A Christ-centred Christmas

Each year we endeavour to keep Christmas centred around blessing others and keeping our hearts focussed on Jesus. We have many family traditions that we repeat yearly to build memories and make the Christmas period a special time for our children without it being about Father Christmas (Santa) or the presents they will get.img_1710We usually decorate the house on the weekend closest to the 1st of December but this year we have some busy times coming up so we decided to get an early start. Our Christmas tree is decorated fairly sparingly because it will become our Jesse tree come the start of December as we add a symbol each day. This year we will be reading from Ann Voskamp’s book “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift” and opening a corresponding symbol to hang on the tree as part of our daily reading.img_1744 One tradition we like is to have the youngest child in the family place the star on top of the tree once the decorating is done.img_1758Watching Daddy as he turns on the tree lights for the first time. The children tell us that one of the things they love to do through December is to lay on the floor in the dark each evening and listen to our Christmas stories while watching the Christmas tree lights. img_1752We have collected several nativity sets over the years and have looked hard for those that can be handled by little fingers without being easily broken. This year we have bought out the same sets again but presented them a little differently with this large mirror I found secondhand as a backdrop. With the rocks and small stones to manipulate and create with, along with our wooden blocks, the children have enjoyed setting up all sorts of arrangements already, even if I do have to take out the occasional truck or car at the end of a day of play in Bethlehem.

To the right we have our golden bags filled with a Christmas book for each day of December. Over the years I have been building our collection by adding a few new titles each Christmas. The children take turns choosing and opening one bag each night to find the story we will share before bed.

We now have so many books (mostly secondhand) that we have a basket of Christmas stories available to read whenever the children wish as well as the wrapped titles. These stories are packed away throughout the rest of the year and old favourites are treated with joy as they come out for the Christmas season. img_1761We try to make as many of our decorations as possible about the real meaning of the season. We want people to walk into our house and be able to see that we love God. While everything is not beautiful, perfectly coordinated or particularly fancy, the children love setting it out and we like the festive feel it gives the room.(Not that we have anything against beautiful or fancy – I think Christmas decorations make wonderful Christmas gifts!!)img_1762 Our advent wreath and candles are lit each evening as we read and count down the days to Christmas day, when the white candle symbolising the birth of Jesus is lit. img_1753We have delivered a knock and run nativity to different neighbours for a couple of years now and enjoyed blessing them in secret. This year someone is blessing us with pieces to add to this beautiful nativity. Whoever you are, we love it and NO, the children are not allowed to play with this one!!

Our Blessing Buddies will be appearing soon for a Christian alternative to the Elf on the Shelf and the usual Christmas crafts and daily activities will be starting in a couple of weeks. Keep an eye out back here for lots of ideas for What’s in the box? toddler activities and ways to bless others throughout December. I would love it if you would share your favourite Christmas traditions with me – I am always on the lookout for new ideas.

 

 

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Blessing Buddies – 80 acts of kindness ideas for a Christian Elf on the shelf alternative

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The Blessing Buddies are the latest addition to our Christmas traditions and have come about in order to help us focus on blessing others throughout the Christmas season. We make an effort to ensure that we have a Christ-centred Christmas, designing our activities around the celebration of the birth of Jesus and continuing with some much-loved family traditions.

After seeing the Elf on the Shelf, Kindness Kids, Light ’em up, R.A.C.K. (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness) and other ideas that are around, I combined several elements and came up with our Blessing Buddies. The children will love the surprise of having something to search for each day, the fun of finding them in a new pose, a daily act of kindness directed towards others to complete (big or small), a character quality to focus on and bible verse to start our day.

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The Blessing Buddies will be making their appearance on the first of December. A boy and girl bendable wooden doll will “arrive” in a package in our mailbox. A poem of explanation will be included to introduce the concept. The dolls are part of a wooden doll house family from Kmart. They came with a Mum, Dad and baby for $15. The suitcase came off someone’s verge during the local verge collection! I just fixed it and covered it with Christmas paper. Sorry, don’t know where to find those in a shop; maybe somewhere like the craft section in Spotlight or Bunnings where you buy the blank cardboard/MDF wood boxes and shapes for craft projects?

