When I was growing up, Christmas was all about Santa Claus. I still remember the year I discovered Santa wasn’t real. I was in 3rd grade, and I’d heard unbelievable rumors from bigger kids at school. Before the crack of dawn on Christmas morning, I raced with my brothers to the tree and saw the doll I’d found hidden in Mom’s closet the week before. The gift tag on the doll said: “From Santa.” I was horrified. The big kids at school were right.
When I had children of my own, I chose not to go the Santa route, but gifts remain a central focus of the Christmas season. Many of us expend more energy buying, wrapping, and giving gifts than we do on any other activity in December.
Gifts are fun, but I what I really want to pass on to my kids is the marvel of the Christmas miracle.
We Celebrate Advent, Christ’s Awaited Coming.
At our house, celebrating advent rescues Christmas from the gift goblins and turns it into a special opportunity to encourage our children’s faith. When the kids were little, we started lighting a wreath every evening in December. We read a brief scripture, sang a carol, and blew out the candle. Some nights we had a special treat like a cookie, hot chocolate, or apple cider.
Gathering around an advent wreath builds family togetherness and adds a bit of wonder to Christmas. Singing a familiar carol brings a peaceful pause to hurried days of holiday preparation.
Let go of perfect.
You may have rosy pictures of your family gathered around a candle lit wreath, like in a Christmas Hallmark movie. Your kids’ angelic faces are rapt with attention. They sing “Away in the Manger” and adore Jesus.
Ain’t gonna happen that way every night, folks.
Real life advent time is like this. Your kids fight over who gets to light the candle and who gets to blow it out. (Smart parents devise a system of taking turns, which works only sometimes.) While everyone sings “Away in the Manger,” one kid hits his brother. The other kid sticks a pencil into the candle flame to see how fast it will burn.
Relax and do what you can.
Remember that even your most feeble efforts to point to Jesus as the center of the Christmas celebration will encourage your kids’ faith. If your children are small, keep it short and sweet. If your kids are busy high schoolers with evening activities, aim for 3 or 4 nights a week and call it good. Our family did it in the MORNING last year! Candle light was not quite the same at 8:00 a.m., but we let go of perfect in favor of what works.
Here are some helpful resources:
Countdown to Christmas: A 15-Day Advent Nativity Activity: My friend Lisa Apello has written this new guide. You can use it in conjunction with a nativity set, putting out one piece each day and reading a corresponding scripture and devotional.
We Light the Candles : An old fashioned guide with simple readings for young children.
Good Morning Girls Advent Study: Bible study for you and activities for your kids.
Focus on the Family’s Advent Readings (Scroll to bottom of the page for the reading plan.)
The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
Maybe you haven’t had the time or energy to think about advent. It starts this Sunday, November 29th. If you don’t have a wreath or a reading plan yet, light a candle, sing a carol, and pray with your kids. Keep it simple. If you don’t have kids, you can still light candles and read scripture as a special ending to each day in December.
Now it’s your turn? What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?