I know you’ve been there, like me—on the evening of November 30, you realize the official month of Christmas begins tomorrow, so you’d better whip together your family’s advent calendar.
Every year, I have grand ambitions to thoughtfully, methodically prepare our holiday season with an Advent calendar or Jesse Tree. And every year, I scrap it together at the last minute. Or scrap the idea for next year. Not the biggest deal in the world, of course, but I do wish I had more time to enjoy the preparation of these sweet, simple family traditions.
Well guess what? I’ll enjoy them more if I start preparing now. I know, who wants to think about Christmas activities the week of Thanksgiving? But there’s only two weeks until December, so by doing a little bit of prep this week, you’ll be sitting prettier by the first of the month.
Prepare a family tradition
Christmas is just as enjoyable without a calendar telling us exactly how we’re going to have fun that day, but I find it helpful to get some of those favorite festivities crossed off with a game plan of sorts.
A meaningful tradition also helps our family collectively center our focus on the holiday’s most significant meaning for us: celebrating the birth of Jesus.
1. Advent calendar
I wrote last year about our family’s latest Advent calendar—a simple, empty frame with ribbon to hang our daily activities. I used clothespins to bedeck the ribbons with folded bookmarks Mod-podged with scrapbook paper numbers.
Inside, I used Sticky Notes to scribble out a daily activity. It’s not fancy, but it worked like a charm, mostly because I could move them around when needed. It’s not much fun to “build a snowman” when there’s no snow on the ground.
2. Advent wreath
Similar-but-different to the calendar, the advent wreath marks with a lit candle the four Sundays leading to Christmas. Usually accompanied by a poem, song, or some other communal activity, there are just as many ways to use an Advent wreath as there are Christian traditions.
I’m incredibly excited about a new e-book released from my friends at What’s in the Bible? (I really, really love everything they do)—it’s called Everyday Emmanuel, and it includes more ideas than time for incorporating an Advent wreath in your home.
It’s also filled with ideas for a 25-day Advent calendar, printables, games, songs, poems, devotionals, crafts, AND codes for private-access videos to stream.
If you use the code SIMPLEMOM, you’ll get 50% off the e-book and DVD Why Do They Call it Christmas? when you buy them together—only $14.99.
Another resource— Caleb Voskamp, son of one of my dear friends, Ann, creates gorgeous cradle-to-cross wreaths that you can use for both the Advent season leading to Christmas and the Lent season leading to Easter. They are heirloom-quality works of art.
3. Jesse Tree
A Jesse Tree is similar to a countdown calendar, starting at the beginning of the month and leading to Christmas. With this, however, you start at the beginning of the Bible and read excerpts from Genesis to the birth of Jesus Christ, then hang a corresponding ornament to a special tree.
This tree can be anything from a second traditional Christmas tree, to a tabletop statue of a tree, to a construction paper cutout of a tree taped to the wall. In previous years, we’ve gathered branches from our yard and arranged them simply in a mason jar or pot.
There are all sorts of resources online for Jesse Tree devotionals, and you can creatively make or gather your own ornaments however you like. If you’d like to make it easy, Ann has a wonderful PDF of daily devotions and printable ornaments your kids can color. I’ve found that this devotional resonates well with older children.
If you’ve got younger kids, I love ohAmanda’s Truth in the Tinsel. 24 devotionals, a simple craft ornament per day, clues, and fun printables. It’s short and simple enough for the short crowd in your home. She’s created the craft supply list in the front, so don’t feel overwhelmed at the craft-a-day thought: it’s easy. And fun.
Get 20% off Truth in the Tinsel with the coupon code SIMPLEMOM.
4. St. Nicholas Day
St. Nicholas Day is December 6 according to most calendars; it’s a day set aside to tell the story of St. Nicholas, a man of faith whose goodness and generosity grew out of his love for God. It enriches our understanding of Santa Claus by showing the real historical person who inspired the familiar legend and traditions.
Having a simple family celebration for St. Nicholas Day is a fun way to incorporate the history behind the man, particularly if you’d rather separate the fun of Santa from the observance of the birth of Jesus.
The Dutch tradition involves setting out wooden shoes the evening of December 5, then the next morning, finding candy or some other small toy in the shoes. There are plenty of good ideas on the Internet for a simple family St. Nicholas Day celebration, along with myriad books for sharing the history behind the infamous man.
5. Learning the history behind Christmas carols
Last year, we also started singing one carol per week, each evening before the kids went to bed. We’re not musical in the slightest (I’m sure anyone walking by would have fainted), but we love music. Hymns are a dying art, and the best are great works of poetry that drip with meaning.
We selected one carol from Christmas Carols for a Kid’s Heart, which includes a CD, and we’d read the accompanying story to learn more of the song’s meaning. I admit that the book is a bit on the saccharine side, so we just used it as a springboard to look up more online about the carol’s history, and we’d frequently use a different rendition of the song. But the book was still useful, and I love that my kids are learning these classic hymns.
The key to starting a new holiday tradition is to not do too much. All these ideas above? They’re just ideas. Activity overload causes the opposite reaction from your well-intentioned goals with these traditions—you’re stressed, your busy, and you’re tired. Not good.
Just focus on one or two traditions you’d like to incorporate, and use the easy button—printables and pre-made crafts are just fine. No need to reinvent the wheel—the ultimate goal is family togetherness during the holidays.
So your task this week? Decide which of your traditions you value most, then make a game plan to see it happen.
Head here to watch for all of this year’s six steps (and feel free to pin it to make it easy for you to find).
What’s one of your family’s favorite traditions?