Advent and Christmas Traditions 2014

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Christmas is a special time of year in our family. It is such a great time to deliberately focus on creating family traditions that will be remembered and treasured for a lifetime by our children, grandchildren and perhaps on through the generations. Each year we add a few more traditions and carry on with those we like that we have already started.

Here are some of the many things we do together as a family and extended family that help make Christmas special for us. Many of them I have posted about in the past (links included to those posts) and a few are new ideas that we will be starting this year for the first time. (I will add links to those as I post about them.) You may like to start a Christmas “to do” list so that some wonderful traditions will be started in your own family.

Bible reading scrolls to go with each name of Jesus.

Jesse trees. Each day we open a scroll containing a bible reading and the children take turns to unwrap the related symbol for the Christmas tree and hang it. We keep the scrolls in this pretty tree made from toilet rolls covered in contact paper (hot glued together) and the symbols gift-wrapped in a basket.

wrapped Jesse tree symbols

(The Jesse tree is a representation of Jesus’ family tree. Jesse was the Father of David and God promised David that his kingdom would last forever. It was through David’s line that Jesus comes and the symbols used on it traditionally represent those in Jesus’ family tree.) Traditional style symbols here, ideas for symbols here and links to more info on Jesse trees here.

Adam and Eve (The forbidden fruit)

We have also done a “Names of Jesus” Jesse tree. Each morning I read the bible reading from the scrolls while the children listened carefully to hear the name of Jesus contained within the reading. They then tried to guess what the symbol would be and took turns to open the wrapped symbols to add to the Jesse tree.

Shepherd

Our magnetic jewel Jesse tree with free printable symbols to colour was simple to do and the Children enjoyed having their own Jesse tree each.

jesse tree jewels finished IMG_8790

The Blessing Buddies will be making their first appearance this year. (Full post here.) A boy and girl bendable wooden doll will arrive in a package with instructions. Each day the children will find them hidden around the house in a different pose with details of the act of kindness for the day. They may be hiding in the oven with biscuit ingredients and a note saying that we will be baking biscuits for the neighbours or be caught riding a candy cane sled with instructions to hunt for hidden candy canes to give out at the supermarket.

Each morning the children take turns to open a door on our wooden advent calendar. Each little box holds a character from the nativity and occasionally there is a surprise treat to share. The characters are magnetic and are added to the scene above the boxes to eventually complete the nativity story. The child opening the box that day is allowed to arrange the characters however they wish, which leads to some interesting nativity set-ups!

advent candles and nativity

Every evening the advent wreath and candles are lit while we read our advent story. In past years we have read nightly installments from Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage, Tabitha’s Travels, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and others.

We have several nativity scenes set out for little ones to play with; a china set for the older children and fabric and wooden sets for the little ones. We plan to add to these each year in the after Christmas sales. In the after dinner rush to get PJ’s on and teeth brushed and be ready for our Advent story, those who are done play quietly with the nativity sets or browse through the Christmas books until the whole family is together. This year we will be adding them to sensory tubs with rocks, dried beans, artificial trees, block buildings etc. for even more interactive play. The advent candles are lit and tree lights turned on while we cuddle up and read together.

Christmas worship music and carols are playing in the house often throughout December, especially during craft activities, which gives the house that special Christmas atmosphere.

We attend a Carols in the Park each year with candles, animal rides, picnic dinner, snacks, deck chairs & blankets. Singing songs about the birth of Jesus under the stars with family and friends is one of the highlights of the season for the children.

rd to bethlehem camels

The Road to Bethlehem is another evening event we now attend yearly. Put on by one of the local churches, it is a walking tour/play/production depicting the biblical Christmas story. It never ceases to amaze us that they have a brand new baby in it every year. The camel rides are a highlight too.

books advent wrapped

I am gradually building up our set of Christmas books and now have quite a stack wrapped and under the tree for our Christmas picture book advent. The children take turns choosing one story to unwrap and read together each day. We also have a couple of Christmas videos for those afternoons following late night activities when more downtime than usual is called for.

