Daylight’s fading fast in the northern hemisphere, and these are the days when I’m glad I didn’t take a teaching position in Healy, Alaska all those years ago. Pennsylvania’s winters are dark enough.
We find ourselves in closer quarters this time of year. The card games have been dusted off and pulled from the top shelf in the basement. We pull colorful books from the neglected shelf of picture books and read until our eyes are too tired, and then we read some more.
This season of darkness is also a wonderful time instill a few traditions that restore the wonder of Christmas. Children are catalysts for restoring wonder, and simply being in their presence cultivates a renewed sense of awe. As adults, we can learn from the awe of our children, but we can also incorporate traditions that teach our children the true meaning of the season.
A few years ago, a friend mentioned that she’d purchased a few candles, and her family was enjoying the practice of weekly lighting a candle in anticipation of the coming Christ. We were new parents at the time, and I was coming off a decade of almost losing the wonder of the Christmas season. I’d been so busy with my career and ministry that there were years I hardly decorated the house. My friend commented that the simple act of lighting a new candle each week and reflecting on the wonder of the season was slowing her family down and helping them appreciate the meaning behind all of the hype.
The next year, I spent five dollars on candles and a wreath, and we began the practice of the advent wreath in our home. We haven’t missed a year since. For a guide to weekly readings and candle lightings, check out this link.
Enjoy a daily Scripture reading
The Book of Common Prayer offers daily Scripture reading throughout the year and throughout the season of Advent. While reading every passage suggested in the guide might be too much for young children, consider reading a small passage daily at the dinner table or before bed.
Another child-friendly resource for Advent reading is Ann Voskamp’s illustrated book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. This book examines the coming of Christ through the lens of God’s Word.
Create Jesse Tree ornaments
The Jesse Tree is the tradition of reading the Old Testament Scriptures leading up to the coming of Christ. Studying these truths and allowing children to participate by coloring pictures that match each story and using these pictures to create your own Jesse Tree is a great way to incorporate a hands-on activity into your study of the history behind the coming of Jesus. Many web sites offer Jesse Tree printables and instructions.
Visit a live nativity
Nothing instills wonder like visiting a live nativity. Children who love animals will enjoy seeing the creatures, and seeing real people reenacting the birth of Jesus will leave a lasting impression. While there is speculation about the accuracy of some nativity depictions, this is an event that will instill wonder and bring the realization that Jesus was born into humble beginnings.
Actually celebrate the birth of Jesus
It’s easy to let the thrill of gift-opening dominate Christmas morning. Consider what the day would actually look like if Jesus were tangibly sitting in your living room. Some families celebrate his birth through singing happy birthday and blowing out candles on a cake (or muffins or doughnuts) before opening gifts. This is a fun and healthy way to remind ourselves of the reason for the day.
Another idea is to put an empty straw cradle in the house before Christmas. Place a doll to represent Jesus in the basket Christmas morning.
Regardless of which activities you choose for your family, the anticipatory attitude of your heart is what matters most. The Incarnation, in which God actually descended to earth wrapped in flesh is a wonder and a miracle. May the commercialized hype not numb us to this reality.