Christmas is the holiday that is filled to the brim with anticipation for what is to come. It all commences on the first day of December or the first day of Advent in counting down the days until Christmas Eve and then finally Christmas! Realistically though, in our culture today, the anticipation begins far before December the first. Christmas decorations and advertisements for the newest toys, gadgets, and gifts begin in October and November. In fact, it seems as if Christmas on the retail level kicks off more prematurely each season.
“O Come O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
Advent literally means to prepare for the coming of our Savior- to prepare for His birth. Each day of December is a countdown until Jesus’ birth on December 25th. Many families have celebrated the Advent season in a variety of ways. When my sons were growing up, we participated in many different activities to make the Advent season come alive to them.
The first activity that I would have ready before the first day of December was that of hanging up our Advent calendar. The calendar consisted of a large felt Christmas tree and 25 numbered pockets. In each pocket there was a felt ornament to put on the tree for each day of Advent. The boys would take turns placing an ornament on the tree daily for our Advent countdown. They would always have fun wondering what kind of ornament that they would be pulling out of the pocket each day. They thoroughly enjoyed placing their choice on the tree.
“The first Noel, the angels would say was to certain poor shepherds in fields
where they lay.”
The second activity that we focused on was our Advent wreath. The wreath would be a greenery table wreath with 4 red candles and 1 white candle in the middle. Decorations that ornamented the wreath were red bows at the base of each red candle and then tiny figurines of the characters in the nativity story: Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, the shepherds, lambs, the wise men, and the angels. I also trimmed the wreath with tiny figurines that represented something that the boys and that my husband and I enjoyed. My husband was a football fanatic, so I tucked a tiny football in the leaves. The boys adored playing baseball and soccer, so I placed a tiny bat and glove and a soccer ball in the greenery. I loved music and reading, so I adorned the wreath with a musical note and a miniature book for me.
The wreath had 5 candles, one for each Sunday of Advent and then the last one was for Christmas Eve. We would light a candle each Sunday and have a devotional about that candle and re-tell a portion of the Nativity Story. The first candle was the Prophecy Candle. It was the Candle of Hope. We were able to have hope because we believed in a God who was faithful. The second candle was the Bethlehem Candle, the Candle of Preparation. God kept His promise of sending a Savior, who would be born in Bethlehem. To prepare meant to get ready to welcome Him. The third candle was the Shepherd’s Candle. It was the Candle of Joy. The angels sang a message of joy when the Savior was born. The fourth candle was the Angel Candle, the Candle of Love. The angels announced the good news of a Savior. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 The fifth candle was the Christ Candle. Jesus was the spotless lamb of God, sent to take away our sins.
“Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive its King.”
I still have poignant memories of our Sunday evening times around our Advent Wreath. It was so meaningful to me, knowing that somehow my husband and I were teaching our children the true meaning of the season, amidst all of the hustle and bustle in the world outside of our home. Amidst all of the clamor for more of this and more of that, we were getting down to the true significance of the holiday. I was so thankful for the modeling and assistance that I had from friends and family in making Christmas come alive for my kids.
“Oh, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see the lie. Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.”
Of course one of our favorite traditions for getting ready for Christmas has been decorating the Christmas tree. My poor husband has always had to carry up crate, after crate of all of my decorations. But, for me it has always been such a festive time to decorate. We began purchasing an ornament for each of the boys every year that they would have for their own tree one day. When the boys were small we would go to the Christmas tree lot together and pick out the perfect tree. Then we would come home, put on the Christmas music, and make hot chocolate and apple cider and then decorate our tree. What wonderful memories I have of those days. What fun we had together decorating our tree!
As Christmas gifts for me, the boys gave me piece after piece of the most beautiful Nativity set, that always held center stage in our decorating scheme. The set looked as if it was made of exquisitely hand carved wood, but interestingly enough it was made from plastic. I was overjoyed by that fact, because I wanted my sons to have a Nativity set that was touchable, one where they could move the pieces around and play with and talk about the characters. I was thrilled when I finally had all of the characters and the stable so that my collection was complete. I wanted this Nativity set to impact my sons and for them to realize that Christmas was at the heart about Jesus being born in the manger and not all about getting toys from Santa Claus.
“Away in a manger no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.”
Another one of my favorite decorations to place on one of our living room tables was a music box that played “Oh Come Let Us Adore Him”. The music box was a figurine of Santa Claus bowing down to baby Jesus in the manger. My sons loved the music box. They always wanted me to play the song and they would watch with wide and sparkling eyes as Santa and baby Jesus spun around to the tune. I would hold the boys with tears in my eyes, thanking the Lord for giving the artist who created the music box and song, his vision.
Since I have become a grandmother, one of my daughter-in-laws has found the most phenomenal books to use with the family for Advent. It is a handcrafted book, entitled The Advent Book, published by Jack and Kathy Stockman. The book has exquisite artwork on each page and a door that your child opens. Inside of the door is some more elaborate artwork with part of the Nativity narrative. The book is a large book with thick cardboard pages that are well-constructed and will not tear easily. My grandchildren are mesmerized by the book and can’t wait to read it every night before going to bed. Even though the book is costly, it is well worth the money spent. It is sturdy enough to be an heirloom that you can pass down in your family.
Here are a wealth of resources that you can use for the Advent Season.
May the Lord keep you in the palm of His hand.