Friday, November 30, 2007

Preparing for December With a Two Year Old

Well, here you have it....our plans to celebrate Christmas with Jonah this year. He's already so excited about all of the Christmas lights or decorations, but I don't think he really knows why yet. He just knows it's going to be a fun month. I'm really thrilled that he's at an age where we can be pretty intentional in teaching him what Christmas is all about. Even though I know he will not fully "get it," so far in parenting I've learned that you can never start teaching about the Lord too early. It's amazing what kids that age pick up and the information they retain if it's repeatedly and consistently told to them. So we'll be talking about a lot and praying that one day truth will sink in and one day Jesus will capture his little heart. I'm excited to know that the foundations laid now really will shape the understanding he will have of God when he's older, and I've been asking the Lord to really lead us during this time of intentionally reflecting with our son on the true reason for Christmas.

Before I get specific with some of our practical activities we have planned, I wanted to share what's been on my heart concerning how to weave together the aspects of the biblical story of Christmas with the fun, silly, whimsical parts of the season. We will include both in our celebrations. And the reason is that in our family, it all has to do with Jesus. Our worldview is one that does not separate the "sacred" and the "secular" into categories that are "holy" and "unholy." Any of it can point to Christ. We hope to grow in such a way that everything we do flows from a love for the Lord. That is a goal to strive for, and although I am far from reaching it, it's still the standard God has set (1 Corinthians 10:31) and refers to the heart-motivation for all kinds of activities, not just the "spiritually"-obvious, churchy parts of life. I'm probably not explaining this well. (Here's a little book that does, in case you're interested.) So we will go ahead and "do" Santa in our family for now and we'll have fun with those kinds of things. But we are making a deliberate choice to explain why we even do things like visiting Santa at the mall or reading books about Rudolph. It's all just a way of celebrating JESUS and His birth. I will take every chance I get this month to explain to Jonah that it all has to do with Him....We put up lights on our house and inside on our tree because Jesus is the light of the world and we want to celebrate it and want others to know about our joy; we bake cookies so we can deliver them to others to share God's love with them, because He is our life and we want others to know how good He is. Those are the kinds of explanations I'm talking about. I am praying for wisdom in these "conversations" because I want nothing less than to connect everything in Jonah's world to the truth of who God is - not just at Christmastime, but this season does offer some great opportunities to communicate that in some fun ways, and we want to jump at them. It's also a good time, for me personally, to focus on these things and be encouraged in a new way to intentionally engage my son in a quest to know more of the God we love.

Above is a picture of a cute little Advent calendar I found at Target. I've seen several cute ideas on the internet for making your own unique one, but this is what I chose to go with. I plan to go beyond its basic design and write 24 different activities on little pieces of paper and insert one into each day's pocket. Starting tomorrow, Jonah will move the candy cane into the Dec. 1st pocket and take out that day's activity and we will do it together. Each morning, before we move the candy cane and do the activity, we will read the story of Jesus' birth and talk about it and make a point to talk about why His birth is the reason for us doing whatever the fun activity is. It will just provide an opportunity for me to be really intentional in communicating the things I shared in the previous paragraph that are pressing on my heart for my son to hear this season. Some days' activities will be as simple as coloring a holiday-themed picture. Some days' activities will center around more involved activities, things we've already planned on doing like a family celebration on the 23rd, driving to look at Christmas lights, etc. So, below are the list of things I have considered for this year:

  • Watch a Christmas movie.
  • Make a red-and-green paper chain to decorate Jonah's room
  • Color nativity picture.
  • Make s'mores and drink hot chocolate, singing Christmas carols.
  • Buy a gift for an Angel Tree child.
  • Go to the drive-through Bethlehem scene at one of our local churches.
  • Make a photo ornament.
  • Bake Christmas cookies.
  • Visit Santa and have picture taken with him.
  • Make Christmas cards for friends.
  • Visit a hospital or nursing home to deliver small bags of goodies to patients.
  • Make a reindeer puppet.
  • Make a birthday cake for Jesus and have a party.
  • Make white chocolate-covered pretzels.
  • Pick out a present for Daddy all by himself.
  • Make a collage of Christmas pictures from magazine cutouts.
  • Make a paper plate snowman.
  • Drive through a Winter-Wonderland or drive around neighborhoods looking at lights.
  • Go to a cookie-decorating part with friends.
  • Make a handprint wreath.
  • Make a gingerbread house ( graham cracker one in a box that requires very little assembly because really now, who are we kidding)
  • Make scented pinecones.
  • Attend the Christmas in the Park celebration at the Children's Park.
  • Decorate plain white dishtowels with red and green paint.
  • Make gift tags to go on our presents.
  • Make paper snowflakes.
  • Celebrate Christmas in Athens with family (surprise horse-drawn carriage ride!)
Ok, so I am going to be realistic about which of these are actually doable for us, because I know I can't possibly pull off all of that. The crafts alone might do me in. But hopefully by writing it on here, I'm inviting some accountability with the crafts. I hope they're not the death of me. Anyway, these are obviously geared for a two-year-old, but many of them will work for older kids as well, and there is a plethora of resources on the internet. Now, I have to admit that my main reason for ever wanting to blog about this topic is so that I can hear YOUR ideas for doing fun things with kids at Christmastime. I am not at all an originally creative person, but I do have a knack for stealing other people's ideas. =) So please please please leave me a comment if you have another activity that I should add to my list of possible daily Advent activities. We'd all love to know it, I'm sure.

