Q: I try to do as many special events as possible at Christmas, but doing so doesn't leave enough time to stress the importance of the holiday season with my young children. What ideas or practical advice do you have for incorporating the meaning of Advent into the everyday life of my family?
A: It's easier to be creative about Advent if you look through your child's eyes. Try to explore unique ways to promote Advent by using the following six ideas to guide your search:
1. Break down the stimulus. Christmas changes young childrens' worlds with decorations, busy schedules, and lenient rules. Within four short months, your child is pushed from one exciting event to another. School starts, Halloween comes (with lots of candy), Thanksgiving passes (lots of sweets), Christmas arrives (with presents and sweets), and New Years brings in another year of celebration. By Advent, your children may be exhausted. It's easier to teach deeper concepts if they are rested and calm—be sure to schedule quiet days, and plenty of opportunities for naps.
2. Explain why your decorations, programs, or preparations are important. Children will never understand Advent by osmosis. It's easier to hang the wreath or arrange lights when children are away or asleep but that doesn't involve them in the reason for the change. Bring Advent down to child-size proportions with a focus on one item at a time. Don't try to explain everything in one day. Instead highlight one decoration or one event each evening meal. Use the camel from your nativity scene to ask, "Why is this camel important? What was his job or function?" Discuss why the nativity scene is included in your decorations. Children will appreciate traditions and decorations more when they understand their meaning.
3. Keep your teaching fun and as short as a television commercial. Ask unique questions that will encourage your child to participate. "Do you think we can have a good Christmas without Christmas lights?" After your child shares his opinion, follow with a quick explanation and Bible reference. "I think the baby Jesus can be our light. The Bible teaches that he is the light of the world." Keep your focus on the reason for Advent, by being chatty with your child.
4. Set realistic goals. Don't expect your young child to feel the deeper meaning of Advent immediately. Set long-term goals over several years. Understanding our faith is best when it happens spontaneously.