Well, we are one week into Advent. I got out our Advent Wreath last week though I haven't lit it yet. We have trouble keeping Elizabeth off the kitchen table, so the fire hazard element is a bit of a concern.
I know there is this wave of concern regarding focusing on Advent and not celebrating Christmas 3 weeks early. We do wait until the 3rd or 4th week of Advent to get and decorate our tree, but I'm having a hard time thinking of ways to celebrate Advent without bringing in Christmas. Little children cannot read Isaiah and ponder the prophesies and the apocalyptic readings of Revelation are bit much for little ears. Plus, I don't know about you, but I've not yet had a young child who was proficient at waiting, and yet that is what Advent is. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation, but when it comes to little ones, when you need to wait, you usually need to find a way to make it fun and interesting or waiting becomes only part of the challenge.
So I thought, instead of trying to keep Advent a waiting preparation in purple and the fire department on speed dial, maybe the best way to help little ones with Advent is to just try to help them focus on the reason for Christmas. Trees, lights, ornaments, stockings, candy canes and presents will easily take their place in their sights, so maybe this time is an opportunity for them to remember the reason for Christmas.
I have found a few tools to help too.
1. Advent Calendar: A few years ago I had bought this beautiful magnetic advent calendar. But there is one problem I've had with it. The pieces are small enough that not only are they easily lost when the girls would play with it, but, if I got it out, they would easily be a choking hazard for Elizabeth, and she still puts everything in her mouth. Maybe it is because I'm mid-pregnancy and just didn't want more trouble than I needed, but I just wasn't pulling this one out, beautiful as it is.
But I did find another one, using soft pillowy figures and velcro. The Little People Nativity Advent Calendar lets even Elizabeth play with the nativity figures, pull them off, put them on, and put them in their pockets. No choking hazards, each piece has a number on the back and each piece has a numbered pocket in which to keep it. Obviously, if your kids can actually use the calendar to count down, that is even better, but mine aren't quite there yet.
2. Books: One thing I do not mind expanding is our home library. I have a hard time imagining too many books and reading good books is a wonderful way to bring the reason for Christmas to little ones. There really are too many good ones to list, but some that we've been reading are Fiona French's Bethlehem, Jane Watson's The Christmas Story, Charles Tazewell's The Littlest Angel, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Lisa Bergren's God Gave Us Christmas, Robert Byrd's Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey, Barbara Berger's The Donkey's Dream, John Neale's Good King Wenceslas, Alex Walsh's The Small One, and Jane Donovan's Winter's Gift, to name a few. Obviously any books about the birth of the baby Jesus is good, but books like Winter's Gift or How the Grinch Stole Christmas can still give children a wonderful story connecting Christmas to the gift of Hope or how Christmas is not just about presents and food and decorations. Even if Jesus is never mentioned, it still could be a good book that uses a good story to relay an important message about Christmas and the Spirit of Christmas.
Little People Nativity set and the Little People Wise Men set. They have been having a blast with them for a week now. At first there was a little disagreement over the central figures, but eventually Cecilia and Felicity came to the agreement that Cecilia got Mary and Felicity got the Baby Jesus. Now if Elizabeth would stop pulling the trees apart and turning the manger upside down, all would be well with Jesus' birth.
4. Celebrate St. Nicholas' Day: Another highlight of Advent is that we celebrate St. Nicholas' Feast Day. The girls get chocolate gold coins, a chocolate St. Nicholas and a small present in/by their shoes. We also make a point of reading Julie Stiegemeyer's Saint Nicholas and trying to make clear that St. Nicholas was a very good, holy and real person. He is, after all, the patron saint of children, and, I don't know about you, but I can use all the help I can get from our patrons! The girls' present this year will be Lucia, Saint of Light by Katherine Hyde.
No, we don't blacklist all Christmas music or movies, but I do make sure there is a mixture of the classic Christmas music as well as reverence religious music. There is nothing wrong with White Christmas, but if you miss Away in a Manger, you're only getting half the picture. By the same token, I'm not sure I'd know how to celebrate Advent without any Christmas in it and, even if I knew how, I'm not sure 12 days would be enough for me to "get my fill" of Christmas before ordinary time kicked in.
I hope everyone is having a very Blessed Advent!