Last year, I shared some of our preparations for Advent. I think it’s worth reading again. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and all of the hustle and bustle of those busy holidays, it can be easy to overlook this holy season of preparation. But Advent is important, because not only are we preparing ourselves for Jesus’ birth, but also His second coming, whenever that may be.
So, take a moment to think about how you’re going to observe Advent. Make sure you have your Advent candles ready. If you want to prepare some ornaments for a family Jesse Tree, get to work. Find a special book to read each night, or a new Advent hymn to learn. And prepare your hearts for the coming of our Savior! Only two weeks left until the first Sunday of Advent…get ready!
I’ve finally settled into a nice routine with our daily Advent activities. For a while, I felt like I was floundering, trying to fit everything in, yet trying not to cram it all into the same 30 minutes every day!
The first thing Turkey and Bunny do each morning, right after they get up, is open the door on their Lego Advent Calendar. Now, I realize that this is a secular calendar, and isn’t technically an “Advent” calendar, but rather a “Count-the-days-in-December-leading-up-to-Christmas” calendar, but I still think it’s useful. They’re working on being patient and waiting, (a main theme of Advent), which, around here, and especially with Legos, is no small thing. They’re only allowed to open one door each day, there’s no peeking ahead…they have to wait. So, even though Lego’s dates may not match the church’s, it is still a useful tool during the season of Advent. (We’re also doing something similar with paper chains we made, which also don’t count down all of the days in Advent, because I didn’t get my act together soon enough!)
First thing after breakfast, we do our Jesse Tree. This involves a Scripture reading, (or, on some days, readings), a reading from the Jesse Tree book, and the hanging of the ornament on the tree. This needs to be done right away after breakfast to make sure we have time for it before I have to take Moose to school. I actually like this so much, I may try to do our daily religion lessons at this time, even after Advent. I always feel bad that he has to miss out on religion time, (even though he does have plenty of other Bible exposure here at home), and if we can be dedicated, I think that this is at least one part of our school that he can be a part of.
After Moose is taken to his school, we have our school time, which always has some kind of Christmas component, in addition to regular schoolwork. This may included additional Bible readings, (and copywork/dictation/handwriting practice of those readings), the reading of Bible storybooks, reading other Christmas books, and a craft of some sort. These activities can be more secular in nature–we read classic Christmas stories such as the Grinch, in addition to Bible stories, and while some of our crafts may have a Bible-theme, like handprint angels, some are just for fun, like beaded ornaments and wreaths. But, in addition to learning, we’re still preparing for Christmas in some way, even when doing our schoolwork.
Right after Moose gets home from school, we do our day’s reading from Tabitha’s Travels, (or Jotham’s Journey or Bartholomew’s Passage, depending on the year). This was the thing I always struggled with the most. Ideally, according to the book, it should be done at Advent wreath time, and I really tried to make it work. There were two problems with this, however. First, the children’s attention span for the reading, (which lasts about 20 minutes or so each day), plus evenings prayers was being stretched way too thin. In addition, if we did the full prayers and reading while the Advent candles were lit, there’s no way the candles would last through the season! I’ve also tried doing the reading after prayers, before bed, but by then, especially on late nights after midweek worship or whatever other Christmas activity we have, we’re all too tired to care. So, after school works out the best. To be frank, Moose probably wouldn’t mind missing out on this reading, but it’s important to me that he be here for it, so I don’t do it earlier in the afternoon, even though I could.
Our last Advent activity of every day, (except Wednesdays, when we have the midweek service at church), is the lighting of the Advent Wreath, and the saying of prayers. This is the one time of year where we make sure we make time for “long prayers;” the rest of the year, we often allow ourselves to be too rushed, and often just do a short family prayer. In addition to the prayers, we also sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” every night as the candles are being lit, and often sing the Doxology at the end of the prayers, just before the candles are snuffed out.
