Celebrating Advent is big in our house. Some people think that because we choose to skip the Santa and Elf on the Shelf bits of Christmas, we somehow miss the magic. Let me tell you, we do not. Part of what makes Advent the special, magic time for our family is my intentionality in how we go through this time of year. As Mama Bear, I set the tone of my household and I set the rhythm of our lives. (Not that The Pastor isn’t an important part of this balance, but let’s be honest, Mama’s. We know that we are the ones that make the magic happen.) It doesn’t always unfold like I planned. I remember plenty of years when I really wasn’t feeling the magic myself. (Specifically, I recall being pregnant with Topher during Advent. End of the first trimester. I puked an average of 12 times a day with that child. B vitamins and Benadryl helped me sleep through most of my first trimester. I definitely was not feeling magical. I was sleeping and puking my days away.) But I have decided that regardless of how I feel, I am going to try to set the rhythm and tone of our household in the best direction for those in it. (Even that pukey Advent, I managed to keep the magic on track.) It does take work on my part, but what aspect of parenting isn’t work? So, yes, Dad’s get on board. And in your house, it may be Dad that keeps the rhythm flowing. For us, the atmosphere and rhythm is set by me. So here are my tips for you. (Please note, I also have general tips for surviving the holiday season. These are specific to this devotion, but you can read and apply the others, as well.)
· You do not have to give up the fat man. We simply choose to do without the Santa aspects of Christmas. I just only have so much time and energy. You may be far more energetic than I am. You can fit it in. You can make it beneficial to a Christian Christmas. Just be aware of where the focus is. Shift the focus to the manger as much as you can. Let the Christmas extras compliment the baby in the manger.
· You cannot do it all. Accept it now. All activities listed are OPTIONAL. Very, very optional. Everything you do or do not do is up to you. Intentionally choose what fits your family and best points them to Jesus. Leave the rest with no guilt.
· For this devotional, we’ll be using Advent candles. You’ll need 5 candles. 1 for each week and then one for Christmas. The candles add so much of the magic to Advent. Just that holy glow and atmosphere is so calming and centering. You can buy an Advent wreath with the candle holders made into it. You can buy a box set of Advent candles. Traditionally, there are 3 purple candles, 1 pink candle, and 1 white candle. (The order is week one- purple, week two- purple, week three- pink, week four- purple, Christmas- white.) Now, any 5 candles will work. If you want all white candles, all gold candles, all neon yellow candles, whatever. Just choose five candles. (The candle color is mentioned in the devotions, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them.) Last year, I bought scented candles in jars. (3 purpley gray, 1 pink, 1 white) I’ll likely do the same this year because I am not a taper candle person. You’ll be burning the candles quite a bit, so you probably don’t want tea lights or something super small unless you plan to replace them. You’ll light these candles during the devotion each week. (Week one, you light week one’s candle. Week two, you like week one and week two’s candles. And so on.) You can light them at other times during the week. (Though, for me, I will only burn the appropriate candles for the week. So week one, I won’t light more than the week one candle.) You can light them while you sing carols or do other family devotions or during dinner or during reading time. It is up to you how much you light and burn your candles. Usually, they are arranged with the colored candles circling the white candle. I lined mine up. With two purple on one side, then the white candle in the middle, then the pink candle and the remaining purple candle.
· There are several verses each week to look up and read together. I would usually include those in the devotional, but I have been working with my kids on looking up Scripture. If your kids aren’t old enough to read, you may want to just look them up and mark them in advance. I have each of my kids look up and read a different passage.
· I encourage you to do the personal devotional journal aspect of this, as well. It is optional. It is just a chance for you to go a little deeper while the whole family is still on the same page. If your kids are older, you can encourage them to do the personal devotion aspect, as well.
· This Advent, remember, that busy isn’t always better. Your family needs time to breathe, center themselves, and enjoy the season. Don’t let them get overbooked. Carve out the time for family and personal devotion time.
· Play Christmas songs, burn scented candles, make hot cocoa! Do the things that trigger those warm, fuzzy holiday feelings. Set the atmosphere of the house in a way that directs everyone’s thoughts and moods toward Jesus. Get the fire going. Break out the cozy blankets for the living room. Make your home atmosphere reflect the season so that the hearts and minds of your family go toward the manger.
· Choose your devotional location to be somewhere that sets the right tone. You’ll need to be near the candles. You may find that best at your dining room table. Maybe your living room is more inviting. Maybe your parlor is less distracting. (I don’t have a parlor, but you might.) Keep your location consistent each week.
· There is only one devotion per week. These should be done at the beginning of the week. On Sunday or Monday. Remind your family of the topic through the week. Add in the optional activities on the other days of the week. Do your personal devotions through the week. Your family will be moving through this together. Each week brings about a new idea and aspect as we look toward the coming baby in the manger. Write the time into your calendar. Make sure you prioritize it.
To give credit where it is due, this entire family devotional is adapted from a devotional written by The Pastor for our church for Advent. I did tweak it just a little, but the guts of it remain his. You can find his blog here. You can find our church website here. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .