Many Christians celebrate Advent. Advent is the period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Its name comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming”. In Western Christianity, the season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24.
There are some wonderful Advent traditions to share with your family. We are all busy, so the simpler the better. It’s easy to get caught up in the shopping and preparations that can distract from the true meaning of the season. Children get excited about creating things, and doing crafts or special activities which bring their focus back to Christ is a perfect way to keep them centered less on the “holiday” and more on “Christmas”.
Here are four activities we do in our family every Advent to help keep Christ in Christmas:
1. Make a Crib for baby Jesus. This is a beautiful little devotion to prepare young hearts for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. You can make a crib out of cardboard. Or you can use popsicle sticks from a craft store. It doesn’t matter how you create it, any material will do. Cut about 50 4″ pieces of white yarn and place in a jar. Explain to your kids that any time they do a good deed for a family member, a neighbor, or a friend (in secret), they can take a piece of yarn and place it in Jesus’ manger. As they fill they fill their Advent with good deeds, they are preparing a soft bed for our Lord. By Christmas Eve, the manger can be filled with a soft bedding of “straw” (yarn). My children love this devotion!
2. Discover Las Posadas! Las Posadas is a Mexican custom which can be adapted for use in the home. In Mexico, a couple dresses up as Mary and Joseph. For the nine nights prior to Christmas, the couple travels house to house seeking shelter. Eight nights they are refused. On the ninth – Christmas Eve – they are finally welcomed. At home, two family members can dress as Mary and Joseph and another can be the innkeeper (with other family members as companions). For eight nights Mary and Joseph (take turns being each person) knock on doors of different rooms in your home. And on the ninth night, they are welcomed!
Here is the script for the nightly enactment:
- 1. Who’s knocking at my door?
- 2. Two people poor and low.
- 1. What are you asking for?
- 2. That you may mercy show. We are, O sir, in sorry plight, please grant us shelter here tonight.
- 1. You ask in vain.
- 2. We beg a place to rest.
- 1. It’s no again.
- 2. You will be greatly blessed.
- 1. I told you no, you cannot stay. Get out of here and go your way! (on the last night, the words of welcome can be spontaneous).
This is a heart warming activity to do with children before Christmas. We have been doing Las Posadas for about 20 years at my house (ever since my friend, Lauri wrote a book about Advent customs). The timing is perfect every year. It seems it comes just when I feel the pressure of Christmas preparations start to cause stress and I need to refocus. Although it is great for the children, I always feel it is even a greater activity for me, helping me to think about Mary and Joseph and the Christmas story in a more personal way. Every year the little ones in the house start asking in early December…”When is Las Posadas?”
3 .Follow the star… Use your home nativity set as a prop for this little Christmas devotion. Have the children place the three kings in various places around the home. As each day of December passes, and Christmas approaches, have them move the kings closer to the Christ child. This is another favorite of my children. One word of warning: Be watchful of younger children and where they place the king. I am still looking for one of the kings that my youngest was moving a few years ago. He was two at the time and when I asked him about it again last year, he said, “He is on a journey.” I still haven’t found him! I bought a new king this year!
4. Pray for each recipient of your Christmas card. This is a way for us adults to focus on the spiritual before Christmas. As you write or address each of your Christmas cards, say a quick prayer for the family you are sending it to. Think about them. Think about what prayers they might need. If you haven’t seen them in a while, pray for their health and their families intentions. That way, each card from you is sealed with a prayer.
There are many ways to keep the focus on the real meaning for the season…what are some of your families traditions that help keep Christ in Christmas?