Each year we look for ways to give “gifts for Jesus” by blessing others. Church Christmas hampers, shoe boxes for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child, choosing a Compassion gift of a water well etc. or giving gifts to local charities for underprivileged children are some of the ways we have done this.

Friends of ours like to get a group of friends, neighbours, Mothers and daughters etc. together to make gingerbread houses as an outreach. We do ours with a difference; rather than a house we make ours into a gingerbread nativity scene. The Ikea gingerbread house converts very easily into a stable by cutting the front panel in half and leaving the halves open like shutters. The chimney parts fit together to make a perfect manger. We are often given a lot of lollies around Christmas so we save them up and allow the kids to go to town building lolly nativity figures and decorating the stable. We then take the stable along on Christmas day to share with the extended family gathering with the rule that we do not bring it home again!

IMG_6774 christmas day concert

With more and more children in the family, we have started a Christmas day concert. Children from each family will play an instrument, do a dance, tell jokes, sing a song or perhaps whole families will join together to act out a nativity play or put on a skit. Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan lends itself well to a simple yet humorous retelling. Any other talent (serious or humorous) can be showcased for the family’s enjoyment. If this is too much for you, perhaps the children (of one family or extended family) could rehearse and put on a nativity play just for Daddy and the Grandparents on another day in December.

IMG_3814 christmas lights canals

Take a drive around the city to look at Christmas lights. Wear PJ’s, play carols on the stereo and take the Grandparents along. If 2 cars are needed, change combinations after each stop and talk to each other through walkie-talkies. Stop for a treat on the way or take hot chocolate in a thermos for the road. Buy disposable coffee cups with fitted lids for this purpose. Perhaps the kids can be in their PJ’s and packed off to bed early, only to find golden tickets hidden under their pillows entitling them to a Christmas lights extravaganza and instructing them to be in the car on the double. We are lucky enough to have Grandparents who take us out on their boat to see the Christmas lights in the Mandurah canals from the water.

Send out Christmas cards. Perhaps involve the children in making these.  Maybe a photographic record of the years’ highlights with descriptions could be included, along with a hand-written note to personalise each one. Art work or small crafts could be included.

Make something for the neighbours; perhaps Christmas puddings, crafts, jam, rocky road or whatever your specialty. We like to include a flyer of Christmas day service times from our church and a small tract explaining the Christmas message and walk up and down the length of our street delivering them. Our gift often has some kind of Christian symbolism such as the M and M Christmas story or the True meaning of the candy cane.

Knock & run nativity. The characters from the nativity set are delivered to a neighbour one at a time anonymously in the lead up to Christmas day with baby Jesus arriving on Christmas morning. We have written a cute poem explaining what to do and include bible verses with a rhyme to go with each character in the nativity.

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The tree is decorated on the weekend on or before the 1st of December (so that Daddy can be involved) with the children arranging it as they please while Mum and Dad take video and photograph the event. We also take individual and group photos of the Children in front of the tree for their own photo album memories and also for gifts, cards and other crafts. Christmas carols play in the background and the topping of the tree is saved for the youngest child who is able. Dad lifts them up while Mum takes the pictures. The group effort turns out a surprisingly even tree. Only one or two branches have massive overloading and they are surreptitiously corrected by the eldest while the little ones are busy collecting the next handful of decorations.

Some families purchase 1 new decoration for each child every Christmas and eventually give them to the children when they leave home to start their own Christmas traditions. The decorations may also symbolise something of significance from the year such as an accomplishment, interest or character trait.

Christmas photos of the children can also be used for mini picture ornament frames or printed in black and white on clear vellum and placed inside hollow glass or plastic baubles.

IMG_9266 craft a day for advent

Daily advent count-down craft activities mean that I get around to doing all those cute Christmas crafts the kids love. Everything needed for each craft is prepared ahead of time and placed inside a brown paper bag with the instructions on the top. When craft time rolls around, all we need to do is pull down a bag and gather a couple of extra items like scissors and tape and we are ready to go. The activities could be linked to the Jesse tree readings.

