Come to Bethlehem and See: Our Advent and calendar

This year is our first year really doing Advent as a family. We wanted to last year, but of course time escaped from us, and before we knew it, it was Christmas. I think that’s one of the difficulties of traveling so much, as last year we had just arrived from Nigeria to spend Christmas in the States as we awaited Jovelle’s birth: It’s a little harder to establish your own traditions.

This year, though, we started planning in October. (Okay, fine, it was only 2 days or something, but I still felt pretty on top of things. Until I thought I was on top of things and slowed down a little too much. 😉 ) We wanted to do a countdown Advent calendar, and we wanted the focus to be on Christ, so we decided to do a birthday cake for Jesus countdown calendar. Once the idea came, things just started rolling together. I was originally thinking of doing a posterboard cut out like a cake and putting candles with different activities on them, but Chris suggested an actual box. Brilliant! Must be the elementary school teacher training in him coming out!

Our Advent birthday cake countdown

I dug out an old cereal box and painted it (using very messy oil paint left over from a play kitchen I’m working on for the kids for Christmas – pics of that coming soon…. Uh, as soon as it’s finished!), then we decorated it like a cake. Of sorts. Yes, a quasi-cake. We started the countdown from the day after Thanksgiving (Amendement: Uh, did I say “started” after Thansgiving?  I meant did one day and are resuming again today.  Whoops.), and Judah and I painted popsicle sticks (Oh, wonderful missionary sales, supplier of almost all my craft needs!) different colors for candles (and in the process discovered that those bingo dot markers are amazing for painting popsicle sticks! They dry so quickly, were so easy to use and made very little mess. I think I’m in love!).  (Afternote: After being back in the States, we have discovered they make PRE-COLORED popsicle sticks!  Cuz whaaaat??!)

Note Judah’s artwork on day 20 of our countdown calendar. Done with a Sharpie. When we weren’t looking.

I glued orange construction paper flames on the candles and wrote different activities on them. A lot of the activities are things we would do anyway – like decorate the house, put up our manger (We put presents under a manger instead of a tree) and tree while listening to Christmas music, watch Christmas movies, go to a Christmas party, make ornaments, etc. – but somehow having them on the candle makes them seem more special. Many of them are very simple activities – coloring a Christmas page, even – but we wanted to make sure there were simple ones so that we would actually do an activity each day. We don’t have the activities assigned to a specific day, as we wanted the flexibility to say, “Wow, today is crazy! Looks like it’s a ‘make a snowman with play-doh’ and not a ‘make handprint ornaments’ sort of day.” I love the flexibility of it.

This was last year’s Christmas in August celebration when Chris’s parents came to visit. We borrowed the manger and were going to have one made for this year, but our friends gave us one, complete with hay! We’re so excited to get it set up. Today. Really.  (By the way, aren’t the stockings cool??  They are made by Mashiah, a ministry here in Jos that teaches women with HIV/ AIDS to sew so that they can earn a living.  They batik the fabric themselves, too.  My favorite is Grandma’s pink, green and white stocking – and it matches her living room perfectly!  If anyone is interested in cool stockings like them, I can send you information about how to get them.  I think.  😉

Our candles. Left some blank so we could fill in ideas if we came up with new ones – but it sure was handy to stick a blank candle in the cake when the day was gone before we knew it – and before we had done an activity. Wait, is that shady??

I really like how it turned out – I’m not going to lie, though: I thought at first it was going to be l-a-m-e.  Judah loves it, though, and actually squeals every time we get it out and read a Bible verse and the activity on the candle.  The squeals intensify when he puts the candle in the slot on the cake. We like that it focuses the season on Jesus and on activities together rather than on chocolate or candy (although some of that wouldn’t hurt….) – and that it is made out of things we had lying around the house (which is saying a lot for the few things we have lying around our house here!). (I was trying to decide what Bible verses to do when a package from Chris’s parents arrived – with a little Advent calendar with Bible verses. Hurray for perfect timing – and for someone else doing the work!)

