Monday, December 14, 2015

Advent: These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things

In my recent blog posts, I have shared with you my vow to keep Christmas simple this year, and to focus on the true sense of joy and expectation of the Advent season.  As we enter week three of Advent, I thought I would share some of our family favorites that have helped us in our efforts to keep things simple and focused.

1.  Daily Devotions
I try to do a devotion with the girls each day before school.  This Advent season, we have occasionally turned to our usual resource, The Year Book of Devotions for Girls, but I have also been adapting materials from Margie J. Harding's The Christmas Countdown: Creating 25 Days of New Advent Traditions for Families.  We've contrasted how we get ready to celebrate Jesus with how John the Baptist prepared the way all those many years ago.  We read from Psalm 80, and talked about how long Israel had to wait for God to restore them. We talked about how Zechariah had to endure God's discipline for not believing the angel sent to give him the news that his wife would have a son, John. We talked about Mary as a role model for accepting the word of God.

Some days we simply read the words to a Christmas song, like "What Child Is This?" or a favorite Christmas book from when the girls were much younger, such as The Animals' Christmas Eve by Gail Wiersum or Patricia Pingry's The Story of Christmas.

My goal is to keep just a brief message about the true meaning of the season at the forefront of our minds as we go into a day that will load us up with images of Santa, toys, elves, and reindeer.

2.  Simple Decorations
I've taken it easy with the Christmas decorating this year, just putting up some key pieces that make the house feel festive, but not so much "stuff" that it feels overcrowded.
I found out that I can't get away with secretly buying new decorations; everyone noticed the two new pieces I couldn't resist from Target back in November--a happy fabric reindeer and the "joy" sign! They've become my new favorites, and I love how the sign refocuses all of our attention on JOY.
And I can't resist a few well-placed snowmen, even though snow is quite noticeably absent from our Advent season this year!

3.  The Girls' Favorites
Katy and Bayla have a few favorite ways to mark the days toward Christmas that they like to see come out of storage year after year.  
We call this "the puffy Advent calendar," and it wouldn't be Christmas around here without it.  Now that the girls are six and eight, they are much more amenable to taking turns pulling puffy characters out of the pockets and attaching them to the Velcro at the top. They know exactly what is coming up each day, and enjoy putting things in silly positions, like occasionally putting a cow up on the roof where the angel should be.
They also take turns changing numbers on our chalkboard countdown.  Simple and interactive--it doesn't get old with the toddler/ preschool/ elementary school set!
And we always bring out their favorite plastic nativity, purchased years ago to save our "nicer" sets from the curious hands of much-younger girls.  They can arrange and rearrange this to their heart's content.  As you can see, the three wise men are enjoying the shade of the stable, while baby Jesus and his folks hang out in front.  

4.  Manger Scenes and More Manger Scenes
I have a collection of nativity scenes; some years I put them all out, and some years, I select just a few.  No matter what, though, this full set from my sister is put on display:
For me, there is no better and easier way to stay focused on the "reason for the season" than these visual representations of the first Christmas story.
My husband has his own special nativity scene as well.  Now that the girls are older, they can move the pieces around on our favorite sets safely, so here you will see absolutely everyone, including the donkey and cow, crowded into the creche to get near the baby!

5. Christmas Books and Music
Another great and simple way to enjoy the Christmas spirit is to keep plenty of seasonal books and CDs on hand.  

One year, I tried this idea for celebrating Advent with our children: I wrapped up all of our Christmas books, and then let the girls unwrap a book for us to read each day.  Sounds great, right? Not only was it an environmental disaster (ridiculous numbers of trees were harmed in the creation of all that wrapping paper), but Christmas morning was actually anti-climactic for the girls, who had been unwrapping things all month!  

It's definitely better to keep it simple.  I stash the books in a box or basket every year, and they only see them during the month of December.  
Every year or two I try to add something new to our Christmas CD collection as well.  We have instrumental music, Celtic Christmas, kids' entertainers, "alternative" artists, and my favorite--a country Christmas album!  Light the candles, make some hot chocolate, and put on a Christmas CD, and we have instant holiday spirit around here.

EDIT:  6.  Our Church Angel Tree
I almost forgot a very important, very special part of what keeps us focused on the true spirit of Christmas each year! There is a huge Christmas tree at the front of our church sanctuary, and every year it is covered in paper angels.  Each angel has the name, gender, and age of a child, along with an idea or two of Christmas presents the child might enjoy.  These kids are part of our Second Time Around Parents (STAP) mission--they are children being raised by their grandparents in place of their parents.

Each year the girls and I select a set of three angels, and this year they were the perfect age to really participate in the selection of gifts for the girls whose angels we selected--a three-year-old, a five-year-old, and an eight-year-old.

This activity each year has helped them understand some difficult realities about the world, and builds their desire to find ways to make the holiday brighter for children who are not so very different from them.


What are some of the simple but special things that keep you and your family focused on the true spirit of Christmas this time of year?


  1. You've found so many fun things to do that keeps the season as it's meant to be! I think back to some traditions we had as a family when you were young (and a satisfying number weren't commercially oriented!), and I like seeing the things that bring your little family pleasure every year. A fun post to read as I remembered the road trips "over the to Grandma's house", the church candlelight service, the historic home tours, the baking and candy-making. Good memories and now I can share new ones with my grown-up girls!!

  2. Those are definitely ways to celebrate Advent, and to help the girls appreciate both the Advent and Christmas seasons. One of the things I like about the Catholic Church is its 13-day Christmas season, which only begins on Christmas Day. In my family, that has always meant that the Christmas decorations rarely went up until just before Christmas, and were only removed after Epiphany. The rest of the time was an Advent wreath and some small decorations. We also had a manger scene or two, which are always time-sensitive. So Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would travel around the house until Christmas Eve, and the Wise Men wouldn't arrive until Epiphany.

    I think the emphasis on prayer and preparation, the Advent calendar, and simple decorations (as well as your decision to forego Christmas cards!) presents a great invitation to you and your family to participate in this Advent season.


    -- Robert


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...