As the challenges of 2020 continue to affect daily life, practicing some of these Advent traditions can help your family make the most of this holiday season.
By Christine McParland and originally posted on The Arc.
It can be hard for young children to appreciate the significance of Christmas; a 2,000-year-old story in the Bible seems less exciting than the latest toy ad. But often it’s just as hard for adults to focus on the true “Reason for the season.” With many Christmas festivities being canceled this year, you can take advantage of extra time (as well as help put some cheer back into the season) with these four ways to celebrate Advent as a family.
1. Light an Advent Wreath
Kids will probably recognize the Advent wreath from church, but having one at home may be a new experience for them! Especially if you’re unable to attend church in person this year, lighting your own Advent wreath each Sunday can be a beautiful new tradition for your family.
Your weekly lighting “ceremony” doesn’t need to be long or complicated. Keep it simple with a brief Scripture passage and a prayer. Invite each member of your family to take turns reading, praying, or lighting the candles (or turning on a battery-operated one for young children!). You can find recommended Scripture readings for each Sunday of Advent online as well as traditional Advent prayers (this free all-in-one guide combines readings with prayers).
2. Adorn a Jesse Tree
A Jesse Tree is more like a traditional, daily Advent calendar, but with a Scripture-centered approach. Every day focuses on a different Biblical passage, tracing God’s story of redemption from Genesis to Christ’s birth. Each Bible story is commemorated with a specially themed ornament that is hung on the Jesse Tree (named for Jesse, the father of King David).
Your Jesse tree can be a small Christmas tree, a large branch, or even a tree-shaped banner. And before you buy a bunch of new ornaments, there are free printable ones available online (some are even designed for kids to color in themselves!). Gradually adorning a Jesse Tree can be a fun, hands-on way for your family to experience the anticipation of Advent.
3. Decorate Gradually
People are divided on this one—do all the decorations go up the day after Thanksgiving (or even before)? Or do you wait until closer to Christmas? Traditionally, Christmas decorations often didn’t go up until Christmas Eve, the true start of the Christmas season. But since that’s too late to start Christmas shopping, retailers have begun decking the halls shortly after Halloween to help get us in the holiday mood.
Though there’s no right or wrong time to decorate, gradually doing so throughout the Advent season can help build a sense of anticipation for Christmas. You might try putting the tree up on the first Sunday of Advent, then gradually adding lights and ornaments on the following three Sundays. Or choose a different room of your house to decorate each week. Don’t forget to set up the Nativity scene, and save baby Jesus for last on Christmas Eve!
4. Give to Those in Need
In medieval times, Advent was traditionally observed as a season of fasting and penance as Christians sought to humble and prepare their hearts to celebrate the birth of Christ (which is quite a contrast to the “holly jolly” nostalgia of our contemporary Christmas traditions!). Penance often took the form of good deeds as an outward sign of a person’s repentance from sin. While some children may be too young to understand sin and repentance, you can put a positive spin on this ancient practice and encourage them to imagine the good they can do for others.
Pick a ministry or charity to support as a family (or sponsor a child!), and brainstorm ways for everyone to contribute. Kids can do extra chores to earn money to donate to a ministry, or they can help you shop for the church food pantry the next time you’re at the grocery store. As they fill out their own Christmas wish lists, encourage them to make out a giving list, perhaps even by picking out toys to purchase for donation to a local drive. By helping your kids to think of others and give to those in need, they can learn to be good not for the sake of getting presents but as a way to give a present to the baby Jesus—it’s his birthday, after all!
As the challenges of 2020 continue to affect daily life, practicing some of these Advent traditions can help your family make the most of this holiday season. As your family prepares to celebrate the birth of Christ, you may be surprised to find this Christmas to be one of the best yet!