Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Adventure of Christmas

A week or so before Christmas I was asked by my MOPS group to share how what our family does for Christmas. I thought I would share it here.

For our family, Christmas celebrations begin with advent. I just can’t bring myself to get decorations out any earlier. It is usually a scramble to grab the advent supplies on the applicable Sunday as it is! Thank goodness they are all stored together!

Our advent supplies consist of our candle wreath and the pocket calendar that my mother made us. It has pockets to hold something for up to 29 days depending on when advent falls. This year it was the longest it could be since Christmas fell on a Sunday.

A few years ago we decided to coincide our advent celebrations with the Jesse Tree. I found some links online that provide a picture of a symbol to colour as well as a scripture, a bible story, an application and a prayer for each day. It chronicles the biblical history from creation up to the birth of Jesus in a way that kids can understand. So far we have not ventured further than using the paper ornaments provided. Some people have looked for specific items that represent each symbol. Maybe one day. I now put one ornament in each pocket of the calendar and the kids hang the ornaments on a makeshift tree made out of branches.

I also incorporate one family activity to do each day of advent. These are usually activities that we would be doing at some point over the month anyway. Things like decorating, putting up the tree, baking cookies, having movie nights and wrapping presents together. We may make them more special by adding a scavenger hunt, a hangman, a puzzle or a word scramble to put together in order to find and carry out the activity.

I have gotten away from putting a daily candy treat into the advent calendar. We have enough candy as it is at this time of year. The kids do get to find a chocolate count down calendar on the first of December for them to then open each day as well as a LEGO calendar with a toy to put together.

Some of our favourite holiday activities are traditions that I have grown up with and others are ones that we continue to experiment with.

Since 1990 when our church was founded, the congregation has been celebrating Christmas Eve at an outdoor service together. At this service all of the children receive a Christmas ornament that tells the true meaning of Christmas. These have all been made by our dear friend Paula who has since passed away. She passed the torch on to Charlotte who has been doing a fabulous job carrying on the tradition. I have saved all of these ornaments and we spend one evening decorating our special “Paula’s Tree”.

December 22nd is Matthew’s birthday so we always make that day his special day. He gets his room decorated, a special breakfast and dinner and a party of his choice. We will have already decorated for Christmas but we make a point to bring out the things that would normally be out for the other kids birthday’s too. We also make a point to look back at photos over the years to celebrate his life.

Nativity scenes play an important role in our house as well. We have some that are for decoration only and a number of ones that the kids can play with. We usually make a few family activity days that involve finding all of the parts for each set.

In our house we have decided to not emphasize Santa Claus. We don’t deny him but we also don’t label toys from him, we don’t have a lot of decorations with Santa and we don’t warn the kids about Santa. A little wishy-washy perhaps but that is where we are. We do discuss Saint Nicholas, who he was and how his example has led to the current view of Santa Claus. We have thought about celebrating Saint Nicholas day for the past few years but for whatever reason it has not worked out.

In the past I have tried to take extra care and make special clues that colour coordinate and match certain themes. I have found that I do like to make them rhyme but the rest is just extra work. I now take out a calendar for the month, plug in the days I know specific things will be happening (ie church dinners, drama productions, parties etc) and then try to fill in the blanks. I have lots of extra activities that can work any day and I try to type up everything ahead of time so that it can be printed easily. A little planning helps a lot but so does keeping it simple. I like to try to document and photograph the activities in the hopes of one day doing a daily December scrapbook – the photos are there but the scrapbook remains to be seen!

For our family Christmas is about the birth of Christ and about family. It is very easy to get caught up in the hoopla of the season around us – and we certainly have our days. It is our hope to bring the season back to Christ by focusing on things that we can do as a family. If we can do things that have a deeper meaning than even better. One such way is to look at the meanings behind a lot of the symbols of Christmas. I have used the book the Adventure of Advent as well as the internet to create some activities that center around the everyday celebrations. Those like lighting the advent wreath, viewing the lights around the neighbourhood and eating candy canes all have meanings that are related to Christ! Of course sometimes an activity is just an activity but it is that much more important and memory provoking when we do it as a family. It is so easy to be bombarded with the commercialism of the holiday so I find for me that the easiest way to stay focused is to have a daily reminder of what the reason of the season is. For our family that is the advent calendar and the Jesse Tree. Simple yet meaningful.

Below are some options of activities to choose from:
Attend a holiday event
Go out to get a Christmas tree
Build and/or decorate gingerbread houses
Bake cookies together
Jingle neighbours with special goody treats
Make Christmas cards
Make Christmas tags
Movie night with Christmas movie
PJ day
Go for a ride and look at decorated houses
Celebrate St Nicholas night Dec 5/6 by putting out shoes with carrots and apples and later replacing with gift
Decorate tree
Make Christmas gifts
Service – salvation army kettle
Service – contribute to an angel tree
Service – host a CAS family
Red or green night – serve all food that is red or green and dress in those colours
Learn about other countries Christmas traditions
Have a slumber party by the tree
Host a family game night – bonus – make it Christmas themed
String popcorn
Paint holiday scenes on the windows
Have dinner by the tree picnic style

In reflection I think that this has been one of our best years yet. It was the first that the kids actually questioned Santa. We reiterated (awkardly) a bit about how we don't focus on Santa at our house - that gifts are given from us and family but that we celebrate the Spirit of Saint Nicholas. They were not behaved on the day that we were going to put out shoes for Saint Nicholas so that discussion was botched. We didn't put out cookies for Santa this year and it wasn't noticed. We were just too busy. We played a lot with our new nativity scenes and had a lot of fun doing the various family activities. Next year I would still like to work more service opportunities into the plan. All in all though I was very happy with the Christmas season (although we still have to REALLY work at cutting down on the gifts) but THAT is another story.

Jesus is the reason for the season. It is also a time for family. We are human though and it is easy to get caught up in the world around us. Overbuying. Overextended. TOOO MUCH. Bottom line is it is a time to reflect on the amazing gift of life that has been given to us. Prayerfully we can focus on this gift and how it relates to our family. We hope we all “get it”.

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