Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Preparing Him Room // Advent with Little Ones

"We reveal to ourselves and others what is important to us by the way we celebrate"
- Noel Piper, Treasuring Christ in our Traditions -

Traditions are embedded deep in our identity. From the earliest seeds of memory, established customs followed year-by-year, or day-by-day, form the foundations of family life. Of all the traditions and customs I remember from my own childhood, those formed around the festive season stand out in my memory...

When we became parents for the first time, five years ago, I realised that creating traditions in our new little family unit was something I definitely wanted to invest in. But thoughtful, purposeful, Christ-centred traditions would take some effort and attention. In a celebration that can so easily get lost in all the hype, sparkle and consumerism, treasuring the truth of Christmas, and making that central in our family traditions, was not going to happen without some serious thought, and so, over the years, with a lot of input from those older and wiser than ourselves, we have set out to savour some traditions that we hope will help our children understand, and cherish, what Christmas is really all about.

I love the magic, the reindeer, the excitement about Father Christmas... and while I want my children to enjoy those things, they are not the things I want them to relish in when it comes to Christmas. Instead, our hope is that our children will see that the miracle of Christmas is not some jolly old man who climbs down chimneys, but rather the God of all the universe, sending his only Son on a rescue mission.

And so, year by year, I rewrite this little collection of traditions that we are forming in the hope that it will help some other families, figuring out how to make Christ central at this "most wonderful time of the year". Each year, it adapts and changes as we do, and each year, it is a joy to add new ideas to the list that have come from some of you! So please do share any further suggestions in the comments!

And on the day before December, I wish you and yours the most wonderful advent!

The Christmas Journey: Kicking it all off...
We are really blessed to be part of a church with some amazingly creative people in it. At the end of November every year, our church is transformed into this amazing, hands on, beautiful experience better known as The Christmas Journey. You can read about a previous visit here. The children travel round different tents - Mary's kitchen, the hillside, the stable, the wise men's tent... and meet the characters. Actors and puppets bring the story to life and our children are mesmerised every year. For us, its the start of the Christmas season, and it's a very special one. Why not Google "The Christmas Journey" and see if anyone's running it near you?! (And if you live locally to us, get in touch and I'll tell you where the next one is!)

The Advent Candles...
Advent candles go way back... like hundreds of years back. Four candles signifying the four weeks of Advent in the run-up to Christmas. Each Sunday, another candle is lit... it signifies the hope, the expectation - the countdown that we're looking forward to a major historical event. This sense of expectation and joy is at the heart of what Advent is all about. Our first candle was lit on Sunday (Advent started early this year!) and we usually accompany it with a Christmas reading (for small children, the Jesus Storybook Bible is fantastic, and records the Christmas story in three parts (we tend to split the first story in half!) The Christmas story is all about light - the light of the angels and the light of the star that led the Wise Men to Bethlehem to meet the Light of the world... light is a really helpful visual for children to understand what Christmas really means!


The Advent Book Box...
We started this tradition for Ava's first Christmas. Every year, on the first of December, the children get a Christmas book to enjoy in the run-up to Christmas. As children, the 1st of December was always VERY exciting for us... it wasn't just the day we got to open our advent calendar, it was also the day we were allowed to pull out our Christmas books, listen to Christmas songs and watch Christmas videos (Raymond Briggs' "Father Christmas" and "Muppet Christmas Carol" being the favourites!) An advent book can be a fun christmassy story, or something more thought-provoking that points back to the birth of Jesus. What a wonderful way to prepare children's hearts to remember the Saviour... more on recommended children's Christmas books to follow!


The Kindness Elves...
Our little friends, Nico and Nati, have rocked up the past two years on the first of the month and stayed around til Christmas. Every morning, they would be discovered by the girls up to some sort of mischief, with an idea of how to be kind to somebody that day - baking for our neighbours, sharing our toys, gathering some items for food bank... you name it! I'm sure they will be making an appearance again this year. They are a helpful reminder that Christmas is all about giving... and not receiving!

The Advent Calendar/Manger Scene...After weeks of hunting for a very particular advent calendar I had in my head a couple of Christmasses back, I realised it didn't exist, and resorted to making it myself. It has been a labour of love over these past three years, but I'm thrilled with it now that it's finished, and the girls love it every year. Hidden in the advent calendar each day is a little artefact/figure to add to the manger scene. We build up the scene as advent goes on, with Jesus being placed in it on Christmas eve. As the scene builds, the story unfolds with an accompanying verse bringing the next part of the Christmas story. After hunting everywhere for a nativity set that had 24 parts, I gave up and decided to go with the 8 piece one I had, and make my own extras. Good old Fimo did the trick and its lasting us well.


The Storytelling...
On the evening of Christmas day, after spending the afternoon at my parents, we head back to our house for the retelling of the Christmas story. Using the verses from the advent calendar that are put together to tell the full story, Dave and I use the figurines to re-enact the Christmas story. The girls sit and watched mesmerised, and I'm looking forward to the day where they will be able to do it themselves! Throw in some carols as you tell the story and you have your own little nativity every year. The children love it!

The Gift to Jesus...This was an idea I picked up from Noel Piper's book "Treasuring Christ in our Traditions" (highly recommend!) What are we actually celebrating at Christmas? Jesus birthday! And yet so often, we forget the birthday person! Jesus said "I tell you the truth, whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to me"(Matt 25:40), so we can use our "gift to Jesus" to bless an individual, a family, a missionary or a charity. Doing this, again, helps the family remember that it is Jesus' birthday we're celebrating, and stops it from becoming purely a present-opening. We did this with the girls for the first time last year, and it really was special. A small financial gift to them, which they can choose how to pass on. The money is purely for them to think about how they can bless somebody else this Christmas. We are keen for them to understand that the giving is more important that the receiving. This year, I ordered this little craft kit from Baker Ross, so they can make some little gift boxes to keep their gifts in!

And those are our advent traditions!

I'm not sharing these ideas because I think we do it right, or our way is the only way, but just in case you find yourself in the position I did four years ago of asking; "How do I point my little ones to the real meaning of Christmas this year?"

Maybe we can share some ideas!

Have fun!

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