I like Advent. I like the idea of celebrating the waiting. Of practicing patience. Of ending the year with a season that is all about worship.
I’m also a big believer in building family traditions. I think spontaneity is good and that people and families can easily get too tied to “the way we’ve always done it”. But I also think that kids like traditions. They knit families together and create memories. It provides a safety net from which it’s more comfortable to go out and try new things. One of the things I like best about Advent is that as a family we’ve developed some great traditions. We change them a little every year and add new things but the framework remains the same.
My first piece of advice for anyone wanting to start Advent traditions (or other traditions) is to just do it. Forget about trying to make the perfect handcrafted ornaments for your Jesse Tree. Just use construction paper for now. Not a baker? Don’t make cookies one of your holiday traditions. Give up the perfect images in your head and focus on creating the memory and enjoying the time together.
The next thing I’ve realized is that tradition is good, but traditions have to adapt to your family. One of our favorite traditions is a Christmas book box. I wrap enough Christmas picture books for each day in Advent. Each day the kids pick one and we read it together. (As a good example of “just doing it” I don’t worry about not having enough books of our own for each day. I wrap library books as well as ones we own.) I love this tradition and so do the boys. This year when we pulled out the first book, John said “I LOVE this!” and David said “I can’t wait until tomorrow when we get to see what the next one is.” As I was wrapping the books this weekend I thought about how much longer we have for this. In 5 years John will be thirteen and I doubt he’ll be excited. He might tolerate a few of the old favorites, but it won’t be the same. In 4 years, maybe he’ll still be into it especially if he can pretend it’s for the sake of his then 6 yr old sister. The point being that this is a tradition that will have to change or maybe fade away. And that’s ok. It’s not about forcing our family to fit the tradition but using the traditions to fit our family. Change is not a bad thing. Beloved traditions that bring your family joy are good. Tradition just for the sake of tradition can be boring and burdensome.
Lastly, I’d say don’t make it harder than it has to be.One thing I’ve realized over the years is that I tend to make things too complicated. Part of this comes from having a perfectionist nature that envisions us sitting around the piano singing carols after we’ve done our nightly Advent devotion. I forget that our schedule is complicated and no day is ever the same, that I’m tone deaf and that no one plays the piano well enough to lead us in carol singing. The past few years I’ve tried different things for Advent devotions. This year I had decided not to plan a formal devotion but to just read a passage of Scripture each week when we lit the candles on the Advent wreath. That would have been just fine. But this week in Sunday school our pastor’s wife did an amazing lesson that adapted perfectly to an Advent devotion. So I decided to take the easy road and steal it for our own use.
So what are our traditions? We do a Jesse Tree, typically at breakfast. We do the book basket. (If you want to see reviews of many of the books we’ve read, scroll through the archives for Dec 2009 and 2010.) We do an Advent wreath.
We’ve tried various Advent calendars. One year we had a Playmobil one and one year we had chocolate ones. I’m sure my boys would kill for a Lego one. But I’ve never liked the way the focus was on what cool present (or yummy candy) they were getting that day. It seemed to defeat the whole concept of Advent and put the focus back on the commercial nature of the Christmas season.
Last year I made an Advent Calendar full of family activities. I was lucky to find a stocking in the dollar bin at Target that had little pockets for each day. It has a wooden charm that is supposed to move from pocket to pocket counting down the days. But it’s the perfect size to slip a little slip of paper into each pocket. Each one had some special activity for that day. The focus wasn’t necessarily really on Christ, but at least it was more on us as a family instead of the toy of the day. This may sound complicated (and like I’m breaking all my own rules) but the activities were typically things we were going to do anyway. Some were scheduled like going to see the Nutcracker. Some I put in one day but then had to move because of weather or conflicts (like going ice-skating). It wasn’t that hard to peek each night at what was in the next day and if it wasn’t going to work, I just switched it with another day. I also put in things like watching Christmas movies, having a game night, making cookies, and making ornaments for the tree. Those were all things that could be done at home and done any day. They weren’t really all that unusual for us, but the boys loved pulling it out each day.
So, that’s what we do. How about you? Any special Advent traditions in your home?