The season of Advent is upon us. This period of anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth is extremely important in the lives of Christians, because it helps us to make way in our hearts to receive the one true gift of the Christmas season – the gift of God made flesh in the form of a newborn baby, a God who loved us enough to humble himself enough to walk this earth, to feel human emotions, to endure unspeakable suffering and death on a cross so that we might be delivered from the bonds of sin. As Christian parents seeking to raise children who are strong in their faith, it is important for us to create an atmosphere that conveys the meaning of Advent to our children. With modern society constantly telling our children that Christmas is all about stuff (preferably expensive stuff and lots of it) that can be bought at a mall, nice old men in red suits, and jolly talking snowmen, it is easy for the true message of Christmas to be lost. With a focus on the season of Advent in the home, parents can redirect their children toward the true meaning of Christmas – the gift which we receive through Jesus Christ. Here are some suggested activities that you might want to include in Advent celebrations with your children…
Participate in daily Advent devotions with your children. Choose a time of day during which you will remember to “do” your Advent devotion, such as before the family meal or just before your children go to bed. There are many good Advent devotional books and booklets that are appropriate for children. A few suggestions are: A Family Advent: Keeping the Savior in the Season by Thomas Nelson, Jesse Tree Devotions: A Family Activity for Advent by Marilyn Breckenridge, and Looking Forward to the Nativity by Jon Farrar. For more Advent devotion ideas, visit your local Christian bookstore or online Christian booksellers such as www.christianbooks.com and www.creativecommunications.com .
Attend worship with your children as often as possible during Advent, participating in Sunday services as well as any special Advent services or activities that occur at your home church. If you do not have a home church, the Advent season is an excellent time to visit a new church and make a renewed commitment to worshiping the Lord as a family.
Make an Advent wreath as a family and allow the children to light the candles (with supervision) each evening (before dinner is a good time).
Help the children countdown to Christmas with an Advent calendar. There are many kinds to choose from. Some Advent calendars have little windows or doors to open with chocolates inside, others are simple cardboard Advent calendars that allow the children to add a new sticker each day, and still others are cloth or wooden manger scenes that allow the children to add a new figure to the scene each day. For families with multiple children, I prefer the cloth or wooden Advent calendars – it eliminates tears over who gets the chocolate and can be reused each year.
Give gifts – most importantly, the gift of Jesus. The season of Advent is an excellent time for children and families to participate in service projects that help those who are in need. When we give to others with the expectation of receiving nothing in return, we give the gift of the love of Jesus Christ to those who desperately need it. In turn we do receive something – the blessing of being the hands and feet of the body of Christ. Some Advent activities to consider might be serving as a family at a local soup kitchen, organizing a neighborhood food, blanket, or clothing drive and then delivering the collected items as a family to a group that distributes them to the needy, or simply performing simple random acts of kindness in secret for friends, family, neighbors, or even strangers (with adult supervision only, of course).
Visit a living nativity. During the Advent season, many churches put on living nativity pageants complete with live animals and flying “angels” that tell the story of the birth and life of Christ through actors that interact with your children while remaining in character. These living nativities have a way of making the story of Christmas come alive for young children. There is likely to be a Living Nativity not too far from your home. Check with your church or in your local newspaper’s listing of holiday activities.
Have a family Advent movie night and watch a Christmas movie that has a Christian focus, such as The Nativity Story, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, The Little Drummer Boy, or the VeggieTales movies The Star of Christmas or The Toy that Saved Christmas. Be sure to choose a movie that is age-appropriate for your children. Serve Christmas cookies and spiced cider or eggnog for “movie snacks”.
This is just a small sampling of Advent activities for children. There are many more out there. Any Advent activity that you feel will point your children toward the sacred meaning of the Christmas season is a good one to try. Also, be sure to keep in mind that it is only natural that, from time to time, our children will get caught up in the excitement of wanting to find that special toy under the Christmas tree. Don’t be discouraged by this. It is only natural to take joy in receiving a special gift. The special toy from Santa Claus under the Christmas tree can help children to understand the giving heart of God, as long as their parents are teaching this lesson. So relax and enjoy receiving the gift of the seeing the joy of the Advent Season and Christmas through the eyes of your children. Merry Christmas!