We like to hold a high tea for older ladies from church just to bless them. We try to invite different people each year, particularly those without family. All the fancy finger-food is prepared ahead and frozen to make it manageable on the day. The older children act as greeters and wait staff and love every minute of it. Of course they get a lot of attention and fuss made of them so why wouldn’t they!

Christmas Eve traditions are many and varied. When we were younger, our Grandparents slept over on Christmas Eve so that they are there for the early morning festivities. Some families like to open one gift on Christmas eve or one gift only on Christmas morning before heading off to church. A new pair of PJ’s is a nice Christmas Eve gift and means that the children all look good for Christmas morning photos. Family traditions have been built around particular videos being watched on Christmas Eve or perhaps a games night with hot chocolate is something your family would enjoy. Our church now holds services on Christmas Eve so that families who have very busy Christmas days can attend the night before.

As Christmas cards arrive throughout December, place them in a little basket on the table and read them out before praying for the senders of the latest arrival that night after dinner.

If you know of people with nowhere to go, you could invite them to participate in your Christmas celebrations. If you don’t have much planned, why not volunteer at a soup kitchen or one of the charity run Christmas lunches held around the city.

IMG_6658 unwrapping gifts

In the past we have lucky dipped a name of a family member to make a Christmas gift for, rather than purchasing. Other years we have purchased only for the children, rather than the adults. Choosing one family gift for each family is another idea. (Tickets to a water playground with toys and snacks to share together, an icecream Sunday or hot chocolate pack, adults & kids DVD with snacks are a couple of ideas.) This year we gave some families a set of our craft advent bags before Christmas as their gift. You may like to think about giving tools not toys.

The Mummy & Daddy shop is open for business during December for sibling gifts. The children use their hard-earned pocket money to purchase small gifts for their siblings from a selection I pre-purchase for this purpose.

On Christmas day itself, we start the morning with our final advent reading and prayer. Later in the day we may have a birthday cake and sing happy birthday to Jesus.

We try to spend some time in the lead-up to Christmas day role-playing & discussing gift receiving etiquette. We discuss and act out scenarios covering what to do if you already have the same item, comments children can say to the gift giver once the present is opened, the importance of being truthful whilst respecting the thought, time, money and effort that the giver has gone to in order to give them their gifts, tactful ways to respond when the gift is not something they like, want or need & guarding their facial expressions when they see the gift for the first time.

IMG_6750 gift giving

One side of the family like to give out the gifts at the Christmas day celebrations to one person at a time while everyone else sits and enjoys seeing what has been chosen. One person, often Grandpa, hands out the gifts to the youngest children first and works up by age. This means that the littlest ones can quietly play with their gifts if watching for the duration is just too much. The children sit on Grandpa’s knee to open the gifts while we all watch.

You may like to set limits on the amount you buy and model your spending on the 3 wise men; gold (bigger/want) myrrh (something to wear), frankincense (spiritual) or perhaps this little poem; Something you need, something you want and something to read.

A friend of ours puts tags on the gifts under the tree in code so that the children can’t figure out who’s is who’s or what they are getting ahead of time. That, plus not putting the gifts under the tree until Christmas eve keeps everything a surprise. In the morning, part of the fun is working out who gets what gift.

We choose not to include Santa or Father Christmas in our celebrations. I have a full post on why here.

The yearly Christmas day family photo is a must with all the extended family.

IMG_8963 christmas head gear headband

Grandma’s fancy Christmas headgear, earrings and necklaces are becoming legendary and our children have begun to join in the fun at church with flashy headbands during Christmas services.

The after lunch water pistol fight is great for a cool down on hot Christmas days, following the simple and usually outdoor lunch. Everyone pitches in to bring food and the host family rotates each year to spread the load. Bonbons, paper hats and bad jokes are part of the atmosphere and there is often goodie bags for the kids and/or a fancy treat kiddy dessert (gingerbread houses, rocky road Christmas tree cones etc.)