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(Free printable Blessing Buddies introduction poem here.)

Each morning the children will find the Blessing Buddies hidden around the house in a different pose that links to the act of kindness we will be carrying out that day. They will also have a note with the day’s character trait including bible verse and discussion questions and a bag containing all the materials necessary to complete the act of kindness.

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Click here for free printables bible verse, character quality & discussion points for the Blessing Buddies (Large file, please be patient)

(As always, please link to this post for printables, rather than reproducing my work elsewhere. Thanks.)

The Blessing Buddies should be a lot of fun as we seek to be aware of those around us by meeting their needs, helping them to know that God loves them or simply just bringing some joy into their day. I have created a master list of ideas for blessing others with some suggestions of ways to pose the Blessing Buddies.

80 Acts of Kindness ideas:

  1. Get permission to access the Pastor’s office at church and plaster it with notes of appreciation and individually wrapped chocolates or lollies. This would also work in Dad’s work office, a teacher’s office or anything similar. Pose the Blessing Buddies with notes of appreciation (something kind the kids did the day before), sitting in a box or basket of individually wrapped chocolates, sealed in an envelope with writing pens and pretty note papers spread around, in the act of writing a note or with post-it notes stuck all over them.
  2. Do an act of service around the house; yours or someone else’s. You may know a new Mum, pregnant lady, an elderly person or someone who is sick. Tidy up an area, clean the bathroom and toilet, finish all the fixing in the fixing box, sew buttons or darn socks, tidy the bookshelves, or clean out the garage. Pose the Blessing Buddies wrapped up mummy style with thread in the sewing box, hiding in a bucket of cleaning equipment, hanging from the broom, making soap sculptures or laying inside a roll of toilet paper partway unrolled down the hallway as if they have been rolling along as it unravels.
  3. Do your sibling’s chores for the day. Pose the Blessing Buddies taking a boat ride in the sink with cleaning supplies, buried in a pile of mess or riding on the vacuum cleaner.
  4. Invite a friend or family member to a live nativity reenactment. Pose the Blessing Buddies holding tickets to the production and a carrot for the camels, or riding on a toy camel.
  5. Use the nativity set (or a Christmas book) to tell the Christmas story to your brothers or sisters. Pose the Blessing Buddies in a nativity sensory tub (A nativity set in a low flat container of dried beans or similar with rocks, artificial trees, block buildings, manger, stable, farm animals etc.), feeding the animals in the nativity set or reading a Christmas book to the nativity set figures.
  6. Write to your sponsor child and/or send a Christmas gift. Pose the Blessing Buddies with a half written letter or with a sack full of miniature gifts.
  7. Make a meal for someone elderly or sick. Pose the Blessing Buddies on top of a tissue box, holding a tissue to their noses with lots of scrunched up tissues all about – sick Blessing Buddies.
  8. Bury treasure at the local playground, school or childcare sandpit. Use plastic gemstones, large fake diamonds, plastic gold coins, gold buttons etc. Leave a sign telling the local children what you have done. Pose the Blessing Buddies in your own backyard sandpit with a note or poem in hand asking your children to find the lost treasure themselves first (To be re-buried for other children in the park), riding in a ship in the bath looking for lost treasure or playing in a miniature sandpit (shallow box lid with white sand or salt.)
  9. Decorate your own mailbox with pictures and a gift for the mailman. (Arrange to wait for the mailman that day to ensure he gets it.) Pose the Blessing Buddies in the mailbox with decorating and gift supplies or sealed inside a large envelope.
  10. Tape coins to a vending machine; the emergency room at a hospital would be good. Pose the Blessing Buddies inside a money box or inside an open chip or confectionary wrapper with just the toes sticking out and a few crumbs lying next to it.
  11. Leave money for the merry-go-round in the shopping centre. The children could do jobs around the house to earn the money to do this. Pose the Blessing Buddies holding a long list of jobs for the children to do titled “Will work for coins” with a pencil behind their ear. Include check boxes next to each job with money to be earned for each task, including a few treat “jobs” such as eat a cookie.
