You know what it’s like: by November, the commercial anticipation of Christmas is in full swing, and your kids are probably already thinking about Christmas morning and Christmas stockings and glittering presents under the Christmas tree. But how do you get them to slow down?
As adults, we know Advent as a season of anticipation, a time of waiting (something that, truth be told, none of us are really very good at!). That’s not an easy or welcome concept to get across to children.
But that may be just because of the way we present it. If you do nothing but wait, then waiting is endless! But if you can make participation in Advent more of an event, then you can at least slow your kids down a little before they rush headlong into Christmas.
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Here are some ways to make Advent more of an event:
- Create a family Advent calendar. Most commercial Advent calendars give you two options when you open the doors: Scripture verses, or chocolate. You’re probably not crazy about the chocolate, and your kids may get weary of just the Bible verses. But what if you made your own calendar and behind every “door” there was a something different and unexpected waiting? It could be a family activity (doing some coloring together, trimming the tree, making hot chocolate, creating a card for Grandma, etc.), or a treat (tonight you don’t have to do your chore, or you get 10 minutes extra before bedtime, or special one-on-one time, etc.). And frame the activity or treat with prayer: “Lord Jesus, as we wait for your birth in Bethlehem, we thank you for this .”
- Set up your Nativity scene. This is a wonderful family activity! Make sure that baby Jesus is far away from where you set up the manger. In fact, keep just the animals there at first. Mary and Joseph can start their long journey to Bethlehem in another part of your house; every evening, bring them a little closer, and tell and retell their stories. Who are they? Where did they live? What did they do? Why did they have to travel? Where was Bethlehem in relation to Nazareth? As Advent progresses, add the shepherds to the scene (but not too close!) and make sure that by Christmas Eve everyone is in place, waiting, ready, for Baby Jesus to arrive on Christmas morning. There’s a reason why children remember stories: make sure that they remember this one. It will engage them and give them the background for the birth of Christ.
- Go on a field trip. Try and set up a visit to a farm, and see if the owner will allow you and your children into the barn. Have a conversation with your kids about what barns are like. Not terribly clean, is it? If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, not terribly warm, is it? We think of the inn’s stables as a warm, hospitable, welcoming place, but really it’s a pretty scary place to have to spend a night, much less have a baby. Talk about how God works through even the most seemingly impossible situations, and how Jesus transformed that stable—and the world.
- Create a Jesse Tree. Jesse was King David’s father, and one of the Bible’s prophets, Isaiah, said that from that tree (or family) would be born the Messiah. A Jesse tree can be any kind of small tree (or plant, or bare branches) that you’d like to use. You put ornaments on it, just like a Christmas tree, but instead of doing it all at once you do it throughout Advent, and instead of your family ornaments, the Jesse Tree ornaments are connected to stories from the Bible. You can put on as few or as many as you’d like. A great family activity is locating the stories you want to illustrate and then creating ornaments to represent them. Need a kit to help you get started? You can find one here: https://goo.gl/zskZGN
- Reach out. Advent is often a time when people are in pain. They may be homeless or hungry. They may be elderly or isolated and missing their families. They may be ill and too sick to leave the hospital or the nursing home. There are so many ways you can help, but make sure that it’s not just a one-off: create a sustainable plan that will carry you through Advent, so that it’s a part of your family’s anticipation of Jesus’ birth. You might visit a nursing home every Sunday after Mass, or buy some extra presents for someone in need, or write cards to soldiers overseas. Don’t be haphazard: sit down with your kids and determine who you think most needs your help this year, then create a plan to do it. (While you’re at it, launch a scavenger hunt for all the coins that disappear around the house. Find as many as you can, and drop them into the offering at your church or the collection box of some nonprofit outside the stores you frequent. Every small donation helps!)
Putting Jesus first starts with Advent, and Advent starts with family attitudes, habits, and rituals. Discover yours today!
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