Three years ago, I wrote about a Christmas that nearly went very wrong and how from the following year, we started to plan for Christmas and Advent much more carefully.
I totally get that we need to grab spontaneous opportunities and listen to the Spirit but I honestly think that our best chance of discipling our kids well is to be intentional about it – to know what it is we’re aiming for. That counts doubly so at this frantic time of year.
I used to teach and teachers always have a curriculum, a scheme of work and a lesson plan. They follow kids’ lead but within a framework. They know where they’re headed and what they’re aiming for and roughly by when.
If you think it sounds nuts to treat kids’ spirituality like the National Curriculum then just go on Google or Pinterest for 10 minutes and type in Christmas or maybe even just look at your calendar for the next 6 weeks. There is no way we can do it all! Even the really, really good stuff!
Having an idea of what we’d like to see happen gives us a criteria for choosing what to exclude or include. Do I send 80 cards this year and miss out on time with the children or do we send 8 hand-made cards to the elderly relatives who really appreciate it and send everyone else e-cards? Do we go the the Santa’s grotto at the country park which I saw advertised this morning or have some time that weekend to get out the Veggie Tales St Nicholas DVD? Do I get frozen roast potatoes for Christmas Day and have the time to hang out with my brother who’ll be home for Christmas Day or do I obey my inner culinary diva who would like to pretend she’s on Master Chef? Etc. You get the picture, probably because you have similar calls to make.
Anyway, I thought I’d show you the list I made to guide my own planning and then I’ll share with you some really cool ideas I’ve seen on the magical interwebs which might meet your family’s needs this Advent without you having to start from scratch.
So, this year I’d like my family to…
- Celebrate for the right reasons
- Know the basics of the Christmas story (Tintin – he’s 2)
- Start to understand where the story comes in the whole context of the Bible and redemptive history (Pigwig – she’s 4 1/2) although she won’t put it in those terms!!!
- Understand it’s real and not pretend like Cinderella etc (Pigwig)
- Start to untangle the Nativity from the entirely separate Santa/rheindeer/secular narrative
- Have time for reflection and stillness as a family and for us adults
- Learn something from the characters in the story, e.g. obedience, searching for truth (all of us)
- Take joy from giving as well as getting – not get too focussed on the presents! (Me and Pigwig, to be honest!)
- Get some rest (all of us)
- Interact as a family and let kids see how the Christmas story impacts us – let them see us worshipping and praising God for the gift of Jesus.
I’m sure you now see how this helps me plan and I’ll keep this list inside a kitchen cupboard so I can see it often and re-focus during Advent.
So now, I work on how I might flesh out these ideas. We won’t do them all but here are some ideas I had….
Knowing the story and all that lays on top of that:
We’ll use books, crafts, dress-ups, music, decorations e.g. stars and angels rather than mistletoe and a fairy on the tree, church and community events we chose to go to, films
Understanding where the Nativity comes in redemptive history
We may do the Jesse Tree (I’ll definitely use pre-printed ornaments as I don’t have much time to do this) or another bible-reading plan this year such as this one. It may be at tea time rather than breakfast this year because of school mornings being more rushed. Remember this is a year-round project!
Celebrate for the right reasons
We’ll be focussing the kids back onto the Jesus story, as Pigwig talks about stuff she’s hearing from kids at school (about secular Christmas, Divali, Hannukah etc), and discussing with her how our family celebrate in a different way for a different reason
Understand it’s real and not pretend like Cinderella etc (Pigwig)
Remember it’s a whole year thing and watch out for little chats at bedtime etc as we read the bible (and other stories which aren’t real)
Start to untangle the Nativity from the entirely seperate Santa/rheindeer/materialistic narrative
We love the Veggie Tales – St Nicholas DVD and have several books about St Nick. Even better is this activity . I may not agree with the author’s theology but, boy, is she onto something here!
Don’t plan too much in and make Advent activities low-stress and peaceful
Learn something from the characters in the story, e.g. obedience, searching for truth (all of us)
Jesse Tree readings, discussions at bedtime, expanding on the story
Take joy from giving as well as getting – not get too focussed on the presents! (Me and Pigwig)
Involve the kids in planning and making gifts. Maybe use this Shepherds’ pouch idea
Get some rest (all of us!)
Keep on top of the diary. Keep celebrations low-key. Go easy on the cooking!
Interact as a family and let kids see how Christmas story impacts us – let them see us worshipping and praising God for the gift of Jesus, at home and at church, during family prayers etc
We may try some interactive prayer ideas during Advent and then, of course, there are the family services at church over Advent and Christmas.
Apart from the ideas linked to above, I found a lovely link to a blog I fell in love with. The author had a 2 year old and this post gave some really toddler appropriate ideas. You could just take part of her activity or use some of the idea as inspiration. Either way, it’s my top pick for tinies!
For more ideas, check out my Advent Pinterest board here! (You don’t need to join Pinterest to see it but, if you’re a Pinner, do follow me using this board or the button at the top of the blog as your link.)
So, what does your family usually do during Advent? Do you think planned or spontaneous works better in your family? What are your biggest struggles as you try to focus on the real Christmas story? I’d love to know your ideas!