Observing Advent with Children
by Pastor Goede
When my kids were growing up, they knew our family was different because we did not put up Christmas decorations until a few days before Christmas Eve. To make this counter-cultural, and not just grim and Scrooge-like, we went all in on a few practices that our kids (and some of their friends) came to love:
Celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6
Your child/ren will be delighted to receive a small gift or two in their shoes, including perhaps some chocolate gold coins, when they wake up in the morning and find Good St. Nick has visited. This ritual helped to take the edge off of waiting for Christmas gifts for our children, and it was a way to know and honor the Christian saint who morphed into Santa Claus.
Good St. Nick was a real bishop in the 300s in what’s now southern Turkey. One of the incidents for which he is remembered involved a family with three daughters. The family was too poor to afford dowries, which were essential if the girls wanted to marry. Without that, they would have no way to support themselves.
Nicholas walked by the family’s house while they were sleeping and threw small bags of gold coins through the window, into each of the girl’s shoes. Today throughout Europe, children still receive chocolate gold coins and small gifts in their shoes.
Another version of the story was that Nicholas climbed onto the roof and dropped the money down the chimney, where it fell into the socks that were hung to dry over the embers in the fireplace.
Get some kind of Advent marker and use it
When the kids were little, we had a felt banner with pockets filled with all of the animals and people who belonged in the stable. Now we have a small cabinet with tiny cupboards, in which you can put something like a small candy cane and a Bible passage. Be religious about using it every day, and get excited that Jesus is coming, coming soon.
Have devotions at dinner
Or breakfast, or whenever you are gathered for a meal.
Four candles in the center of your table can help you mark the weeks of Advent, just as we do in church. Light (or turn on) one candle during the first week, two during the second, etc.
Read something together. You can find biblical readings for each day of Advent here.
We print the readings for the week in the bulletin every Sunday. You can find readings for every day of the year in the back of the red hymnal in the pews, Evangelical Lutheran Worship; the Advent readings are on page 1132.
Finish with a prayer like this one:
Jesus, you are the light of the world. Shine in the darkness and lead the way for us.
Jesus, you are the peace of the world. Fill us with hope and help us to love each other.
Jesus, you are God’s love for us made real in a little child. Let us praise you with joy.
Consider giving a faith-building gift to the small people on your list
We received an indestructible wooden nativity set carved by Palestinians that our kids loved to use as a play set. There are lots of play sets, action figures and dress up sets with biblical themes available online. I’ve found some of the best Christian toys and books at teacher stores and dollar stores. If you buy a great children’s Bible, you might find you enjoy reading it yourself so much that you want to keep it.
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