Here are a few websites I have found that may spur you towards some fun ideas:

Family Fun
Family Crafts
Christmas for Kids
Christmas Crafts
Pinecone Craft
Coloring Pictures

And some more random Christmas thoughts....

One idea a family I know has adopted was to repeatedly tell their kids every Christmas season that "Easter completes what Christmas begins." That was their line. They chose to divide their present-giving to the kids evenly between the two holidays. Anytime they had those conversations about why we do these things at Christmas, they always connected it to Easter and made the story of Jesus' birth much more complete. Now, the kids in that family are pretty much all grown now, and they tend to get one "big" present at Christmas and another "big" one at Easter. Such consistency. And it shows where those parents' hearts are. I'm afraid that my excitement at Christmas often overshadows my excitement for Easter, and really all that does is reveal motives of mine that are probably not right or a focus that is off-centered. I am convicted just by learning of that family's example.

Another practice we started at Jonah's first Christmas was to set a standard for how many gifts our kids would get. It is easy to say we don't want to go overboard and buy our kids too much stuff or have such a large focus on gift-receiving, but we think it's hard to actually enforce unless we have some kind of system that sets ground rules that will remain over time. There are plenty of ways to do this. Some families decide that every family member will receive three gifts only, as a representation of the three gifts that the wise men brought to baby Jesus. Others use a system of gift-receiving based on the child's age. There are lots of ways to practice discipline in the areas of spending too much or buying too many toys. Rather than tell you on here the exact details of what we have chosen to do, I will say that if that's something you feel you may need to consider, ask the Lord for direction in it. He is full of good ideas like that! We have complete peace knowing that some limits concerning buying things for our child have been set in our house, and we feel really good about them, believing that it will help us to stay true to our convictions about what is most important to teach our children about the holiday season.

Ok, well, I'm exhausted. I'd love to hear from you on some of your ideas. Really, I would. Maybe somebody has been just a little inspired from all this talk. I'm feeling excited....and tired already. =)


the melton's said...

Great ideas, Hannah. I love your perspective in that EVERYTHING at Christmas is to glorify Jesus and celebrate His coming. I've struggled with what to tell Luke about Santa, but this makes sense! We always read the Christmas story before we opened gifts on Christmas morning, which gave us a good perspective. Thanks for the ideas!

Hannah E. said...

Alissa's comment about reading the Christmas story before opening presents (great! thank you!) reminded me of another idea....when my cousin Lacey was growing up, she would have to find the baby Jesus from their nativity scene before opening presents. Her parents would hide it somewhere in the house, and they waited to do presents until she found it because "There would be no Christmas without baby Jesus." I think she might still do it, for tradition's sake, and she's in her twenties now! =) My mom has adapted this for all of her grandchildren to do before we open presents at our Christmas celebration with my parents and brother's family.

Marci H said...

LOVE your heart for Christmas. We are really trying to be much more intentional about Christmas. One small thing we like to do is make a birthday cake for Jesus and sing Happy Birthday to Him Christmas morning. I love the idea of hiding baby Jesus; we could find Him and then sing Happy Birthday to Him!! :>)

Courtney said...

The study we are doing right now is called Preparing Your Heart for is great (in depth and a lot of homework, but i like it). In the back (and all throughout) there are ideas such as yours and might be worth looking into if you want more. It is good. I like them.

Christa said...

Wow! You have more energy than I do! That makes me tired just thinking about all of that. I will share just a couple things that came to mind...1. I bought a wooden nativity set that the kids can play with all they want. I encourage them to act out the story of Christ's birth with the characters. 2. Last year on Christmas Eve, Trace read the birth of Christ from the bible while Aidan and I acted it out (and we tried to make Becca be Jesus but she didn't really go for that). This year she will get a part and Andrew or maybe a baby doll will be Jesus. 3. We always wrap a baby up and let the kids open it and remind them that Jesus is the greatest gift we will ever recieve. 4. A few years ago (and hopefully this year) we did a neighborhood cookie decorating and desert eating party. It was a great way to connect with our unchurched neighbors. 5. It is fun to find things for the kids to help make to give to friends and family. It helps them to learn about giving to others. I was thinking about going to a retirement community also. Let me know if you do maybe we can tag along. Great Ideas! Enjoy this time!

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

Such great ideas! You have a lot of suggestions for a wonderful holiday, thank you for sharing them! I'm really happy I asked for links, I'm getting inspired to be much more creative and intentional about the holidays! THANK you!