Here are some of the things we’ll be doing this holiday season:

  • Make nativity (Each year we make a nativity using different materials.  This year it will be nice and easy – we’re doing this toilet paper roll nativity.)
  • Go to library and get Christmas books
  • Put handprints on our Christmas tree skirt (This was an idea I saw in a Family Fun magazine years ago and thought was so cool!)
  • Do Christmas puzzle
  • Play a game with Daddy and Mommy
  • Take a walk at night and look at the stars. Talk about the star leading the wise men to Jesus.
  • Make decorations for Christmas table
  • Have a shepherd’s meal (A simple meal, maybe with bread, cheese and fruit, by our itty bitty Christmas tree with candles and tree lights)
  • Camp out by the (itty bitty) Christmas tree.  Luckily our lights are battery operated.  😉
  • Make ornaments
  • Make glitter play-doh and make a snowman with it.  I might get really fancy and do something like this, but that’s probably a dream (or party favor!) for another year.  I think either homemade play-doh or even this snowman kit would make a really cute stocking stuffer, too.
  • Snowball toss with rolled up socks and laundry basket (See, I told you there are lots of simple ideas!)
  • Bake cookies
  • Birthday party for Jesus

We have also enjoyed singing Christmas songs.  It’s kind of funny, though – every time I sing, “Come to Bethlehem and see…” Judah jumps up and down with excitement and yells, “Me!  Me!”  He doesn’t want to be left out of any trips to anywhere, I guess.

So there’s a sampling of our Advent season.  I wanted to wear Santa hats to dinner one night, but that might have to wait until another year when we actually HAVE some.  😉

Our hope and prayer is that Judah – and all of us – will truly take time to reflect on the meaning of this Christmas season as we “come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing.”

Do you have any Christmas or Advent traditions that you do each year, or even ones that you want to start?  Please share them in the comments; I love traditions and hearing what others do!!


5 thoughts on “Come to Bethlehem and See: Our Advent and calendar

  1. Love your Advent calendar! My list of things to copy you on is growing rapidly. As I said before, I don’t feel like I have many traditions, but each year we do make cut-out cookies with frosting. In keeping with my family, we make cut-out sugar cookies, and in keeping with Andy’s, we make “Hungry Boy” cookies (a thick, gingerbread cookie). I’ll share the recipes if you’d like.

  2. Sooooooo sweet! Pics of kiddies squealing *requested! ❤

    I usually loathed advent growing up, because it felt like Sunday school and …work: Candle lighting, memorized prayers and talking about obedience. LOL…And Stephen always felt his Mom turned it into an activity solely about treats and fun stuff to do and not enough spiritual emphasis.

    When I prepared him for Mom's advent, he was actually SO EXCITED to do it with us as a family devotional. After, he wants to start a tradition of reading from the Dickens Christmas Carol each night. He does all the voices and it's kind of awesome, because he used to be in theatre.

  3. Pingback: Foodie Friday-ish: Shepherd’s Meal and Wheat Thin Crackers « Those Winklers

  4. How did you get your candles to stand up straight!? Great idea I love it I’m planning on doing this for our church craft day and I think this would work. But I must stick up on cereal huh! Lol

    • Hi, Lizette! Thanks for the comment. 🙂 Hope this works for your craft day (and you might want to get others to save some cereal boxes for you, too, or you might be eating cereal for dinner, too! 😉 ). The popsicle sticks actually fit in quite well when I just punctured the box with a pair of scissors then stuck in the sticks – I didn’t do anything else, but they stayed in fine.

      Also, just a thought, but depending on how much time you have for the craft, you may want to have the boxes painted ahead of time (or if it’s a multi-activity day, maybe start with painting, move on to something else, then go back to finish decorating when dry. Ours took a while to dry – but like I said, I used oil paint for walls so maybe that’s why!). You may know this, but you can get bingo dot markers at the Dollar Tree if you opt to use those to paint the sticks – we really found it so easy to use! Could also write Bible verses on the sticks to read each night instead of activities.

      Anyway, hope it goes well! 🙂

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