Family Ideas for Advent
How can we involve our children in faith celebrations at home? The church year has a rhythm of seasons—some joyous, others more somber. The church year is complete. It covers the whole story of God's acting in human history. It has great festivals which can be marvelous celebrations. These seasons and festivals are an annual curriculum which nurtures a more mature faith.
Advent is a time of preparation, a time to remember all the ways God has come to us and will come, a time to prepare ourselves—as well as our houses—for the great festival, Christmas. It's a time of waiting and expectancy, a time of contemplation. Purple or (royal) blue (the liturgical color choices for Advent) suggests a mood of repentance and preparation for the King. The following ideas are shared to stimulate you to think about your own family celebrations.
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The Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent*
It's time to get ready! Put up the Advent wall hangings. Prepare the Advent wreath. Place seasonal picture books, story books, devotionals, and other materials in a basket. Position the Advent calendar in just the right spot (see Additional Resources for suggestions).
Make your own Advent chain with a link for each day from the first Sunday in Advent through December 25. Use purple construction paper to make links for the days in Advent and white construction paper to make the link for Christmas Day. On each link write one activity. After writing an activity on each link, attach the links to make a chain. Each day remove a link and do the activity as a family. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Bake cookies for college students.
- Sing a favorite carol.
- Visit a shut-in.
- Decorate the Christmas tree.
- Set up the creche.
- Read a story about St. Francis and the creche.
- Make Christmas gift tags.
- Shop for toys to donate to a shelter for women and children.
- Deliver the toys purchased to the shelter for women and children.
- Go caroling in your neighborhood.
- Talk about what Advent means.
- Share a memory from past Christmases.
- Make ornaments for your tree.
- Do a good deed for your neighbor.
- Make luminaries to set out on Christmas Eve.
- Have each member of the family finish this sentence: "To me, Christmas means..."
- Dream about what you would like Christmas to be in the future.
- Choose a project to donate money to and decorate a container to collect change from each family member.
- Decorate a mini Christmas tree and give it to someone in a nursing home.
- Read a favorite Christmas story.
- Invite another family to go with you to cut your Christmas trees.
- Place items for a traditional Christmas dinner in a large laundry basket and deliver the basket to an agency in your area that will bring it to a family who would not have that kind of dinner.
Blessing Of The Christmas Tree
After you have decorated your home for Christmas, set up the Christmas tree. When the tree is yet untrimmed (but the lights have been strung), recall that God has blessed you with life and that, just as the tree is evergreen, God's love for us is unending and never changes. Then as each ornament is placed on the tree, have the family member placing it share a particular personal or family blessing that has been received during the past year. After the tree is trimmed, plug in the lights and read this prayer together:
O God, you made light shine out of darkness. Bless this tree that we decorated with lights in honor of Jesus Christ who has come to bring light to us. This Advent season, help us to show your light in our faces and be happy, radiant, and loving people. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
Prepare a creche as a centerpiece to remember that Advent is a season of preparation.
In your home, make the creche accessible to children. Colleen Aalsburg Wiessner, member of First Reformed Church of Cary, Cary, North Carolina, tells this story:
The creche should be something children can touch with their own hands and experience fully for themselves. One of my strong awakenings to this occurred when my oldest son was two years old. I heard him crying and found him sitting on the fireplace hearth. Lying on the bricks was the broken body of the baby Jesus from our creche set. In order to reach it he had stood on tiptoe on a rocking chair nearby. When asked what had happened, he answered, "Mommy, I just wanted to touch baby Jesus." These figures should be within reach of children in our homes and churches. We keep an unbreakable set in a beautiful gift box under the Christmas tree. There it is always accessible for use, and the wrapping reminds us that Jesus is a gift to us from God.
Rather than placing all the figures in the creche when you set it up, build the anticipation of Christmas using the suggestion from Charles Wiessner, pastor of First Reformed Church of Cary, Cary, North Carolina.
Instead of putting up the traditional manger scene all at once, we put out a few pieces each week. When we put out the animals we talked about God's concern for all of nature. As we placed the shepherds and Mary and Joseph in the following weeks, Advent themes of joy, hope, and peace were emphasized. Finally, on Christmas Eve, baby Jesus was added to the scene--"Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" After Christmas the wise men (Magi) were added to help lead us from Christmas to Epiphany.
The Last Week of Advent*
Use the ancient Advent prayers of the church and sing the corresponding verse of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" (yes, there are seven verses—look in a few hymnals or songbooks and you will find them all or do an Internet search). Have Advent cookies, one for each member of the family, each evening. They can symbolize the image of the Messiah that is the focus of each day (for example, rising sun for Morning Star, book for Wisdom). This helps make the last week of waiting special and fun, as well as helping us remember the symbols.
To help distinguish between Advent and the Christmas season, some families do not put up their Christmas decorations until about a week before Christmas. Using Advent decorations and music during Advent and Christmas decorations and carols during the twelve days of Christmas sensitizes people to the meaning of both seasons.
* We thank Carol Myers for sharing some of these family celebrations.