MORE EXCELLENT ADVENT IDEAS: All I Want for Christmas is a Good, Spiritual Advent

Despite the busyness of the Advent season, there is no need to feel stress about creating the ‘perfect’ Advent plans. After all, God provides the greatest miracle for this season. Something simple on our parts will suffice. We can choose to do less than we have in previous years or than what we see recommended by ‘experts’ and others, but if we do those few things we’ve chosen well, we will actually be celebrating the season best. So take what works best for YOUR family and make it your own.

Children often enjoy marking off time until Christmas using the Advent calendar. These calendars generally involve opening a little door each day to reveal a Christmas picture or scriptural quote, and can be purchased at a religious goods store, the card store, or can be found online (see here for one: http://cc.ductapeguy.net/advent/advent.html ) . Advent calendars can also be fashioned at home, involving the entire family. Two home-made variations of the Advent calendar appear below.

Advent Calendar I
1. Glue twenty four match boxes together.
2. Cover the top and sides with Christmas paper
3. Number each box either in order or jumbled up.
4. Put a candy, a tiny toy, scripture verse or Christmas picture in each box.
5. Open one box each day, perhaps after dinner when the family is all together.

ABCs of Advent Calendar II
1. Take a large, white poster board and divide into 26 squares.
2. Use old Christmas cards to cut out pictures of the following. (Or if you are handy with the pen, draw or have your child (ren) draw them or simply write out the word). Choose one word for each letter of the alphabet.
A-Angels, Alleluia
B-Bethlehem, Bells, Baby Jesus’ Birthday
C-Candle, Crown, Crèche, Christmas carol, charity, Christ child. Continue with each letter of the alphabet and an appropriate Advent/Christmas word.
3. Beginning on Nov. 30, place one letter on the poster board each day and read one verse of scripture from one of the birth narratives. When the ‘Z’ is placed on the cardboard, Christmas will be here.

CHRISTMAS UNIT STUDY

Homeschooling moms might want to consider doing a Christmas unit study during Advent time. They can eliminate all formal work, keep the basic subjects such as math and religion and have the study be a prominent part of daily work, or simply fill in with the extra Christmas studies as supplemental. Non-homeschooling parents may choose to incorporate some of their ideas on the weekends or other free days.

Begin the Christmas unit study by brainstorming with family members. Try to incorporate ideas from everyone. Even toddlers can be encouraged to help think of ways to celebrate this season. Teenagers may be reluctant to contribute, but by asking their opinions and incorporating their suggestions into the family’s Advent plan, they can be willing participants and all family members will benefit from the unity.

Start by reading this article on basic Advent traditions and suggestions: http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2010/11/thomas-five-ideas-for-advent/ , then choose from the following list of supplemental activities to incorporate in YOUR home:

Study the ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world here:
http://www.santas.net/aroundtheworld.htm
http://www.the-north-pole.com/around/index.htm
Choose to explore your family’s personal culture and roots or let the children choose a country each to explore. Again, you may have your children write a report on this OR give them each a large poster board and have them make an educational and pretty Christmas poster using drawings, photocopied pictures and explanations of history and customs. Display for visitors in your home to see.

Read about vestment colors, liturgical years and cycles:
http://www.easterbrooks.com/personal/calendar/rules.html

Chooe to listen to homilies (on audio) for Advent and the Christmas season (all cycles included) by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. Older children can be assigned to listen to this during *quiet time* after lunch. http://www.priestsforlife.org/advchris.htm

Decide to study Advent and Christmas through a study of Art: Go through old Christmas cards to find beautiful pictures of art for you and your children to study. Below are links to some Christmas art for you to enjoy together. While informative and certainly enjoyable to know the style and history and genre of each piece of art, it is not necessary to know those things in order to derive pleasure from the work. Simply studying the piece can be a learning experience.
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/noel/imatges/paraut1.jpg (Altar Cloth depicting the Nativity)
http://www.christusrex.org/www1/stanzas/L49-Christ.jpg (Raphael “Nativity”)
http://www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/pimage?434+0+0 (Lorenzo Lotto “Nativity”)
http://www.christusrex.org/www1/vaticano/P-Nativity.jpg (Sano di Pietro “Nativity”)
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/rome/Comerre.html (Comerre “Annunciation to the Shepherds”)

