Preparing Little Hearts for Christmas
Ava was four months old when we celebrated our first Christmas. I suppose I had never really thought much about how to "teach the meaning of Christmas" before that... I had assumed it would be a process of osmosis. But the more I have observed the media hype and materialism that surround this wonderful season, the more I realised we may need to be a little more purposeful in our parenting when it comes to Christmas.
And so I began to think about how to prepare the little hearts we have been entrusted with, for Christmas. How to establish some family traditions which will help us remember what Christmas is really all about. Don't get me wrong, I love the reindeer, the snowflakes, the excitement about the arrival of Father Christmas and the caroling. But they are not the things I long for our little ones to savour during this season.
As the children grow, I want their memories of Christmas to be more than magical. I want them to be based in reality... in understanding what happened just over 2000 years ago, and in understanding why that is something truly worth celebrating. These 24 days in the run up to Christmas are an opportunity for us to fester an excitement in our little people - not about sleigh bells or Santa or snow (although those things are extremely exciting - even at 30!) but about remembering the arrival of a baby King who would shake the world forever.
Don't get me wrong, I love the reindeer, the snowflakes, the excitement about the arrival of Father Christmas ..... But they are not the things I long for our little ones to savour during this season.
So here are some little traditions we've established which help us truly savour this season for all it's worth. Feel free to steal/adapt/pick and choose at will. Perhaps you have a tradition which you could share in the comments... I'm always after new ideas!
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 our visit last year 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, it's 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?!
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.
My four candles are ready to go out on display, waiting to be lit (the first one will be lit today and we'll read the first part of the Christmas story as we light it). The Christmas story is all about light - the light of the star that led the Wise Men to Bethlehem to meet the Light of the world...
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.
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. Watch this space!
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 it's lasting us well.
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.
This helps the family remember that it is Jesus' birthday we're celebrating, and stops it from becoming purely a present-opening. We will do this with the girls for the first time this year. 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.
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!
Blog post adapted from Claire's Blog