I’m really happy with our Advent rituals, as they’ve developed over the years. It’s something we look forward to all year-long, it’s familiar and comforting when we begin doing these things at the beginning of every Advent season, and it really helps us keep our focus on Christ as we get closer to Christmas, even with all of the busyness of the season. And spreading things out through the day helps make it a constant reminder of why we celebrate Advent, and keeps us from getting burnt out from trying to do it all at once every day!
Advent is my very favorite time of year. Despite all the busyness, I also have a great sense of peace, possibly because we force ourselves to slow down every day, make sure our prayer time is intentional, and make sure we’re focusing on the real reason for the season. I love the anticipation, the preparation. Even though I love Christmas, and all the decorations and activities, (and take part in them during the season of Advent), I love Advent even more–the watching and the waiting.
The center of our Advent observances every year is the Advent Wreath. We light the appropriate candles each night at our family prayer time, and for some reason, that candlelight helps us focus more. I am always sad to put the wreath away every year, because it is such a special time, and one of the things I look forward to most as Advent approaches.
Another important part of our Advent ritual every year are the story books written by Arnold Ytreeide. Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels are interwoven stories, and each is broken down into daily Advent readings. In addition to the daily stories, there is also a brief devotion written for each day. To be honest, I can take or leave the devotional parts (although I usually do read them, but occasionally with some censorship), but the stories are excellent. They are very real, and filled with action and emotion, and excellent cliff-hangers. Although I read them with *my* children, they really are meant for a slightly older audience–probably beginning around age 8 or 10, depending on the child. But there is really no upper limit for age of enjoyment–I look forward to our daily readings, and often find myself peeking ahead to see what will happen next!
This year, for the first time, we have a Jesse Tree. I remember doing this once or twice when I was a child, and I think it’s a cool idea. There are books and kits out there that you can buy, to complete your tree, but I simply cut a tree out of poster board, and printed the ornaments and readings from a website that was offering them for free. The children look forward to seeing what the ornament is for each day, and hearing the accompanying Bible verse, as well as an explanation for how that verse points to Christ. Even Moose and Ladybug participate in this–they can hang the ornaments, and they get great joy out of counting the ornaments every day!
Another thing we’re doing for the first time this year is an Advent Calendar. I had many of these growing up, particularly once I was in High School and selling them for German Club. Many Advent Calendars are secular (think of the cardboard, winter decorated ones filled with chocolate), and that doesn’t really bother me–I think that again, the important thing is the counting down, the anticipation of Christ’s coming. To be honest, ours is secular–a Lego Advent calendar. But that suits our family quite well, so it works.
Devotion books can also be helpful during Advent (as well as other times). One I like is Celebrate Jesus! At Christmas, which was published by CPH. As far as I know, it’s no longer in print, but I’m sure it can still be found. Every day includes a hymn, some Advent, but not all, as well as a Nativity building activity. What I really like about this book is that it goes all the way to Epiphany–it’s nice to have a resource that doesn’t end abruptly on Christmas Eve, when there is still the whole season of Christmas ahead of us!
The ADVENTure of Christmas by Lisa Whelchel, (yes, from The Facts of Life), is another good resource. I don’t use all of the suggestions and activities in this book, but it’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a special idea to add to your Advent celebration. There are fun games and activities, teachable moments, science experiments, recipes, and stories explaining some of our Christmas traditions.
Getting Ready for Christmas is a fun activity book to use with young children as you count down the days until Christmas. Each activity also incorporates a Bible verse and a prayer, and the illustrations are very cute. The back cover even has a lift-the-flap Advent countdown built right into it! It’s perfect for little hands.
The Very First Christmas isn’t technically an Advent resource, but we often read this story toward the end of Advent, in preparation for Christmas. I love The Very First… series, and this book is no exception. It begins with a modern-day boy wanting to know a story about real people, not the typical myths you hear around Christmastime, and so his parents tell him the whole Christmas story.
There are so many wonderful way to prepare our hearts for Advent–every year I look forward to choosing what we’ll use, and how we’ll use this season to prepare!