The leftover turkey's barely in the freezer and Advent is .... yikes! ... here. It's a season that is full – but there are ways children and adults can have a meaningful and memorable Advent, rather than one that is harried and exhausting.
Advent "emphasizes Christ's coming, not merely his birth," reminds Melanie C. Gordon, former director of ministry with children at Discipleship Ministries.
"Our children," she says, "are surrounded by the sights, scents and music of Christmas, both religious and secular. How a family chooses to celebrate is their choice, but the family of God honors the coming of Christ. Make sure that children experience the fullness of this season of Advent. The retail world is going to prepare children for Santa and the reindeer. Our role is to prepare them for the coming of Christ."
Discipleship Ministries offers a variety of Advent resources and activities at www.umcdiscipleship.org/leadership-resources/children to help parents and teachers.
Many individuals and families establish their own Advent traditions. For Anne Nelson, Advent is a time to create a sacred space to prepare her family's hearts for Christ at Christmas.
When her children were younger, Nelson, who is married to the Rev. Matt Nelson, an associate pastor at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta, read Making a Home for Faith: Nurturing the Spiritual Life of Your Children (Pilgrim Press) by Elizabeth Caldwell. In it, the author suggested intentionally tying the rituals of faith to the liturgical year. By celebrating seasons of the church year at home, children begin to make connections between belief and actions.
"I wanted that for my kids," Nelson said. "So I began to change our way of celebrating the liturgical seasons, seasons that so often get hijacked by the commercial and the secular – think Christmas stuff in stores before Halloween – and by ‘the way we've always done it'." Nelson's intentional rituals of faith at home during Advent include:
- Reading Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Plough Publishing Company) with a friend and sharing daily "ah-ha" moments from the readings via text.
- Decorating their home the first Sunday in Advent with light — placing candles in the windows and an Advent wreath on the table. "We light candles each night," Nelson said, "and talk about where we see the theme for that week in our daily living. We also read scripture relating to the Advent themes of hope, love, joy and peace."
- Saying "no" to the crazy-busyness of December. "We don't go to all of the Christmas parties, concerts and such," Nelson said. "Rather, we select a few so that our schedules aren't over-crowded. I'm done being exhausted in December!"
- Buying a tree one week before Christmas and leisurely decorating it (by then the children are home from school for the holidays). "We leave up all our decorations throughout Christmastide and put them away after Epiphany," Nelson said.
- Adding pieces to their various nativities along the way — shepherds at Christmas Eve, baby Jesus on Christmas Day and the magi at Epiphany.
For congregations, Nelson shares a tradition from a church her husband previously served. While the sanctuary ended up being fully decorated by Christmas Eve, Nelson said, "For the first Sunday of Advent, we put up a simple giving tree in the sanctuary. The ‘ornaments' on the tree were paper stars with the names of items needed to put together an apartment for a refugee family resettling into our area. This included everything from toilet tissue to a vacuum cleaner, to specific food items from the family's country of origin, to a sofa and a kitchen table. This tree set the tone for the church for Advent — Christ came to serve; we are to serve."
For anyone who wants to be intentional in observing and celebrating Advent, Nelson advises, "Remember Jesus, who came simply and humbly to love and to serve. Stressing ourselves out, over spending and over committing is never the goal of Advent or Christmas."
Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.