I have a motto for life: KEEP IT SIMPLE.
That's pretty much it. It took me going through a lot of hard shiz (mostly brought on by my-self) to come to this conclusion: that life is best when lived SIMPLE. Yup, caps. It's that crucial. There is so much flying at us at every single moment that living simply and paring down to the bare bones (aka: what's actually important) are the only way to stay sane.
Especially during a season like Advent.
Advent is a weird time: on one hand we get to slow down and prepare ourselves for, like, the most important feast of the whole year. CHRISTMAS. The Incarnation. Heaven comes to earth. Ya know, the BABY JESUS. But then there's all that other crap ya gotta do to get ready for it - some fun, some not. The tree, the presents, the parties, the music, and on and on. Love most of it but, still, it can get a little tricky to prepare one's heart when going a million miles an hour.
Add 4 kids into the mix and it gets ca-razy trying to wrap your mind around it all.
We really really really want our children to know the true meaning of Christmas - to know the true meaning of life. We want them to embrace simplicity and to embrace the different seasons of the church. Lent as a time of sacrifice and repentance. Easter as joy filled as possible. Ordinary time as well, ordinary (but still lived extra-ordinary), Advent as a time of waiting and expectation and Christmas as another time of (as Max would put it) rocking' out.
So, amidst the schooling and the life-ing and the decorating and the extra-ings going on during December, how do we stop and do Advent?
First of all, what we don't do. We don't do it all. Actually, coming up, there will be the longest post in the history of long posts explaining everything I DO NOT do in life. Because, well, you have to pick and choose and no one can do it all. (Unless you are God, as Max would chime in again.) But what we do do (thank you toddler diapers for perpetually keeping that one on the brain) we try to do well.
It sits on our dinner table and we light it every Sunday night, singing a verse of "O Come O Come Emmanuel." It is amazing to see the wonder in their eyes when we do this because it's so different and out of the ordinary from usual dinner. I made the mistake of blowing out the candle before Levi finished and he started crying. "Why you do that mama?! It so pretty! Don't do that again."
(and yes, I'm missing the greenery. I'll probably get to that in my "spare time.")
We have an advent calendar with the doors and each day they pull out a slip of paper that has something for them to do. Things likes "give up TV for the day." "Call Grandma and sing Jingle Bells." "Make Christmas cards." "Go through your toys and give one away." "Give up treats for the day." I try to center them on sacrifice but a lot of them are fun, too.
The kids also have an Advent Calendar thing they get to put the people on. They love that but I admit it's hard for them to wait and not fill the thing up on the first day.
It took me a few years to find one I liked and I can't even remember where I got this particular one from, lo siento! But I bought a little tree, a purple skirt for Advent (all found at Target), and printed/laminated (yes, I have a laminator, Amen) the ornaments, and each day Avila reads the card and we put them on the tree.
Each year I buy a few more Christmas books and, other than the Advent Wreath and Calendar if there was only one other thing I did it would be to READ READ READ to them. I admit I slack in this category as it's hard to SIT DOWN (with a squirrly toddler) and read to them but I'm trying to make a point of it everyday. A good time to read to them is during lunch or afterwards (before Levi's nap). Here are some of our favorite Christmas Books:
The Polar Express
Merry Christmas, Strega Nona
Joy to the World: Tomie's Christmas Stories
Santa's Favorite Story: Santa Tells the First Story of Christmas
Snowmen At Night
Snowmen At Christmas
Room For a Little One
Random Coloring Pages
I google "Advent Coloring Pages" and print whatever looks good. Reading to them while coloring is a bonus but throw on some Christmas music and let them plug away.
This is one of my favs that we do. I used to use a basket but found a cool little box at Freddy's this year. (Dad, want to build me a manger???) Every time the kids do something good or make a sacrifice I let them put a cotton ball in the manger in hopes that Jesus' bed will be as soft as possible upon his arrival. But when they are naughty (ooh, I love that word.....) they have to take one out. Simple, yet effective.
But again, Advent isn't necessarily about filling life up with EXTRA things to do, if those extra things stress you out. As a family just PICK ONE tradition that will help you prepare for Christmas, do that one thing well, and call it good. Because the whole point of this short, less than 4 week, season, is to slow down and get our hearts ready - not just fill it up with more stuff.
So, there. Our Advent in a nutshell. If only the boys would get the memo and be peaceful or something and not be all killing each other every 5 seconds.