Celebrating Christ - meaningful Advent activities for families
People, I love Christmas. I love the way it smells. I love the way it feels. I love the music, the traditions, the gifts...I love it all! In my family, we do Christmas BIG. There have been years that I have contemplated whether or not it was biblical to have such a big celebration, but every time I question this I arrive at the same conclusion: the fact that God put on flesh and came to live with us is AMAZING and definitely party-worthy!
Plus, holidays are God's idea. Think about all of the festivals God established for the nation of Israel! He wants us to break from the monotony of our daily lives, to look up, to give thanks, to enjoy family and friends, and to talk about, remember, celebrate, and enjoy Him. This is His idea and thus it is a good idea. This doesn't mean we have to spend a lot of money - but every good celebration takes a bit of planning and intentionality - and I hope this article will help you to do just that!
Since Christmas holds so much to celebrate (and so little time) in our family, we participate in a month-long build up that is called "Advent." In her book Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, Asheritah Cuicui writes, "Advent means 'coming,' from the Latin word adventus, and demarks a season of expectantly preparing to celebrate the first coming of Jesus, while eagerly awaiting His second coming to establish His kingdom, even as we celebrate His presence among us through the promised Holy Spirit." Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas, which means four weeks of fun! Sign me up! We fill these weeks with a variety of family activities, but our focus is on laying the spiritual groundwork that adds richness and joy to our Christmas celebration.
SIDE NOTE: If you have been wanting to begin a family worship routine but have had trouble knowing where or how to begin, Advent is a simple and natural place to introduce this practice in your home. I imagine that those of you with older children (tweens or teens) may feel like it is too late or too awkward to begin studying God's Word and praying or singing as a family, but that is not true! December offers you a wonderful, non-awkward way to begin this wonderful routine, and then you can adapt the devo's and keep rolling into January and beyond.
ONE MORE SIDE NOTE: Christmas is inherently Christian. Despite our society's attempts to replace Jesus with the far inferior Santa Claus, Christmas is, and always has been, about Christ. Therefore, it is not hard to find ways to remember, honor, and celebrate Jesus in our homes during Advent. In fact, Pinterest has collected about 1 million ideas to help you accomplish this goal. But because 1 million ideas are sometimes less helpful than 2 or 3, allow me to share a few traditions that have worked well in our home.
The Jesse Tree
To help set the stage for Christ's arrival, for the past three years we have set up a "Jesse Tree." This is basically a series of 25 Advent readings and Scriptures that walk you through the Old Testament leading up to the Christmas Story. Each day's reading has a special ornament that corresponds to the story that the kids can hang on the Jesse Tree. It's interactive and fun, and adds deeper understanding and richness to the Christmas story. There are many versions of this available, but here are two books we've used and enjoyed:
If a "Jesse Tree" sounds like too much effort this year, you could simply read the first 24 chapters in the Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don't have this Bible, you need to add it to your Christmas wish list immediately! The first 24 chapters will lead you right up to the Christmas story, which works out perfectly.
(We use contact paper from the dollar store to make a tree on our wall, and then we tape the ornaments on top--not super fancy, but it works!)
Anytime you add fire to an activity it is bound to be more exciting, am I right? If you have ever attended a liturgical church you will be familiar with this practice, but did you know you can light Advent candles in your home as well? We are planning to try this book in place of our Jesse Tree devotionals this year, just for some variety. I think the boys will enjoy lighting the candles!
Singing and discussing Christmas carols is a great way to worship as a family this December! Think of some of the rich truths that can be gleaned from popular hymns like "Joy to The World": "Let every heart prepare Him room....He rules the world with truth and grace...He comes to make His blessings known, far as the curse is found..." You could certainly find some good teaching points in these timeless carols and finish up with a sing-a-long. One resource we are currently using is Christmas Carols for a Kid's Heart. This comes with a CD which might be especially helpful for the musically-challenged family :) We also love the sister book Hymns for a Kid's Heart.
Read Aloud Time
One of my favorite things to do is snuggle on the couch and share good books with my kids. There is something especially cozy about sitting near the Christmas tree and enjoying a story together. There are SO MANY wonderful books that focus our hearts and minds on Christ, many of which you can find at your local library. Here are just a few that we read every year:
The Tale of Three Trees (not exactly a Christmas story, but close enough)
Buck Denver Asks "Why Do We Call it Christmas?" - (I just bought this to try out this year!)
Following our family devotions, we do a special "family activity" every night in December. I make a list of things I want to do during the month, and each night after our devotional, the kids open a special envelope to reveal the activity. (Note: the genius of this system is that I can choose a simple activity like "Popcorn party" or a more involved plan such as "Drive and look at Christmas lights" based on the way the day has gone.) We want our kids to associate Advent with fun, cozy traditions and memories, but most of all we want our kids to experience the everyday joy that comes from knowing and remembering and celebrating Emmanuel, our God who is with us.
How will you celebrate Christ in your home this December? Perhaps one of the above ideas (or one of the additional ideas linked below) will be a good place to begin. Don't try and do it all - the goal of this article is not to make your Advent full of activity, but rather, full of Christ.
From our family to yours, we wish you a merry Christmas and a Jesus-filled New Year!
1 Peter 1:8-9
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Noel Piper's book Treasuring God In Our Traditions