"Advent is not just pre-Christmas". I saw this quote on a Catholic website while I was looking online for ideas for Advent Calendars. That website had it more right than any of the other ideas I found for "helping your child wait until Santa comes!" I saw one idea that was called an Advent collage (which initially appealed to me as a fun art idea), but the collage was of things the child wanted for Christmas presents. Every day you had your children look for another present they wanted to add to their collage.
I am so sad that this is what Advent has become to us. I'm not passing judgment on families who celebrate Santa Claus -- I certainly wouldn't do that. I'm wondering how a Christian whose heart beats for Christ alone can begin to teach their children that Christ is the Treasure, the Center and the Gift while at the same time tempting our children with the sin of greed, and laying down idols for his heart to rejoice in far more than the Babe in the manger. Considering this has caused me to think through everything I am doing this season. I know my own tendency toward materialism, worldliness and idolatry, which Carolyn Mahaney sums up so well here:
"Take the Christmas season, for instance. Every holiday I can be drawn to all things Christmassy--the shopping, buying gifts, wrapping presents, decorating the tree, baking holiday treats, attending parties and celebrations. Of course these things are not wrong in and of themselves. They can be delightful gifts from God. But I can be tempted to desire them more than the most important thing--regardless of the season: sitting at the Lord’s feet (Luke 10:38-41). And then I wonder why my heart feels so dull come December 26th."
Is that you, too? Maybe you will say with Carolyn: "This holiday I don’t want my soul stuffed only with decorations, shopping, and Christmas cookies. I want to make every effort to drink deeply of God’s presence so my soul will be truly satisfied."
My friend, I could not agree with you more. Can I encourage you to celebrate Advent with your family? If you want to do a "count down" method with your kids, today is the first day (more ideas for that later), but tomorrow is technically the first Sunday in Advent. I don't pretend to know how everything is done according to the Liturgical calendar, but I can tell you what Josh and I do (taken largely from suggestions by Noel Piper in her book Treasuring God in Our Traditions). We put 4 candles by our Nativity set, one for each Sunday of Advent. On the first, you light one candle, and we sit down together and read aloud a Scripture passage (or several passages) about Christ's coming. They are usually a mix of Old and New Testament passages, and they may focus on Christ's first coming or his second coming. You can find an idea of what to read here. We may sing a song, as well. Each Sunday you light more and more and it grows brighter and brighter as it gets closer to Christ's arrival.
I have one of Noel Piper's Advent Calendar's which sadly Desiring God has stopped making for now. I wanted to reproduce her idea for the families who came to my story hour yesterday, and it turned out well, so I wanted to pass the idea on to you to adapt for your own. First, I used the lovely letters provided by Martha Stewart for this craft (rats, my secret's out -- I use this for EVERYTHING). I cut out and copied the letters to spell out "MY GREATEST TREASURE IS JESUS", which happens to have 25 letters. On the back of each letter, I put a little picture (google image search) from the Nativity scene -- M=Star, Y=Angel, G=sheep, R=goat, E=Shepherd and so on. I laid them all out on a posterboard so that the letter with Jesus on the back ends up in the middle (the middle "S" in Jesus) and put a sticker on the letter to remind me that that one was to be flipped over last of all. So every day, the child can flip over one letter, and you are re-reading your calendar all the time, constantly reminding your family that the greatest treasure is Jesus! I know it's simple, but I guess I was hoping that the simplicity in it can help instruct children in loving Christ supremely. I have a few extra copies of the letters with the pictures on the back (this is honestly what took me the longest) if you would like me to send them to you. Just leave me a comment saying so (first come first serve!). I laminated the letters and attached velcro to each side as well as the posterboard. Maybe I can put up a picture before too long.
I think I'll be writing more on Advent in the future. Here is a book of ideas that might be helpful to your family: Celebrating a Christ-Centered Christmas Ideas from A to Z. Let me know what your traditions are for keeping Christ at the center of it all.