Ask the children to notice the colors in the piece. Are they bright, or subdued? What is the focal point of the work? Notice the lighting. To what is the artist trying to draw your attention? What details do you see in the picture? What is known to be factual and which details draw upon the artist’s interpretation? Does the piece evoke a particular feeling? Awe? Respect? Is the emphasis on the humanity of Christ or His Divinity or both? How do you know? Are there any symbols in the work? What?

Have your children write a story about Christmas, from the perspective of one who might have been there–the wise man, the innkeeper, perhaps even an animal in the stable. What did they see? What were they thinking? What did they hear, smell, touch, and wonder? How must that night have seemed to them?

For the first draft don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Just tell the children to get their ideas down. Read their piece and praise the creativity. Suggest ideas when they are stuck, but let it be completely theirs. Consult the bible for facts or phrases. Help them make the correct punctuation and grammar changes. Then have the children re-write their pieces in their very best handwriting. Paste their work on red or green construction paper. You can use glitter glue and other decorations around the edges. When this is completely finished have them practice reading their stories with enthusiasm. One night present to dad and perhaps grandma or grandpa. They can even dress up as their characters if they wish.

Enjoy Christmas songs with your children, which are found here:
http://www.catholic.net/christmas_songs/template_channel.phtml?channel_id=17

You also might want to try your hand at making some Christmas gifts as part of your Advent preparations. By making your gifts you give a little bit of yourself to each recipient and you participate in a craft with your kids which is both art and enjoyable. If you decide to go this route set aside a couple days just for it. Buy what you need on one day. Start crafting the next. Here are some ideas and links to get you started:

• Jar Gifts. Cookie mix in a jar (layered with instructions on whicht *wet* ingredients to add and how to bake) are great gifts for busy moms, grandmothers and fathers or even bachelor younger brothers. Hot Cocoa mix in a jar and soup in a jar are variations of this idea. Instructions here: http://www.allfreecrafts.com/giftinajar/index.shtml
You can make a pretty Christmas candle out of a jar by following directions here:

http://candleandsoap.about.com/od/holidayprojects/ss/xmascontainers.htm

• Visit a JoAnn’s or other craft/hobby store. Buy plain white bibs (for babies), handbags (for girls), aprons (for girls, moms or dads), some fabric paint, and let your imagination run wild. “World’s Greatest Cook”, “No One Beats Dad’s Barbecuing”, “Stand Back, Dad is Cooking”, “Men Like to Barbecue because Danger is Involved”, “I like Being with the Grill of my Dreams”, “Grill Sergeant”, Grandma Never Runs out of Hugs or Cookies”, “Chef in Training” (for kids), “Property of my kids 24/7”, “Best Mom Ever”….Do an internet search to find others’ ideas or make up your own.

• Buy some posterboard and cut into bookmark sizes. Use old holiday cards to create book marks. Include bible quotes, or famous sayings. Mod Podge (from the fabric store) for durability. Paper-punch a hole on the top and tie a ribbon or piece of yarn. Decorate or highlight with glitter or paint. These are especially good gifts for children to give to grandparents, uncles and aunts or godparents.
• More instructions on how to make other Christmas gifts can be found here: http://www.amazingmoms.com/htm/christmas_crafts.htm and here: http://familycrafts.about.com/cs/giftgiving/a/120400a.htm

Last, the website Catholic Education further expounds on ways that families can better live the spirit of Advent and Christmas in their homes. Check out the link here: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0372.html

Have fun with your preparations and God bless you and your family as you embark on this holy, happy season!

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