It’s hard to miss all the Christmas items filling the shelves in stores, reminding us that Christmas is rapidly approaching. While this is true, and Christmas will be here soon, it isn’t Christmas yet. It is Advent.
This is the season of preparing for the coming of Christ, in the remembrance of his birth at Christmas, in the anticipation of the second coming at the end of all time, and in our lives now as Christians. Advent comes at a time when life for families is often incredibly busy and frantic. Between church Christmas pageants, school choir concerts, ever-growing shopping lists, and the assorted obligations we families with children normally face, it can be easy to forget to pause, even briefly, to remember that Advent is more than a pre-Christmas.
Here are ten quick ways to make the time to celebrate Advent with your children and to prepare for Christmas.
1. Attend Advent Services
Many churches offer special services during Advent in the middle of the week. While the idea of adding another place to be with kids can feel overwhelming, please consider attending. Not only do they beautifully tell the story of the events leading to the first coming of Jesus as a baby, they often come with fellowship as we share a meal before or after with fellow believers. This is a great opportunity to sit and listen to the truly Good News—that Jesus brings us forgiveness.
2. Buy or Make an Advent Calendar
Perhaps the most obvious and easiest way to draw Advent into your routine is with an Advent calendar. They are increasingly popular and the options for them are nearly endless. With a wide variety available—from paper options and those with chocolates or toys meant to be used for a single season to those that are reusable—there is a calendar available to fit any budget. An Advent calendar offers an excellent visual reminder for kids of all ages that Advent is here.
3. Set Up the Nativity Scene in Stages
Rather than setting up your nativity scene in its entirety, consider doing so gradually. The first night, display the stable, and each night after add another piece. Set Mary and Joseph across the room and have them move closer after family devotions. If you forget a night, just move them more the next day, but don’t give up. In our family, the wise men and shepherds also travel and arrive after Christmas. This is a great opportunity to further illustrate the story to our children.
4. Have Family Devotions
Family devotions don’t have to take a lot of time. Your church may have a series they recommend and, if not, buy one that appeals to your family. If a night is really busy and you just can’t get to it, sing an Advent hymn together. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or time-consuming.
5. Try a Paper Chain Countdown
Have the kids make a paper chain with enough links to bring you to Christmas. While similar to an Advent calendar, this can be an additional fun way to help children focus during the season. Smaller kids may just enjoy the chain alone. For the older kids, consider writing an activity, hymn number, or Bible reading on the link to work on together nightly.
6. Celebrate Holy Days
For example, St. Nicholas’ Day falls on December 6, 2014, and is a wonderful opportunity to discuss the real Saint Nick with kids. It’s also traditional to put a shoe out the night before and place gold covered chocolate coins in it for kids to discover in the morning. The best part of this tradition eating the leftover chocolate at night.
7. Remember Those in Need
Christmas and Advent are a time to be close to family and friends. It’s also a time of the year that people without family or friends can be incredibly lonely. Go caroling at the nursing home. Consider taking cookies to a shelter in your community. Buy gloves or hats at the deeply discounted prices available this time of the year and donate to someone needy.
8. Bake Christmas Cookies or Pastries
Baking, especially with kids, is an exercise in patience. It’s also a perfect time to talk about waiting and watching. We wait for dough to chill, for cookies to bake, and for them to cool enough to eat without melting the roof of our mouths. It’s an excellent tie-in to Advent and the waiting and watching we do for Jesus’ return. It’s also a great chance to test new recipes in time to perfect them for Christmas, while turning out a lot of cookies to give away to family, friends, and people who may not have family or friends to celebrate with.
9. Watch Some Christmas Movies
This is probably more of a pre-Christmas than strictly Advent activity, but has a good place in the life of a family. Classic Christmas movies, some popcorn, and time spent together is a valuable addition to a busy week. Discuss how your family agrees or disagrees with different aspects of the movies you choose.
10. Exercise Patience
Above all, remember that Christ comes whether we perfectly remember to do all the things we plan. Have fun with your family, investigate new traditions, prepare for Christmas and Christ’s birth as well as the second coming of Jesus, and don’t worry when life gets in the way of things occasionally. Or more than occasionally.
Please don’t feel like a successful Advent and Christmas rely on checking items off your list. The above suggestions are just that. The seasons are about far more than what we do for those around us, our families included. They are about what was done for us years ago when Christ came as a baby to Bethlehem. The most important part of Advent is remembering that while Jesus came to us long ago as a baby and will come again someday, He also comes to us now, every time we are in church. Of all the listed ideas, the most important is going to church with your family.