But this year, I finally realized I am totally missing the point. The reason we wait to decorate for Christmas, the reason we avoid bringing our kids to crazy shopping malls, is to instill a sense of hopeful, peaceful wonder as we approach the coming of Jesus. My frenetic attempts to make them experience these things is exactly the way to ensure that they will not experience them. "Come on kids! Hurry up and ponder the mystery of the coming of Jesus! Now!"
So I revamped my plan for Advent this year. Actually, I didn't change too much, but I drastically changed my approach and attitude. And I added one very important thing.
Our family is a story family. If everything is falling apart around us, if every child is screaming, I can sit down on the couch and open a book and soon peace reigns again. I realized this year that the missing piece of our Advent preparation was stories. This is where we find our peace and our inspiration! Not in workbook pages or coloring sheets, but in stories. That is why the Jesse Tree is a tradition that works so well for us; the kids decorate and cut out ornaments while I read from the Bible about salvation history.
This year, I decided to go a step further with our stories and choose one book for each day of Advent. We read the book in the morning, then the kids look through a box to find an envelope labeled with the title of the book we just finished. In the envelope is an activity that is somehow (sometimes distantly) related to the story. Some activities are super simple (paper snowflakes, video clips) and some are a little more involved. This way, I can choose which activity I want to do on a given day, depending on how much time we have and how the littles are doing, and then choose the book to read accordingly. Then they still have the joy and surprise of opening the envelope to discover the day's activity.
This being my first year, I used the random assortment of Christmas books we already had on hand, added some from the library, and picked a couple of gems to add permanently to our collection. In future years as we continue this tradition, I hope to replace some of this year's stories with others from the seemingly endless trove of beautiful Christmas books. (I am open to suggestions!) While it may look like a lot of work, in fact planning these daily stories and activities has simplified my days. If we get nothing else done, my goal is to read one book, do one simple activity, and put up a Jesse Tree ornament. That's not so overwhelming, and the kids really enjoy it!
Mainly for my sake, so I can access this list next year, here is our list of books and activities:
Who is Coming to Our House, by Joseph Slate: Make a sacrifice manger (our is simple construction paper and yarn, but the link gives you an idea of what it is)
The Friendly Beasts, by Tomie dePaola: Telephone Christmas Caroling
The Nutcracker, by Vladimir Vagin: Watch the Nutcracker Ballet
The Miracle of St. Nicholas, by Gloria Whelan: Make a list of blessings
The Legend of the Poinsettia, by Tomie dePaola: Make a paper poinsettia
Mortimer's Christmas Manger, by Karma Wilson: Set up children's Nativity set
Christmas in the Manger, by Nola Buck: Make tinfoil stars
Reindeer Wish, by Lori Evert: Make ice candle holders
The Clown of God, by Tomie dePaola: Make "juggling ball" cookies
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost, illustrated by Susan Jeffers: Make paper snowflakes
Three Wise Women, by Mary Hoffman: Bake bread (probably banana or zucchini... something easy)
Charlie Brown Christmas, by Charles Schulz: Make pom pom pinecones
God Gave us Christmas, by Lisa Tawn Bergren: Make a popcorn cranberry garland
An Orange for Frankie, by Patricia Polacco: Make orange pomanders
Cobweb Christmas, by Shirley Climo: Make pipe cleaner spiders
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski: Soap carving
Lucia, Saint of Light, by Katherine Bolger Hyde: Bake Lucia Buns
The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Jan Brett: Color 12 Days coloring pages
The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden: Listen to the Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy
The Lady of Guadalupe, by Tomie dePaola: Make paper bag tilmas
The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg: Drink hot chocolate stirred with a candy cane
Christmas Day in the Morning, by Pearl S. Buck: Make a card for someone and send it to them
The Little Drummer Boy, by Ezra Jack Keats: Watch the Claymation Christmas Little Drummer Boy video clip
Feel free to use all of these ideas if you feel they will help your family prepare for Christmas, or none of them if it seems like just one more thing to worry about. If you have any Christmas favorites, or simple activities, I'd love to hear about them!