On Tuesday afternoon I gathered with fellow small church leaders on Zoom to talk about our Advent plans. Each year I long to create a meaningful Advent experience for my congregation that’s sensitive to our limited human and financial resources. As we swapped ideas, I realized that I’m facing the same issue as a parent this year.
Now that my kids are in 7th and 9th grades, the annual commercial chaos of December has joined forces with winter choir concerts, holiday band parties, final exams, and so many gift exchanges. I’m trying to be realistic about how we will slow down and engage Advent as a family because we have a lot less time in the afternoon and evenings than we did a decade ago.
Today my husband printed a copy of Kate Bowler’s free Advent devotional “Bless the Advent We Actually Have.” My hope is that we’ll read the daily entries when we sit down for dinner together most nights next month.Kate’s reflections are incredibly insightful and also accessible for tweens through adults. I think each member of our family will find the devotional meaningful thanks to her honesty, humor, and wisdom. The digital version is full of links to prayers, Spotify playlists, videos, and podcasts, and the printed version includes QR codes we can easily scan for the same content.
I will certainly purchase another book to add to our Advent, Saint Nicholas, and Christmas library. I’m leaning toward the picture book Refuge written by Anne Booth and illustrated by Sam Usher. Even though it was published in 2016, I just learned about it a few weeks ago. The publisher says the book is written for younger children, but because of the focus on the Holy Family’s status as refugees, I think it will also spark relevant conversations with older kids.
The most talked about Advent or Christmas book in my Christian formation circles is the newly released children’s version of Gayle Boss’ book All Creation Waits. Rather than opening tiny doors to discover chocolates within an Advent calendar, children can countdown to Christmas by opening this book each day. Pairs of pages introduce woodland creatures with gorgeous illustrations and poetic descriptions. There’s even a discussion guide available online to learn a little bit more about each animal.
For households with younger children, I really love the Advent bundle from Little Way Chapel. Included are age appropriate prayers for lighting the Advent wreath, a blessing for your Christmas tree, suggested ways to observe Saint Nicholas and Saint Lucia’s feast days, recipes, and even pageant script for families to use on Christmas Eve.
We own a copy of Traci Smith’s book Faithful Families book for Advent and Christmas and I find so much wisdom and creativity within it. After my small church chat this week I pulled this book off the shelf and began reading the introduction once more. Traci offers notes on how to better engage younger children as well as teenagers with the contents. She writes, ‘Give the book to (teens) and let them choose a practice or prayer that speaks to them.’
This feels so obvious, yet it never occurred to me that I might invite our children to plan our Advent practices. I’ve always done the research, the printing, and the ordering, and then invited the kids to pray the devotional I chose and engage the faith at home activities I prepared for them.
With Traci’s invitation, I did indeed hand her book to my children along with a pencil and asked them to pick a few things they’d like to do during December. They chose dinner blessings to pray, ornaments to create, recipes to bake, seeds to plant, and kindness rocks to paint. I’m not sure when we’ll do each of these things, but I am certain they are more likely to put down their devices and make the time because they are the ones who chose them.
Forward Movement’s “Slow Down. Quiet. It’s Advent” calendar will be taped to the fridge as it has every Advent for the past decade. Assorted Advent calendars filled with chocolates will sit on the kitchen counter. Nativity scenes will adorn our bookshelves, each missing the babe wrapped in bands of swaddling cloth and the magi who haven’t yet arrived from the East. Last year I learned that things may appear as they have for many years, but the reality is far different. I am the only person interested in coloring the fridge calendar most days, the tiny chocolates go uneaten, and the Magi only inch closer to Mary and Joseph if an adult moves them.
We engage Advent differently than we once did. I miss cuddling in our pajamas after bath time, sipping from mugs of hot chocolate and reading one of the books from our Christmas collection. But I’m also so grateful for this stage of parenting older kids. I know going into Advent that we will observe it differently. I’m prepared for the season of preparation. And this year, I look forward to seeing how it unfolds.
How have your Advent observances evolved as your children grow up?
Which traditions do you hold onto year after year and which ones do you let go?