This time of year just comes around so fast don’t you think?? Or is it just me?
It’s certainly true that planning for Christmas services and guests dominates vicarage life around now! But school life is too, T is already coming home singing snippets from the new songs she’s learning for the Christmas service, wondering what she will be able to do at the Christmas fayre, and has a whole day of Christmas themed activities ahead tomorrow.
In all of that I have this little niggle thought – what will we do during advent this year here at home, together as a family? – I’m glad of the niggle, preparing ourselves for Christmas events, present giving, visiting family can become all consuming if I let it! But I don’t want to let it take over, I do want us to find a pattern that will structure in that breathing and thinking space that will nurture and ready us on the inside too!!
As usual I’m planning last minute, partly my nervousness of introducing anything that might ‘rock the boat’ of our already complex patterns of family life – especially if it happens with a mealtime! I wrote more about that a while ago in ‘don’t panic’, to be fair though, I’m also simply last minute because as a mum life is full to overflowing with so many people, tasks & expectations that I never quite manage to successfully plan ahead as I once loved to do!
Anyway, in case I’m not the only parent who hasn’t yet thought through how to bring the wonderful & important themes of advent into the heart of their family life I thought I’d not down some of the ideas, printables & resources that I’ve come across in case that’s useful…
- make a Jesse tree together
flamecreativekids.blogspot.co.uk has a printable resource with colour-in tree ornaments, and reflections on chosen Bible stories with questions and activity ideas which include a play dough mat which I love.
For a tree to hang ornaments on I have tried two different ways, a twig tree last year, and before that a fallen branch from the garden that I decorated simply by winding it around with wool – in stripes of ‘Christmassy’ gorgeousness! (needless to say that if you’ve popped over & looked at ‘don’t panic’ you’ll know that the gorgeous branch was the highlight of a very difficult experience of introducing advent family moments!)
We have a little gold card treasure chest from that first year, it came with some Christmas tree decorations in it, and it has become THE thing that has to be in the middle of the table now, with the pictures/ornaments/or verses in it that we use each time we can in advent.
Last year we used Bible stories and pictures from The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd Jones, illustrated by Jago). We downloaded the pictures (here), printed and laminated them, and used them in the same way you would a Jesse tree ornament hanging them on our tree after finding and reading the story. I loved how simple and straightforward this was to do together, and we just love the book. It’s written beautifully, is wonderful to read aloud and speaks of Jesus in every story.
- set out a nativity scene
We have always had a nativity scene out somewhere, right from when the children were small. It became obvious very quickly just how much B in particular enjoyed playing with them, rearranging the characters, retelling parts of the story over and over. She still loves to arrange it now – which has it’s own challenges when T (who equally loves to play with all the little figures) rearranges it differently.
The set we have now has little draws under the stable, one for each day of advent so we have tried to open them one at a time through advent placing that figure into the scene and just remembering the story as it unfolds. This is actually very quick, and the children have been eager to join in.
It’s lovely when I can put a little verse, or activity idea into each drawer too, or even a treat! GodVenture have some pocket advent calendar cards made just for that which are great.
- advent candle
When B & A were small we used an advent candle in the evenings. It was useful to have a visual reminder it was advent, but for us at that time didn’t go much further than that. We try to use a candle in the middle of the table to signify we’re going to do something together because it’s advent before we all get down from the table, but I do find it stressful to be honest. Mealtimes are not calm sedate times for us & a lit flame in the middle of it all does put me on edge!
Candles do bring some amount of calm, they can be quite mesmerizing, but for me I need to be one to one with my children so I would want to think creatively about how they could be useful to us. There are some ideas on GodVenture for using an advent candle to reflect on thankfulness which I’m looking forward to finding a way of exploring.
- practical challenges to help us think
We love to start advent season off by filling our shoeboxes for operation Christmas child, this year they have all got very involved and excited choosing the little toys, scarves, hats and decorating and packing the boxes. T also enjoyed drawing a picture and sending a message to the girl who will get her shoebox.
We also have a toy service at church during advent, the toys collected are then distributed locally through charities.
An idea which we haven’t tried yet is to have a reverse advent calendar, instead of taking something out of a pocket each day having a place to put something in. Could be to collect food for a local foodbank, children’s toys & clothes for a women’s refuge, items needed by a church serving asylum seekers and refugees, or toiletries etc for a homeless shelter, or even money to then send to a charity.
- advent calendars
And thinking of advent calendars – of course my three expect chocolate advent calendars too!! It would be quite difficult not to have the choc filled calendars alongside whatever else we decide to do as all their friends will have them. (and of course it could be a real advent calendar – a fair trade one with an accompanying book with the story of Jesus in!)
Last year we also loved using the sticker advent calendar that told us the story of Jesus being born day by day. We nestled it onto the same shelf as the chocolate ones, and I loved how it reminded us of the heart of all the excitement each morning. (In fact, we loved it so much that this year we have bought some of the giant sized ones for our church school to use.)
I would love to hear what’s worked well in your family, what resources you have adapted, and I’d also love to hear that it’s not just us that finds all this very difficult and stressful at the same time as it bringing us some (yes I can think of more than one as I sit writing!) moments where we understood God better, and suddenly became more aware of his love and presence with us.