count down to Christmas with a paper Advent chain.
This is a deceptively simple idea: make a paper-chain of 25 links, and have your child break one link each day before Christmas.
It’s simple, yes, but for the very young, the concrete image of a chain that gets shorter each day is invaluable in teaching them how to measure time, how to wait with anticipation, and how to wait with patience. They can see it coming…and their cries of “Merry Christmas!” on the day itself will be so much sweeter, because they’ll know that the day they’ve waited so long for is FINALLY HERE.
May you have a joyful Advent season, and an even more joyful Christmas!
Peace of Christ to you,
Peace of Christ to you,
Much of this post was inspired by Rachel Telander's chapter "Advent" from Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home, and her ideas are used with permission. For more great ideas about celebrating Advent with your family--along with fascinating history, lists of songs and other resources, ideas for feasting, fasting, reading, decorating your home, and reaching out to your community--check out the book itself!
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