Did someone say SHOPPING???
Well, I don't claim to know all the answers or even some of them. But one thing I can do is share how our family has celebrated Christmas over the past 13 years. (Wow- has it really been that long?) One thing I won't do in this post though is repeat a lot of what you already know. That is all of the stories and meanings behind the traditional "Christmas Traditions." There are tons of books out there on everything from the Legend of the Candy Cane to why we put lights on the Christmas tree- all very readily available. We actually have several of those books for children and I love to snuggle up during this season and read aloud from them together. One of my favorites though that I have learned a lot from is called Stories behind the Great Traditions of Christmas. It's more for you to read and then talk to your kids about as you go through the season. Good history lessons too!
Many families we know have different advent traditions to prepare their hearts during the season leading up to Christmas. I love the idea of lighting of the advent candles each of the four Sunday's of advent. Our family has never done that, but I think it is a beautiful tradition and I love that our church does this during Sunday worship as well. Our family, like so many others, has an advent calendar that has become a beloved tradition for our boys. It is a wooden nativity scene that I got when Austin was about 2 and has little doors for each day of December. Every day there is a little part of the Christmas story to be read along with a tiny ornament to hang on the scene. Even though they are getting older now, this has still been a highlight of each morning during December. A fellow blogger/adoptive mom Melissa shared on her blog about a wonderful advent activity that she has done with her children. They made a paper chain to countdown the days until Christmas... but the coolest part was that on each strip of paper they wrote the names of friends and family and pray for them that day they pull it off the chain. I love that!
One tradition that we will start next year will be to read to the boys each night from Jotham's Journey. It is a wonderful exciting story for your family to read aloud together each night during advent and includes discussion questions and scripture points after each reading. I had seen this book years ago and knew our boys would like it but had heard that it might be too scary for younger listeners, so I told myself I would get it when the boys got a little older. Well, this was going to be our year except that I didn't order it soon enough to be able to fully enjoy it, so now we will be prepared for next year! Check out the link for more info on the book if you are interested.
One of my favorite traditions that we do is the Jesus Tree. I got the idea several years ago from Noel Piper's book and we have done it ever since. The basic idea is to get a large bare branch and hang ornaments and items on it that both represent the nativity as well as symbolize who Jesus is as found in Scripture's names for him. The fun part is helping your kids find little things that will work for the tree. For example- Jesus is the Light of the World- Austin found a tiny little flashlight bulb that we glued ribbon to. Or Jesus is the Bread of Life- we hot glued pieces of graham crackers together to look like a loaf of bread. We made a tiny crown of thorns out of a rose bush and found a large railroad spike to remember Jesus' death. Silly or cheesy maybe. But you get the idea. One year I typed up all of the different symbols we used and the scriptures that go with them and it became part of our daily devotion time. I would share that and some pictures, but it is all on our other computer at the moment. For the past few years our Jesus Tree has just been a miniature Christmas tree, because there haven't been any bare branches to spare over here!
Now that the boys are older, we will now incorporate a lot of the symbols used with the Jesse Tree onto our Jesus Tree. They are basically the same thing, but I love how the Jesse Tree uses many of the prophesies leading up to the coming of the Messiah and it isn't in a random order like we seem to have been doing. As I was researching the Jesse Tree I found this to be helpful if you have no idea what it is:
"The Jesse Tree is a way to help children and adults get a better understanding of what and why we are celebrating. Jesse was the father of King David. The idea of the Jesse Tree comes from Isaiah 11:1-9, where God promises a discouraged nation that the glory they remember from David’s time will come again. They will have another king from Jesse’s family, in whose reign the whole earth will know God. As a Christian, we see that promise fulfilled in Jesus, and so we use a Jesse Tree and decorate it with reminders of how God prepared the world for that kingdom."
One of my favorite pics from several years ago. (look at all that sugar!)
Another of my favorite parts of the season is giving. Whether it is of our time, talents or treasures- we don't give to get a good feeling or to have others say wow great job, but we give as an act of worship to the One who gave all for us. I love to see how different families include their children as they give and serve. I have much to learn in this area. My friend Brandy wrote about how they give gifts to eachother in their family at Christmas time and I think it is a brilliant way to have the fun of stockings while at the same time everyone is learning about giving and sacrifice. We have done many different things over the years and our favorite times are when we have had the priveledge of blessing another family at Christmas. After watching the wonderful new Veggie Tales Saint Nicholas, we all started to try and think of ways we could bless others in secret like Nicholas did. (I forgot to mention yesterday that yes we do know the story of the real St Nicholas who loved the Lord and blessed many families in need.) The music video in the movie is wonderful as well... a moving song about giving Christmas away.
Over the years, Christmas has looked differently depending on the circumstances we are in. There have been years where we are prepared and are purposeful with each thing we do and then there are those years where the entire month seems to fly by and we have barely stopped to take a breath. I remember the year I was pregnant with Jensen and due at the beginning of January- I was exhausted and was wishing Christmas would just hurry up and come so I could have this baby! Or a few years ago when I had major surgery just a few days before Christmas- I felt so guilty for skipping some of our traditions that year that I didn't even enjoy the rest of the celebration! Or last year after we had to turn down 2 referrals and I thought I would never see my daughter's face. My point is that on any given year you may find yourself in a difficult situation. Much more difficult than my small trials. And every single tradition you've ever had may disappear for a time. And that is when you realize that JESUS is enough. He alone is our strength and the rock of our salvation- He is what holds us up through those hard times- NOT our traditions. I love what Noel Piper says about this in her book that I mentioned yesterday, "May our decorations, gifts, and festivities- or lack of them- never block our view of him but always point us towards him."