One of the things that we want to do each year as the holiday season approaches is to spend some time as a family building the anticipation for Christmas in a way that keeps Christ as the focus. That allows us to step back from the hustle and bustle and business and gift-wrapping and family-gatherings and santas at the mall, and to focus on the real reason we celebrate – the birth of our Savior.
A few years ago, I set out to find something to help us do that. Something easy enough to do with young kids, but something that also pointed to the holiness of the season we were in, not just a jolly man in a red suit. One of the ideas I came across was that of an advent calendar.
Growing up, my home church did an Advent wreath. And I can still hear the words read by a different family each Sunday, year after year. . . “This is the first Sunday in the season of Advent.” It was then followed by a candle lighting (in which the lighter usually wouldn’t work for some reason and there was a good amount of chuckling as my dad – the pastor – or a trustee would have to step in and help) while each member of the family read a short verse or prayer.
And while I don’t love the idea of flame attached to a wreath in our house with rambunctious young kids (eeek!), an advent Calendar was something we could totally get behind.
Advent, by definition, is the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. In Western Christian churches, it is celebrated as a time of expectant waiting and celebration in anticipation of the nativity of Jesus, and ultimately his second coming (via Wikipedia).
But, none of the advent calendars quite fit the bill for what we wanted. Many had just a trinket or a gift each day, with no explanation. Or they contained a single piece of candy (what do you do, split that between your kids? Buy three calendars?). Ultimately, we really wanted something that focused more on the Christmas story and the holiness of the season, and less on just the daily countdown and just couldn’t find what we wanted.
So we made one ourselves. And have absolutely loved it. LOVED it.
Since we started using ours, I’ve had a lot of other moms ask me for the details, so this year I decided to write a post with instructions (and a free .pdf download of the daily advent cards I wrote for our family to use)! So, here goes!
I got series of small (5×7″) cotton muslin bags that I purchased from Amazon. (The ones we purchased are no longer available, but they are similar to these).
I used fabric paint and a stencil to put numbers on each of the bags: the first year we did them in numerical order, in subsequent years we decided to count “down” from 24 to 1 (Dec 1 through Christmas Eve), which I think I like better. But you can do it either way.
You can put whatever you want inside the bags: we set aside 24 ornaments when we put up our Christmas tree and let the kids take turns placing that ornament on the Christmas tree each day. But you could also include a small treat or prize or coloring page in each of the bags instead of the ornaments. (Side note: look how little they were the first year we did this!! Ahhh!)
The first year I split the Christmas story into a verse per day, but that ended up feeling a little disjointed. So I wrote a series of cards that tell the whole story – of our need for a Savior, the promises foretold in the Old Testament, his birth and his life and his death as payment for our sins. On some days, we sing or listen to a Christmas carol. And on other days we set up the pieces to our nativity set (or play with the kids’ set).
Our kids adore it. And, even though I loved the way the calendar turned out, and had really hoped that the kids would get a kick out of it each day, what I hadn’t anticipated was the impact that it would have on me. Some mornings, I find that I can barely read the words on the card past the lump in my throat. As I stand there, looking at my children, their faces illuminated by the tiny white lights of the tree, excitement evident in their eyes as they look at the new ornament and listen to the words of the precious, life-giving story.
“And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Agustus…”
It doesn’t matter that I’ve heard it over an over again. The verses still echo in my heart with such truth as I read them – such piercing, awe-inspiring truth. What a remarkable, remarkable story.
It’s been such an unexpected, priceless gift to our family year after year. It takes just a few minutes to take down the new bag, look at the number, read the card, and place the ornament on the tree. But, oh, the story. Oh, the wondrous gift. The remarkable fulfillment of promise.
God with us. Emmanuel.
So, for those who have asked what we use, here is the printable file for the advent cards that I wrote:
I’ve divided it into 24 days (4 days worth of cards fit on one sheet of paper so that they fit in the drawstring bags), but if you wanted to do it in less time, you could double up the cards each day, or omit the songs/etc. It’s written primarily for a pre-school/grade school age level, but you could easily adjust the content/discussion for your family.
If you do end up using it, let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear/see how your family uses it! My hope & prayer is that it blesses your family as much as it has mine!!