Don’t forget to collect great recipes others serve you while out and about and get family recipes traditional for Christmas time (Nana’s fruit cake etc.) written down before it is too late. In their own handwriting, laminated or framed is extra special after they are gone.

Put aside a little time in the week after Christmas to have your own mini debrief. What did and didn’t work, things you want to do next year, what to change, ideas to remember etc.

Through the year perhaps ordering some gifts or decorations online or in the after Christmas sales will save time and money for the following year. Maybe hand-made gifts can be planned so they can be made over the course of the coming year.

Keep a list in your purse of items you have already purchased and a list of people you will be buying for and update it through the year as you see items on sale. Pick up your cards, wrapping and decorations on sale after Christmas.

Don’t forget to post thank you cards from you and the children. Homemade cards are more meaningful but do take longer. Young children can dictate for you to write.

Check out Pinterest and other online resources for ideas in the lead-up to next year.

What are your favourite family traditions for the Christmas season?

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Outdoor activities: “There’s nothing to do!”

Choose toys that promote cooperative and group play.

Outdoor time is important for children. They need exercise and time to let out the energy and noise that has been building up inside them during quiet times indoors. In our family, it’s a time for all the children play together and I find it goes so much better if they find some kind of game, project or activity to do together rather than just milling about without a purpose.

Toys that can be used by multiple children at a time are more versatile.

Older children can usually make good decisions as to how they are going to use their time, but the younger ones need a little more direction of some appropriate play ideas. I find if I spend just a few moments getting them started I can leave them and they will happily play together for quite long periods of time. Friction and bad choices are more likely to happen when I send them all out at once without some guidance.

It’s a bit harder when the weather is wet (see wet weather ideas) but make the most of the fine days and be flexible with your routine. If the weather is fine in the middle of the day and may not be in the afternoon (when you usually send them out), make use of the sunshine when you have the chance.

Here are plenty of ideas to get you started. I’d love your ideas too, so please leave a comment if you can think of something to add to the list.

  • Weaving wall Bend and tape the ends of a piece of chicken wire or large piece of plastic garden trellis etc. Provide a variety of materials for children to insert and weave through like string, wool, fabric strips, ribbons, straws, feathers and nature items like leaves and sticks.
  • Washing dolls/teddy clothes Set up a tub with soapy water and a string washing line with pegs and set out the dolls clothes for children to wash and peg out to dry.
  • Washing the dishes Wash plastic tea sets and sand toys and anything else that will survive a good dunking. Provide wash cloths and T/towels to dry.

It was a damp day so the children made a “waterproof” cubby with our outdoor sheets.

  • Camping & sheet cubby houses Old sheets and curtains that can be draped over outdoor play equipment, chairs or a rope tied between 2 poles are a great open-ended activity. Have snack time or lunch in the tent. Provide tea sets and other pretend play equipment to add variety.
  • Watering Children love to water pot plants and gardens. A hose turned on very low (just a trickle) will keep a toddler going for ages.
  • Boats Place end caps on a length of gutter, use a plastic crate, half a shell sandpit lid or whatever else you have on hand to fill with water. Sail boats or float objects in the water. These can be actual boats (bought or those that the children have made) or just leaves, sticks and other nature item.
  • Bird watching/animal care Install a nesting box with viewing flap or birdbath to encourage birds in the backyard. Avoid feeders that encourage birds to become dependent on you providing food. Keep pets.
  • Water painting Provide house paint brushes and containers of water for children to “paint” paths, patio floors, walls etc. Make clear guidelines as to where the water may be used. Most hardware stores have very cheap sets of large brushes.
  • Pavement chalk Available through most discount variety stores, pavement chalk can be the stimulus for many other games. Designate surface to be used that will be washed clean by the rain to limit cleanup or provide brooms and water as part of the activity. My children like to draw road signs, arrows and directions on the paths around our backyard which then leads on to many other creative vehicle games.
  • Paddle pools, water tables, sprinklers and other water play activities in warm weather. (See here and here.)
  • Hoppers (see here.)

