What are your dreams for your family’s Christmas this year? The absolute ideal?
These are mine. Perhaps you can relate?
My children catching the wonder of the true Christmas story.
A calm, clean, organised house where the preparations don’t become a panic.
A chance to contemplate and wonder myself.
Decorations up in time, cards sent and time for friends.
All sounding a little unlikely?
Well, I’ll still find the house cleaning a challenge (possibly not a seasonal issue!) but we have gradually figured out how to achieve some of the rest over the past few years. And Advent is the absolute key. In fact I remember Pigwig disappointedly crying one Boxing Day “I want more Advent!”.
Unless you’ve grown up in the church, and certain sections of it to boot, Advent may not be a familiar concept. It means “coming” and it’s traditionally a time of preparation for Christmas – preparing our hearts, rather than our homes, gifts or pantries!
Having felt spiritually flat after many Christmases where I prepared everything but my heart and let all the planning and cooking and decorating squeeze the spiritual side out, our family has gradually found a way of celebrating Advent that works for us and creates far more peace around Christmas time than I ever thought possible. I thought it might help other families.
So here’s how we do it… endless variations are possible. And before you start to hyperventilate or come out in hives, I’ve got a useful printable resource at the end which may just make this all very simple to set up. Because the last thing I want is for your Advent and Christmas to be more stressy! (You might also find last year’s Advent post handy)
We read a bit of the Bible every day together in December (after kids’ tea in our family) to focus on the back story to Christmas. There’s a plan below which you can use with or without The Jesse Tree idea I shared a couple of weeks ago. We also have a pocket Advent calendar so the kids each get a sweet treat each day. Good associations around reading the Bible? I’m all for that!
I also tuck a slip of paper into each pocket (I do it the night before usually to allow for changes but I keep a master plan to hand) which has a treat or event for the day and a job we can do to help make Christmas less of a rush. Events might be going to Pigwig’s Nativity play or a local Christmas Fair. Treats are usually very simple like hot chocolate after school or a walk around the block to see the Christmas lights and go stargazing. (There’s a list below in case you want any easy, zero prep ideas).
The jobs are spread out and are often just for us. Putting up the wreath on the door and praying for everyone who comes through it, writing a few cards, wrapping presents. Some jobs are also events like going to get and decorating the tree. I try and weight it towards the beginning of the month but it doesn’t always work.
I found we made a great start to the month by thinking ahead of time in detail how it would go. We light the Advent candle, alternate which child goes to the Advent pocket to get the treats, the other child puts up the Jesse Tree symbol and we guess which bible story it is from the symbol. Then we read our passage together and say the prayer in the devotional. We ended up having candlelit tea times throughout December last year which was wonderful – candle light really soothes children, I find.
We start to set up our Nativity set half way through December and lean our decorations towards depictions of of the Nativity story rather than Santa (although we love the story of Saint Nicholas and still do stockings!). We have a special collection of Christmas books that only come out on December 1st and are much anticipated and treasured. I’ll do a post on our favourites next week.
It does mean finding an evening towards the end of November to think and plan and look at what’s already in the diary but it does really make a huge difference to where our focus is and how high my stress levels are in December. And, as we know, “when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”
So, here are some variations on the same printable Advent planner. The third has a bible reading scheme on it which you can use with or without a Jesse Tree. It’s based on the Advent reading scheme from Feels Like Home.
There are also spaces for noting treats/events and tasks to spread out the load throughout December. These often get changed around during the month but it helps me keep track of what still needs doing!
Have a very happy and peaceful Advent!
Here are the different planning sheets.
The second printable has just slots for everything but no days of the week so can be used any year. The first includes days of the week for Advent 2014. In the third sheet I’ve suggested readings leaving out some of the prophetic readings which can appear in the Jesse Tree but which don’t often appear in Children’s Bibles and also omitting Abraham and Isaac because my 3 and 5 year old would find that a troubling story at such a young age.
N.B. I updated this page on 24/11/14 so, if you had issues with the pdfs before, they should now be resolved. Thanks for your grace!
Some simple and fun ideas for the treats and events section:
Get out Christmas books/CDs to enjoy over next couple of weeks
Make an advent wreath
Christingle service at church
Crib service at church
Have a candlelit tea time
Light Advent candle at teatime
Make Christmas decorations
Enjoy family story time under the tree
Have special family time after tea with Christmas music
Plan to meet up with specific friends or neighbours
Make the cake or Christmas biscuits
Set up your nativity scene together
Put mini Christmas tree in child’s room and decorate
Make an event out of shopping for the tree. We go out for breakfast!
Go for a walk after dark to see Christmas lights on neighbouring streets
Watch a favourite Christmas film (with popcorn!)
Pack the kids’ stockings over mulled wine or apple juice
Go out to see the stars with coats over pyjamas
Plan for special seasonal meals, drinks or foodie treats you enjoy over Christmas
Just in case you think any will slip your mind, here are some of the tasks that may be part of your preparations:
Book slot for Christmas food delivery
Order the turkey
Take down decorations from attic and check
Shop for stocking fillers
Finish any hand-made gifts
Put up wreaths on door and pray for everyone who comes through your door this month
Shop for baking ingredients for cake etc.
Bake the cake/pudding/mince pies
Plan meals (or at least the ones with guests) for the couple of weeks over Christmas and make a shopping list
Make a Christmas card list
Write and address the cards or create the e-card
Put reminders in the diary to take stock – is our focus in the right place?
Decorate the cake
Decorate the house
Decorate the tree
Prep the Christmas day veg
Cook Christmas dinner
Post any presents that need to go
Buy Christmas presents
Organise costumes for school or church nativity plays