I got smart last January and I prepared for the next year's Christmas activities by wrapping our favorite children's picture books about Christmas in left over wrapping paper and stored them away in the basement. For the entire month of December we unwrap a book each night and enjoy reading about Jesus' birth, family celebrations, the history of the Christmas tree and candy canes, generosity, and much more. Reading them only during one month a year adds to the mystery and tradition. A few of our favorites include Christmas in The Manger, Song of the Stars, Who Is Coming To Our House, Santa's Favorite Story, The Christmas Promise, An Orange for Frankie, The Story of Holly & Ivy, Christmas Farm, Christmas Day In The Morning, The Legend of the Christmas Tree, Babushka: A Christmas Tale, & The Legend of Poinsettia.
We used to buy chocolate advent calendars to help count down the days to Christmas. But so much of Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan, and Feb revolves around sweets. We didn't need to be adding to nightly chocolate treats into our kids diets. What we needed to add was a growing understanding of who Jesus is and why he had to be born. We decided to build our own advent calendar using laser wood cut ornaments that I sealed with Danish Oil and placed in small bags I picked up from the Target Dollar Section. I painted numbers 1-25 on blank round wood pieces. Each day of December leading up to Christmas we read about the meaning of that ornament. It tells the story of Jesus from Genesis through the entire Bible to Revelation. It's called a Jesse Tree. We read through the pages in the Ann Voskamp book that corresponds to the ornament for that day. You can buy a Jesse tree kit here, if you'd rather do it that way. Our kids love it and I love that it builds time into our day, every single day, to read the Bible together and explain the real significance of Christmas.
Our kids receive many Christmas gifts, but there are not a lot of opportunities to give meaningful gifts as toddlers and preschoolers. We want to emphasize the joy of giving gifts to others and what this looks like for us now is buying, making, and delivering meals several times a winter to a neighborhood women's winter shelter. Our church has committed to provide meals every Sunday evening for the 18 or so women who stay at the Grace and Peace Women's Shelter on Delmar. Our community group signs up for several of these dates and my kids get to mash potatoes and ladle turkey chili into plastic containers. They ask questions like, "Why are they hungry? Why don't they have a house? Don't they have a kitchen? Do they have papas to help them?" I can foresee the questions getting more complicated the older they get, but I'm hoping we can establish a rhythm and an expectation that we give to others because God gave to us. We share because Jesus shares with us. The good things in life we enjoy are to be shared with those around us. We don't have to wait until they are teenagers to start teaching those values because by then it is likely too late.