One of the things that we want to do for our family, even (and especially!) while our kids are little, is to ensure that our kids understand that Christmas is about more than the gifts and the lighted trees and the big family get-togethers. That it’s a season to celebrate, and remember, the birth of our Savior. It’s the reason, other than the fact that I can’t get over the idea of making up a fictional character to trick my kids into being “good,” that we will not be including “Santa” in any of our Christmas preparations. I’m not in any way condemning those who do, it’s just not for our family. (Also, the terrified, screaming children on Santa’s knee at the mall kind of ruins this whole idea for me too).
I do like the idea of building up anticipation for Christmas though, just not in a fabricated-story, materialistic-focused kind of way. This year, we have been playing Christmas music for WEEKS (to the point where now anytime Oliver hears a bell ringing, he shouts: “Christmas!!” Overboard? I think not). Anyway, for those of you who remember last year’s Christmas for our family, which was a bit lacking in the Christmas cheer department, rest assured: this year, it looks and sounds like Christmas over here. And I love it.
But, I still wanted something a bit more than the tree and the stockings and the garland. Something that I could use to teach Oliver why we’re celebrating, and count down to Christmas day with the kids. While I was growing up, my family used to read a Christmas book in December. Every night for a couple weeks before Christmas, we would all put our pajamas on, grab a blanket to snuggle in with, and gather in the living room while mom – or one of us kids once we were old enough – would read a chapter aloud. We used to also gather to do family devotions this way, (Anyone else remember Keys for Kids devo books??) but at Christmas time, mom got a new book with a Christmas-y theme (or a couple of them if they were shorter), and that’s how we counted down to Christmas.
It’s something that I would like to do with our kids eventually, but for now they are on such different levels that it makes it difficult. Oliver would LOVE to sit and listen to a chapter book. Clara would be bored 4 words in and climbing all over me, the book, and her brother…and tearing out the pages. So, realistically, we just aren’t ready for that yet. Lately I’m finding that one of our biggest challenges is to find things for us to do as a family – things that both Clara AND Oliver can enjoy. It’s a struggle even during the day: Oliver loves the snow, Clara does not. Oliver loves to play with play-doh, Clara eats it and throws it all over the floor. Clara likes board books with big pictures, Oliver has moved on to bigger and better things.
I scoured Pinterest a while ago, hoping to find something to do at Christmas time that BOTH of them could participate in (that didn’t involve a naughty elf), and found some neat Advent Calendar ideas. At the church where my dad pastors, they do an Advent wreath (something I had never heard of before we moved to OH during my high school years), 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…” This was then followed by a candle lighting in which the lighter usually wouldn’t work right and there was a good amount of chuckling as my dad or a trustee would step in to help.
But, that’s about the extent of what I know about Advent. I did like the looks of the calendar idea, so I did a little research. In case you, like me, weren’t raised in a heavily traditional Christian church, or perhaps don’t have any religious/church background, here’s what I found out: 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).
Ah, I love it. I don’t love the idea of flame in our house with two very rambunctious children, so a wreath was out, but a calendar, now that I could do!
So, I purchased a set of little draw-string linen bags, some stencils, and some paint – and made one! And, I love it! 🙂
It’s perfect for those two empty windows in our kitchen with nothing but ugly white blinds on them (though maybe one day we’ll have a fireplace to hang it on!), and I love looking at it each morning as I sip my coffee. Oliver keeps going back to it and counting the numbers…
“Look mommy, we did number 4 so next is number 5! 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…”
By the way, he can read them all. All the way to 24. 🙂 I’m a proud mama for SURE!
Inside each little bag is an ornament (this year I just used some non-breakable ones that we already had), and a Bible verse. Thanks to the wonder that is the internet, someone had already done the hard work for me this year and split the Christmas story into 24 little cards, each with an individual verse (with a couple of prophecies thrown in too). In the future, I may try to get ornaments that coordinate with the verse that we read, but for this year, I just went with ones that we had on hand. I also plan to re-do some of the cards to make them stand alone (inserting “Mary” or “The angel” into the verse so that there’s some context for who is talking…So, eventually I can post those for anyone who is interested in doing something similar).
Then, every morning, we take a bag off of the string, open it up, place the new ornament on the tree, and read that day’s verse.
(Sorry for the graininess of the pictures, that’s what happens when your ISO is set way high for something else and you forget to change it back…)
Oliver LOVES it. Clara doesn’t really get it and thinks each ornament is a gift for her that we then take away and place on a tree… So, I guess I’d really recommend it as a great idea for 3 and up. She is starting to get the hang of it though a few days in.
Though I loved the way it looked, 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 reading the verses would have on me. Each morning, 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 from the Gospel of Luke:
“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.
Yesterday was Oliver’s turn to open the bag. He ooh-ed and aah-ed over the new ornament and then reached back in the bag and grabbed the card with the Bible verse on it, placing it in my hands. “What’s it say, mommy?” I turned the card over as Clara leaned her head over my arm to see it better – as though she could read it too – and I read aloud:
“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him. . . Jesus.”
Three words into reading the card and tears were streaming down my face.
“Oh, that’s what it says? The beebee Jesus? Ok!”
What an unexpected, priceless gift this Advent calender has been for me this season. It takes all of three 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.
This. This is what it’s about. It’s not the tree and the decorations and the presents (though, I’m seriously stoked this year to give them since I’ve been watching deals for WEEKS and am super pleased with my purchases. You’re welcome, family.) It’s not the cute linen bags and the fun ornaments. It’s the life-changing message printed on those little cards. And it’s the opportunity to share them with Oliver and Clara, to tell them about our Savior who came to earth as a baby, who laid in a manger – surrounded by awe-filled shepherds, and who would ultimately give his life. . . for us.