Mornings are getting colder, have you noticed? At this time of the year, it can only mean one thing – Christmas is coming!
Everyone looks forward to the Philippines’ most exhilarating holiday, and it’s so easy to get lost in the excitement of the season, the dazzling bright lights, and the search for unique gifts. Countless parties with friends and family are the norm, as kids look forward to getting piles of presents when mom and dad come home from these get-togethers.
We – and our impressionable children – can really easily lose sight of the real meaning of the holiday and give in to the commercialism and excitement.
For the past three years, our family has been trying to celebrate the season in a more meaningful way and to fashion Christmas family traditions that will give us an anchor that will hold us together. After all, twenty years from now, I am sure that my kids will remember our own brand of Christmas and not really the piles of toys under the tree.
So, I’ve thought of the various ways we have learned how to celebrate Christmas – and the more important days leading up to it, Advent – and compiled them into a list to give you inspiration to start your own Christmas family traditions this year. I credit my homeschooling friends, especially Tina of Truly Rich Mom, for inspiring us to live the liturgical year in a fun, meaningful way.
1. The Jesse Tree
Unlike the usual Christmas tree that we have in our homes, the Jesse Tree allows you to recount the story of Creation up to the birth of Jesus.
Each day from the beginning of Advent until Christmas day, an ornament symbolizing the story for the day is hung on a leafless tree – the Jesse Tree.
We’ve gone the handmade route, but Sanne also gave us a set of felt ornaments. This year, however, we’re going fancy with this set of handmade clay ornaments this year –
To read my original post about the Jesse Tree, click here.
Update, Advent 2015: We’re using the 3D printables from Catholic Icing. Lots of options on how to do it year after year!
2. Truth in the Tinsel
Truth in the Tinsel is “an Advent experience for little hands.” Similar to the Jesse Tree, there is a Scripture reading on which conversation and hands-on activities are based. I think is great for little kids ages 3 and up, especially those who like to work with their hands.
We tried it last year (yes, we had two sets of ornaments for our branch-tree: the Jesse ornaments and this one) and really found that “it’s more than a devotion – it’s meditation and hands-on learning for kids”, that “it’s more than a craft-book – it’s a memory-builder”, and that “it’s more than e-book, it’s an experience and adventure in God’s Word!”
Click here to check out the e-book (affiliate link).
3. A Christmas Book a Day
This is one of our favorite Christmas family traditions! Before Advent starts, I wrap all the Christmas books that we have, put a number on each (1 to 25), and place them on our front-facing shelf. Everyday, our kids unwrap their book for the day and we read it.
To check our Christmas booklist, click here.
4. Straws of Kindness to Soften Jesus’ Manger
This is one tradition that little kids will really enjoy. All you need are an image of the infant Jesus in a manger and some straws in a glass or vase.
Tell your kids to make Jesus’ manger soft by putting one straw in the empty manger for every act of kindness that they do everyday until Christmas. On Christmas day, lay down Jesus in the soft manger. Easy!
To read my original post about this, click here.
5. Advent Calendar
An Advent calendar is used to count the days leading up to Christmas. The start of Advent changes from year to year, depending on the day that Christmas falls. You can also make your own beautiful DIY projects.
Usual Advent calendars have windows that you open each day, revealing images of the Nativity story. Some have pockets instead of windows, and you put a clue or an ornament in each one for a child to pick.
Looking at the Advent calendar can be the first thing that you do each day before proceeding with your other activities.
6. St. Nicholas’ Surprise
Everyone knows Santa Claus, but did you know the true story about the legend? St. Nicholas was a bishop during the early days of Christianity and was known for his generosity and love for children.
His feast day falls on December 6, so you can definitely include learning activities about him as part of your Christmas preparations. We would read a few books about Saint Nicholas and surprise the kids with chocolate coins in their shoes to celebrate the legend of his generosity to a desperate family.
You can read The Story of St. Nicholas (available at our shop) and also have your little one play with a wooden St Nicholas doll by Everything Is Grace.
Check out St. Nicholas Center for activity ideas for the home. You have to check these free e-picture books about Saint Nicholas; these are mostly out-of-print but are really charming!
We’ve also done Catholic Saints’ Advent Saints in the past.
7. Child-Friendly Nativity Sets
What comes to your mind when you hear the word belen? Those fragile figurines that kids shouldn’t touch, right?
Provide your kids with their own nativity set that they can play with. You can buy wooden ones or others made of sturdy materials. Last year, we got our kids this nativity set from Fisher Price made of hard plastic.
I put the figures in a bin filled with colorful pebbles from National Bookstore and let the kids play with the figures – instant Christmas sensory bin!
8. Christmas Carols
My husband is musically inclined, so singing songs – Christmas or otherwise – while he plays the guitar is quite the norm here. Making music as a family is a good way to bond and it’s easy to make a family tradition around it too. We just sing the usual carols while we play simple percussion instruments – drums, shakers, and tambourines.
9. Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is something I strongly connect to my Catholic school days. This makes it less appealing and I have yet to introduce this to my kids. I’ve been meaning to do it for two years now, so hopefully we will be able to push through with it this Advent!
10. Holy Heroes Advent Adventure
Holy Heroes is a website dedicated to “bring the joy of the faith to the family.” The Advent Adventure is a free Advent resource consisting of videos and activities delivered to your email address.
My kids enjoyed it last year, and my 6-year-old is already asking about it now. Watching the videos as they come is enough, but doing the activities are fun too!
Click here to visit the page of Holy Heroes Advent Adventure.
Last year, I got a devotional prayer journal for kids for free. It’s designed for ages four to 12 and includes “scripture reading, prayer, journaling, crafts, baking, puzzles, and more.” My daughter enjoyed it and I’m going to print it out again for her this year.
Other options for Advent or Christmas journaling are this free Advent Art Journal and this Advent Journal idea from Planet Smarty Pants.
12. Epiphany Blessing
We’ve also discovered how to usher in the New Year when we received a lovely basket of everything that we needed for an Epiphany Blessing of the Home. The feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on the 12th day after Christmas, which is January 6 and which I have never really though of much before.
Well, this is what I love about motherhood… I get to learn with my kids!
This list might look overwhelming, but think baby steps and just pick one or two that you can really do to introduce meaning into your children’s concept of Christmas.
What are your Christmas family traditions?