Advent is a great season. We all observe it, but much of the time, we overlook the meaning behind all those wonderful family traditions that we celebrate throughout the four weeks. Here are a few ways (in no particular order) to incorporate some theological discussion into what your family will be doing anyway because, let’s face it, there’s nothing kids love more than a good theological discussion. Maybe not, but they do love knowing the “why” behind our actions.
Chocolate Advent Calendars
I know I said “in no particular order”, but chocolate…so this one goes first. Every kid (and adult) should have the Advent calendar that has a piece of chocolate per day. It is a nice way to keep track of the days, and the chocolate reminds us of the sweetness of Jesus and the sweetness of our lives when we include him.
Lights on the House
We put lights up on our houses (or plug in the ones we never took down from last year…you know who you are) to let Santa know where we are, right? No! Santa knows where we are…duh! It’s to remind us that Jesus is the Light of the World, and in the darkness of the winter and the sometimes darkness of our world, Jesus breaks in with beauty. Jesus said that he is a “light in the darkness”, and we are called to be that, too. As we enter our homes during the Advent and Christmas seasons, we can take the beauty of the lights on the house inside with us and radiate Christ’s love to everyone who comes our way.
The Christmas Tree
In the time of King David, God promised that a Messiah would come from David’s family to be the King that Israel was always meant to have. When God established Israel, God was supposed to be the King, but because humans always want what everyone else has, the people nagged God for a human king. God gave in, but with a warning—if they had a human king, they would get off track. And, get off track they did. God’s plan was, that when things got very bad, “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse”—that the true King would come and restore Israel when it seemed to be lifeless. Jesus came to restore the Throne—and to bring back to life the family tree that had become a stump and for God to restore his Kingdom. Our tree is a sign of belonging to God’s family and the evergreen is a sign of life and hope. The decorations that have been handed down from generation to generation, remind us of the faith that has been handed down to us and all of the important people who loved us and made us what we are. Tell the stories that go with your favorite or most meaningful ornaments. Tell the stories of your childhood and the people who meant something to you. The angel or star on the top of the tree represent the items that God used to direct the Magi and the shepherds to Jesus—reminding us that everything we do in preparation for Christmas should direct our attention to Jesus.
The Nativity Scene/Creche
Most families have a manger scene that they set up under the tree or in some other place of honor in the house. This is a great way to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. You can read the stories in Matthew and Luke. You can discuss the main players in the stories and what their role means to us. A fun way to incorporate the story is to put the Magi (Wise Men) separate from the rest of the group and have them make their way, little by little, toward the manger until we get to Epiphany. You can discuss how their journey to Jesus is like our life journey—we make our way following the signs that God gives us toward a closer relationship with Jesus. Then, because Catholics are party people, have an Epiphany party. Have some cake!
The Advent Wreath
This tradition has such potential to encourage a deeper preparation for the coming of Christ in Christmas. First of all, there’s one in Church, and kids seeing one at home can be helped to make the connection that what we do at Church should be echoed at home, and that our relationship with God continues at home. Decorating it together as a family is fun. It also makes us take family time to light the candles, which has the potential to bring on conversations about what Advent and Christmas mean. We can talk about waiting, hope, expectation, gift, what God does for us every day and gratitude. Talk about the meaning of evergreen on the wreath, the colors of the candles (purple is for Jesus’ kingship, our penance and the deepening of the sky in winter as we wait for the Light, and pink is celebration and joy), the decorations that draw our attention to the joy that Christmas brings. Click here for more info on the wreath and a blessing to boot!
Bonus Round: The Manger
Yes, you probably already have a Nativity Scene, but here’s a tradition you might consider adding. Get a simple manger for your dinner table (maybe in the center of the Advent Wreath) and a small supply of hay. Each night, share a good deed or sacrifice that you have made throughout the day. For each good deed, place a piece of hay in the empty manger. By the time Christmas comes, the manger will be nice and cushy—a comfy bed in which to receive Jesus. Get a little baby Jesus to put inside on Christmas Eve. Keep it out for the whole Christmas season (til Epiphany or even til the Presentation of the Lord).
Advent is a time to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. These are simple ways to bring Christ more fully into your home—and traditions that the kids will remember forever.