I’m trying to catch lightning in a bottle, carefully crafting my daughter’s impressions of Christmas as being magical, one of family and warmth, of cozy reading and precious traditions passed down to her, bonding her to our family, rooting her in love, creating the foundation of celebrating Christ’s birth in our adventures in advent season.
She is four and a half, young enough that everyday moments still inspire wonder and excitement, old enough that these moments are becoming memories, hopefully that she will pass onto her own children someday.
When I think back to my Christmases as a child, I struggle to remember more than a handful of specific gifts. A favorite sweater, my first Walkman, and a guinea pig all stand out, but very few presents ended up making much of an impression. Yet the holiday magic my family created some of the warmest and fondest memories of my life.
We start our Christmas season the weekend after Thanksgiving. Here are a few of our adventures in Advent this year.
1. Trimming the tree
My family used to cut down a real tree, which is a magical memory to have. We traipsed through the snow, Dad with a hacksaw and carpet square. We spent hours standing in the freezing cold arguing over the perfect tree. I remember watching Dad try to tie it to our woody station wagon with a minimum of frustrated grumbling, later turning the bad spot to the wall and anchoring the tree so it doesn’t crush anyone. Mmm, seems like my nostalgia is perhaps better than the actual experience was.
But with concerns about fire plus the joy of not having to string lights means we opted for a pre-lit fake Christmas tree from Home Depot. I think it looks pretty anyhow. I tucked a scent stick in the tree so it even smells piney.
Daddy hauls out the box of ornaments. He unwraps and secures a hook to each one while I share the history of each ornament, from the angel playing the flute the year I joined band to the diploma ornament from the year I graduated.
Our daughter sits wide-eyed listening with rapture. She already asks me to tell her the stories for each of her ornaments and feels the connection to our history as a family. Especially as an adoptive parent, I want to give her these roots in our past.
We spent the day listening to Christmas music and trying to be patient with a little girl who was way too excited. After the tree is trimmed decorations start to fill shelves and tables, candles get lit, and the house starts to feel like Christmas.
One of the final touches is the nativity. Daddy reads the Bible story while we place the pieces in the nativity set as they are mentioned, starting with Mary and ending carefully with baby Jesus. My parents had all the pieces wrapped in newspaper so we had to scramble to unwrap each piece to find the correct character. Ours were in an old stocking and she had to reach in to find the sheep or camel or angel. She had so much fun listening to this story for at least the hundredth time, trying to anticipate which piece would be next.
We usually do a Snowman calendar countdown, but this year I found a great little thing at a dollar store. I love it because it is teaching her to countdown, plus has a daily activity. Yesterday was a coded mystery word puzzle. I showed her how each letter related to each picture in the code, and she wrote out the “Happy Holiday” all by herself. She couldn’t read it, but wrote all the letters so carefully. She was so proud of herself.
This has coloring, mazes, puzzles, drawing and more – for $1. This was a fun way to countdown the holiday season.
We have an advent calendar that we open and read every night, but this year we’ve added reading a portion of the story of Jesus’ coming every night from the Christmas Bible Reading Plan for Children. While some of the scriptures are over her level, we read them together as a family and talk about how each one is part of Jesus coming to redeem us.
Before we read, we summarize the story so far, and then read the next scripture, adding in the next part of the story. We talk about how Elizabeth must have felt preparing for John’s birth or how Mary must have been so surprised when the angel first appeared.
5. Books and Trinkets
This is a new tradition, I saw someone doing the 25 books of Christmas on Facebook and thought that sounded like a lovely idea. After we finish with the Bible reading, she gets to open a tiny trinket like glitter pens or a new book. I started with the idea of doing a book every night Dec. 1-24, but that is a lot of books and was going to be too expensive. We ended up with 12 books and 12 small toys or treats.
We can read our new books building up to Christmas as her bedtime reading. Most of the books are winter or snow related, a few are Christmas themed, some are books I remember from my childhood and a few are books she can enjoy all year round. I will share our list of books with reviews in another post.
6. Movies, music, and munchies.
Filling our home with the sounds and smells of Christmas is important to me. We are taking time to bake, watch old favorites like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and listen to hours of Christmas classics.
Today is the 50th Anniversary of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, so we watched the movie, sang the song, and baked reindeer cookies with her friends (I will share the recipe later). It was magical. The kitchen was full of squeals and giggles, hands full of dough.
I can’t create a Hallmark movie out of our life because it isn’t real or fair to set such expectations, but I want to create a sense of growing closer, being more focused on Jesus and God’s love for us all as we head toward Christmas and the coming new year. And I want her to forever be reminded of love and home and family and Christ when she celebrates the holidays with her family.
*One thing my parents did was carefully weave together the serious focus on the true reason of celebrating Christ’s miraculous birth into our traditions and yet leaving a little room for the fun of Santa.
I’m still working out how to do that for my little one and be true to the woman God is calling me to be. I know the Santa issue is a source of real debate, but for right now, we are trying to walk a careful middle line as Jesus being the main focus, but letting Santa, the Elf on a shelf, and Rudolph be fun characters that help us celebrate.