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When I was a kid, advent was the season for opening little doors on a calendar, preferably one with chocolate inside. In other words, I loved advent. It didn’t have much to do with prayer or contemplation—I didn’t even know that was a thing. (My husband and I didn’t grow up attending churches that followed the liturgical calendar. Our current church doesn’t, either.)
But a few years ago, we decided we wanted to infuse our Christmas season with more peace and more reflection. We wanted to build in more time to talk about what we were celebrating and why. A daily advent ritual seemed like a great idea, though technically we had no idea what we were doing.
We thought there should be candles and a devotional? Praying? Possibly singing? We weren’t sure, so we just leapt in. Now our advent ritual is such a fun part of our season that we even invited friends to join us this year.
Is there a ritual that you think would make the holidays even more meaningful for your family? Maybe you want to read the Christmas story out loud to your kids. (This children’s Bible has one of our favorite versions, and it’s probably available at a bookstore nearby.) Maybe you’ve been thinking about attending a special holiday service. Or maybe there’s something you’d like to do at home: lighting candles, praying together?
Starting something new can feel a little overwhelming. Here’s what helped our family ease into a new spiritual practice.
Choose practices you think are awesome, or at least important.
Kids, in general, are intuitive sorts of people. They can tell when you’re excited to try something. They can also tell if you’re just going through the motions. One of these scenarios will produce cooperative kids; the other, not so much. Choose rituals and practices that matter to you, not just ones you think you should do.
Keep it short.
The reading, the prayers: this stuff can take some getting used to. Keep it short and sweet and let them ask for more. We use this devotional. Another great choice is to read one chapter out of the Jesus Storybook Bible each night. If you use a more traditional reading, it’s okay to just choose a short piece rather than stick to the script.
Focus on the stuff they already like.
Our kids love singing as a family, so while we keep our advent reading short, the advent singing goes on and on. And on. With great enthusiasm.
The hands have it.
If they have to sit quietly, our kids appreciate having something to hold. A nativity figure works well. So do flameless candles or little LED prism lights (ours are from Ikea).
Something to nibble.
We make a pot of Sleepytime tea to sip during our advent devotionals, and sometimes we have cookies. We are simple creatures. Treats entice us.
Let them know what to expect…
Our advent time starts with the lighting of the candles, then we read a short devotional, pray, and sing. When we’ve sung the last song, the kids all tiptoe straight up to bed. We have a little routine so the kids know what’s coming and can join in more easily.
…But be flexible.
Except some nights we cut things short. Some nights we do advent during dinner, because we can tell someone or other needs an early bedtime. The specifics aren’t as important as just doing it.
Start small. Use what you’ve got.
We don’t have a special wreath or special candles. We don’t do a traditional reading or recite traditional prayers. It’s not the Right Way, we know. We’re missing out on some of the rich history and symbolism of the practice, we understand, but we’re still learning. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be meaningful.
Feed YOUR soul.
If the family version ends up feeling just right for the kids but a little too light for you, it is perfectly okay to do your own thing later, maybe after littler ones are in bed. You can do some things as a family, and others your own way, without helpers, without an audience. You can read more, pray longer, take deeper breaths. One ritual doesn’t have to meet everyone where they are.
Take one step.
No matter what you have in mind — whether you want to read the nativity story aloud or attend a Christmas Eve service, have your own candle-lighting or lead the children in prayer on Christmas morning, whatever it may be — jump in. Give it a try. Start where you are. Be who you are, with what you have. Your celebration doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s, and it doesn’t have to look just like your own childhood, either. Make it your own. Make it fit.
It doesn’t have to be perfect to be meaningful.
Just get started.