The season to “prepare the way of the Lord” is upon us. I have always loved embracing the four weeks of Advent, relishing in old traditions as well as shaping out new ones to include each year, or transform as the children grow older.
But Ginny from the beautiful blog, Small Things (found on my blog roll side-bar), has me all get-out excited-giddy about this year’s Advent after reading her recent post on the same topic. Strange to sound like I’m really on a first name basis with a stranger from another blog I follow, but honestly she makes you feel so at home over there, you’ll think you’ve somehow known her all your life!
I’ll start with some of the things we did for Advent when our household was full of small things. When the children were very young a friend of mine sent us an Advent book for pre-schoolers (the name escapes me…so sorry) . This was an absolute treasure of a find for little ones to learn about the season of Advent (again, my profuse apologies for not remembering the title!). It divided the four weeks of Advent, asking the children to make a banner to describe what each week was about. The young’uns always enjoyed making these to place on the fireplace mantel, with declarations of “Prepare,” “Love,” Serve,” “Joy,” all fancied up with ribbons, markers, stickers, and crayons.
We made a bristol board helpings hands wreath where we traced the childrens’ hands in green, cut them out and placed them in a basket where we’d daily place one on the bristol board wreath marking a way they’d been helpful that day on each hand.
Other such ideas in the book included holding a Mary lunch together. All of them dressed in their best Bible time attire (which meant towels or pillow cases for us) and we gathered on the floor in the dining room to eat things such as grapes, raisins, home-made breads, Fig newtons, pita bread, hummus, and olives.
There were songs with actions to use to infuse the meaning of each week into their little hearts. The children made paper plate faces with popsicle sticks glued on to do a puppet show re-telling the story of Zechariah, and the angel coming to tell him Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord.”
As they grew, our ideas grew, and I came to love (and dog-ear) the book Celebrating the Christian Year by Martha Zimmerman. Here is where we adopted the idea of the Advent chain. I would photocopy the verses laid out in the book for each week of Advent and glue one into each rung and add someone’s name inside to be prayed for that day. Each day the children would count down the days until Christ’s birth by taking a rung off and we’d read the scripture verse and pray for that person before dinner. For most years we would choose green bristol board for Monday to Saturday chains, and a blue or purple for the Sundays in Advent, reserving December 25th for a white rung to mark Jesus’ birthday. I, sadly, have only come across one photo with our Advent chain in the background with my three cuties (the youngest still in utero at the time) all love-y together in front of our wee Christmas tree.
Included in Celebrating the Christian Year is the idea to wrap a present up for Jesus with a shiny, rather royal bow on top, adding a slit to place coins and bills in. On Christmas day, have the children open it, count the money, and decide together which charity or who the money should go towards. It’s a reminder of God’s great gift to us, and a very practical way to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth by choosing to give. And if you are wearing your glasses, and look close enough at the above pic, you’ll see our Jesus present wrapped in silver with a big shiny bow adorning the top, just above my boy’s head and under our humble-I’m-in-a-small-house-with-small-children-tree.
The book includes four already prepared services to hold with your family/friends for each Sunday of Advent. We like to photocopy these and distribute to each place setting so everyone can follow along. And be prepared to sing! This is not one of my strengths, but something I’ve so enjoyed including in the Advent season (and beyond). There are several reading parts, which can be divvied up between the children or guests, and a chosen child each week to light the newest Advent candle.
The fourth Sunday in Advent suggests an Advent wreath cake made in a bundt pan. I love anytime there’s a baking suggestion! I just can’t say enough good things about this well used book in our household! It has helped hold together, and seal the meaning of Christmas in our hearts each year. I’ve taken Martha’s quote, “PUT SOMETHING WHERE YOUR EYE CAN SEE IT SO YOUR HEART WILL REMEMBER IT” as a motto for the Advent season. The effort then joyfully comes with working at making a creche, or placing meaningful ornaments on the tree, setting out the Advent wreath and candles, creating the paper chain count down, and all the other activities and read-alouds that go along with the season.
I came back to the idea in the book for young children once again last Christmas when we found ourselves in some unforeseen circumstances, and had very little to work with in the way of seasonal belongings. The landlady loaned us a Christmas tree, and since our ornaments were all living at UHaul, we worked steadily at making our own with craft materials.
I thought back to when we made a creche out of toilet rolls when the children were much younger, and decided this could be done again at 15, 12, 12, and 8. It left such an impression on my heart seeing the effort (and fun) that went into creating a creche, rather like the book “Something from Nothing.” As our barn, we emptied out the manadarin orange crate and set it on it’s side. Because I fell in love with this little set so much, I kept it safely stored for this year, even though we have all our belongings back again. We will set Mary and Joseph on their journey around the house this time next week to start their journey toward Bethlehem, arriving at the stable on Christmas Eve. (Have y’all taken note of the crazy-haired sheep?)
And I can’t finish off this post without giving a list of the Advent read-alouds we’ve used over the years.
We’ve so enjoyed the series by Arnold Ytreeide for children. We started with Jotham’s Journey, and went on to Bartholomew’s Passage, and have yet to read Tabitha’s Travels. Other family read alouds we’ve used have been Advent Foretold: A December Devotional for All Ages by Gary and Wanda Sanseri, The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to prepare the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas (and this we enjoyed doing using a Jesse tree and either store bought or hand made ornaments to hang with each reading).
And, of course, the Advent season cannot be complete without one of my favourite authors, Ann Voskamp’s, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. This one we did last year in that limbo stage I described in the above paragraph, living in a temporary 2 bedroom apartment so we could be close to the hospital, with all our life in storage, and very little to work with in the way of celebrating how we normally do for the Advent season.
I was excited by the simplicity of Ann’s ideas to use twigs for a tree to hang these printable ornaments on one’s Jesse tree for the season. It has been one of the most meaningful reads we’ve encountered for the season of Advent and I highly recommend it to all those who are willing to slow down a bit and come to the season quietly and, as we did, with not much to offer, but a willing heart.