Growing up, the celebration of Advent wasn’t part of our Christmas experience. It was only when I started pastoring that I gained an appreciation of Advent – what it could mean in the church and what it could mean in the home. In a time when Christmas has been virtually stripped of its Christian meaning, it may be more important than ever to ground our celebration in the anticipation of Advent.
Here are a few suggestions for you and your family –
- Make church a priority. The Christmas season is busy and can be hectic. Staying connected in your local church in regular worship, small group involvement, and participation in special events helps ground you and your family in the real meaning of Christmas. This is the season to see church as essential not optional. (If you are not currently connected in a local church, consider being involved this Christmas season. You never know – it might be the start of a beautiful relationship!)
- Listen to sacred music. Admittedly, I’m not much on listening to Christmas music too early. Once past Thanksgiving, I’m ready to start listening in small doses. There is a lot of good music you can pick from. Some of it is secular (referring to Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, etc.) and some of it is sacred (focusing on the birth of Jesus). Make sure you and your children are getting a good dose of Christ-centered Christmas music. Since music tends to stick to the soul, this is a great way to make the story of Bethlehem stay with us during the season.
- Celebrate Advent at home. Along with putting up the tree, wreaths, candles, and other decorations, consider having a “countdown” to Christmas that is focus on the birth of Jesus (not just the arrival of Saint Nick). Our children grew up with an advent “calendar” where each day had a small pocket containing a puffy piece of a manger setting. Our kids alternated putting one in place piece each day (they stuck in place with velcro) until Jesus was put in the manger on Christmas day. There are lots of options, so find one that works for you.
- Read an Advent devotional. Advent devotionals can be found at online marketers and in Christian bookstores. You can also get them on your mobile device. In other words, they are easy to get your hands on and helpful to keep you centered on the meaning of Christmas. Many times, your home church will recommend or provide an advent devotional, so look for that. You can find an Advent devotional for singles, couples, children, families, students – the list is nearly endless!
- Make the manger central. Putting up the Christmas tree is usually the most time-consuming aspect of decorating. It is often the central focus of the room. Consider making the manger scene more central. Give it a higher priority in decorating. If you have children, let them help put the pieces into place. I have heard of families that wait to put baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas morning. You don’t have to be overly creative, just make the manger a bigger deal.
- Cook together. In a fast-food generation, think about how the kitchen can bring the family together. Many families make candy or cookies or bread together around the Christmas season. This can be a great opportunity for children and teens to help roll out dough or use the cookie cutters. Think about how you can use the cookie cutters to talk about Christmas. Consider taking the wait time while the goodies are in the oven to talk about waiting for Jesus.
- Think about your neighbors. What can you do to show the love of Jesus to your neighbors? You could bake cookies and take to them. You can rake the leaves of an elderly neighbor. You could volunteer to watch the neighbor’s children to allow them to go to dinner or do their Christmas shopping. You could make Christmas cards and walk through your neighborhood to deliver them. Whatever you do, use Christmas as an opportunity to show the love of Christ.
- Help the poor. If you have the ability, consider teaching your children the value of every person by finding a way to help those who have less. There are lots of charities that help, and you could certainly contribute to this. If you have children, let them know what you’re doing. If there is a way, let them participate – even if it is applying a stamp or sealing an envelope. You could pick up items at the grocery store for the local food pantry. You could donate coats to a coat drive. You could find a needy family to whom you could give food or gifts. The options are nearly limitless, just do it to show love in Jesus’ name.
- Tip well. Servers at restaurants work hard and often for lower pay. If you’re able, tip generously. If you have children, let them leave the tip and talk to them about giving to others in the same way that God gave to us. If you can, leave a handwritten note wishing you serve a Merry Christmas.
- Make an Advent prayer chain. With some construction paper, scissors, tape, and a maker, you can create a prayer chain to help you and your family more prayerful during December. Each day, think about who you can pray for and/or ask your children who they should pray for, then write that name on a strip of construction paper, pray together for that person or ministry, and tape the strip into a circle. Each day, add a new name and link it to the previous day. Consider finding a prominent place to display the chain as a reminder to pray.
Are there more ways to celebrate Advent at home? Sure! Feel free to add your idea or practice below…