Sand play will always be a favourite and is great for a wide variety of ages.

  • Sandpits Shade will make these more attractive in summer. Add water for instant (but messy) mud fun. A toy oven or even a cardboard box oven and some old kitchen equipment (eg pans, pots, utensils, plastic plates, cups etc.) promotes pretend play. “Shops” is a popular game and some kind of shop front such as a small bench, limestone block etc. will spark interest. Children can collect nature items to “sell” and pay with leaves etc.
  • Herb and veggie gardens Planting, watering, weeding, tasting and other fun to be had here.

  • Blackboards use blackboard paint or prepared board and make coloured chalk available. Good for shops and many other pretend play games. Also paint brushes and water work well on blackboards.
  • Woodwork Provide real tools and the oportunity to use them in a safe way. An old tree stump or large block of wood with hammer and nails to pound in. Lengths of wood to cut in a vice. Small wooden wheels or bottle caps with holes drilled in to hammer onto wooden blocks for vehicles. A designated workbench and good selection of tools and materials to work with will be well used.
  • Wheat tray Large bags of wheat are available from places like City Farmers for a reasonable price. Use sand or water toys and many of the ideas in the sensory table post. Caution – it does attract mice and birds so keep in an airtight container and teach children to sweep up spills.
  • Jumping Provide an old mattress for children to jump and bounce around on and perhaps a low, safe launching place to jump from. A waterproof covering is ideal but not essential.
  • Trampolines are a standard favourite and buying one with a safety net reduces the associated risks.
  • Balls and skittles Weight plastic bottles with sand or wheat and glue closed.
  • Hoops, buckets, bins and beanbags Hang hoops or create other targets (eg. buckets) to throw beanbags through or into. Older children can use a scoring system.
  • Vehicle tracks Make oversized road signs (stop/go sign, traffic lights etc.) and set out markers (beanbags, rocks, sticks etc.) for a race track for children to use their bikes or ride-on toys around.
  • Cardboard boxes Old large boxes can be cubbies, forts, boats and a myriad of other things. The bigger the better, just let the imagination run. Adult help to cut windows, viewing flaps, insert card tube telescopes etc will add to the fun.
  • Bubble blowing A variety of blowers adds to the interest. Provide small containers so that spills do not waste your entire supply. There are many homemade recipes for mixtures on the internet – glycerine is usually needed for good bubbles.
  • Stocking ball  (See here.)
  • Treasure/scavenger hunt Bury “dinosaur bones” in the sandpit (bleached chicken bones) or give children a list of items to collect around the yard – make it pictorial for young children. Spray-paint rocks gold to make wonderful pirate treasure and hide them in the sand or around the yard. Kids love to search for treasure.
  • Kites & parachute men Easy run-along kites in windsock style can be used without help. Parachute men can be made from garbage bag plastic attached to toy men or popstick people for dropping fun if children are able to climb up on playground equipment or similar.
  • Spray bottle water tag Choose small spray bottles for little hands.
                                          Yes, that is my eldest SON on the right!
  • Dress-ups & mirror Spread out a sheet so that clothes can be looked through without getting too dirty. Providing a mirror enriches dressing-up games and makes them so much more appealing.
  • Window washing Provide a small amount of soapy water and a window squeegee for lots of fun.
  • Finger painting/soap painting Lux soap flakes mixed with warm water and a little food colouring and whipped makes good finger paint that washes off quite well. (Be careful about the kind of food colouring you use and possible staining of clothes.)
  • Musical noise maker Hang pots and pans, old tools, cutlery or anything metal that will make a satisfying sound when banged and tapped.

  • Butchers paper wall art Mount a large roll of butchers paper on the wall with a smooth surface behind. Child pulls down a new length to paint or draw on before cutting off their finished creation.

Send out the dolls, teddies and prams and lots of “family” type play takes place. My eldest son likes to role-play protecting the “family” from many and varied dangers and going out hunting in the vein of Little House on the Prairie.