  12. Hide $2 coins in the kids’ toy section at the discount variety shop. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting inside a toy car going for a drive with some other toys or on a toy train on a train track with other toys on carriages behind.
  13. Go for a walk around the local area leaving Christmas lollies, chocolates or candy canes with a note of explanation; people may not eat them otherwise. Good places are bus stop seats, on the top of log fences or wherever people will see them easily. Pose the Blessing Buddies in a ballpit of lollies or riding a candy cane sled down the banister or stairs.
  14. Invite a lonely person/neighbor round for morning tea and bake special treats for them. Pose the Blessing Buddies making “snow” angels in 100’s and 1000’s spread on the bench or sitting in a teacup with teabags spread about.
  15. Gift and cards for piano teacher (school/ballet/sports teacher etc.) Pose the Blessing Buddies playing piano with sheet music set up in front, dressed in sports team colours/uniform with game snacks or wearing miniature bathers/ballet slippers or some other relevant item.
  16. Donate to your favourite charity, sponsor a child, buy a cow or well etc. through Compassion or another organisation who works with the poor overseas. Perhaps agree as a family to limit gift giving and use the money saved to give away. Pose the Blessing Buddies milking a toy cow with a tiny bowl of milk underneath or working with gardening tools
  17. Work at a Christmas day soup kitchen serving meals for the homeless. Pose the Blessing Buddies surrounded by veggies on the cutting board with a miniature knife in hand or sleeping in a tissue box with a tissue for a pillow and one over the top as a sheet with a note; I have a bed but some people don’t.
  18. Buy a newlywed or elderly couple a Christmas tree and decorate it for them. Pose the Blessing Buddies in a toy car with a miniature Christmas tree strapped to the roof (Use one branch/leaf from a regular size tree), standing decorated with bows and bells or hanging from the roof on a strand of tinsel.
  19. Decorate an elderly relative’s house or porch for them using their own decorations or yours. Let them know that you will come and pack it up again after Christmas. Pose the Blessing Buddies threading popcorn onto string, wrapped in Christmas lights or swinging on a tinsel swing (Thread a toilet roll on to make the seat.)
  20. Prepare Jesse tree symbols and readings for someone. Pose the Blessing Buddies hanging on the Christmas tree as if they were a decoration or as if constructing the symbols.
  21. Knock and run nativity (With poems of explanation for each one, secretly deliver 1 figure from the nativity each day to a neighbor, leading up to baby Jesus arriving on Christmas day. I have printables you can use for this – coming soon.) Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting in the manger cross-legged in front of Jesus or with baby Jesus in their lap.
  22. Go on an emu hunt (rubbish collection) in a public area and wherever you go for the day. Pose the Blessing Buddies hiding inside a miniature bin, inside the bag bag (plastic bag holder) finding bags for the rubbish, standing next to a pile of trash or facing a waste paper basket partly filled with crumpled newspaper balls with several balls on the floor as if they have been throwing them into the bin.
  23. Leave a sandpit toy at the local play area with a note of explanation. Pose the Blessing Buddies wrapped inside a box with the new sandpit toy or making sandcastles in the sandbox outside.
  24. Chalk messages of thanks or encouragement on people’s driveways. (We love the beautiful flowers in your garden, thank you for being great neighbours, have a wonderful Christmas etc.)Pose the Blessing Buddies holding a stick of chalk with a message drawn on a mini blackboard or sitting on your own driveway with a message in chalk.
  25. Donate toys or books to a waiting room. Pose the Blessing Buddies inside a slinky toy in the process of “walking” down the stairs, playing a board game or having a cotton-ball snowball fight with other toys from behind a Duplo or block fort.
  26. Leave plastic dinosaurs all around a playground. Pose the Blessing Buddies squeezed inside the plastic tube that the animals come in, riding on the back of a plastic animal or feeding the dinosaurs leaves.
  27. Leave bags of marbles in a playground. Pose the Blessing Buddies playing a game of marbles or inside the bag with their heads poking out at the neck.
  28. Make care packs for the homeless. (Our church will be coordinating this for us.) Pose the Blessing Buddies with Blessing buddy care packs for the children – snacks for the car, special drink etc.
  29. New mother bags/gifts at hospital. Pose the Blessing Buddies building a nappy tower (roll nappies tightly and tie with an elastic band), wearing a miniature nappy (pin a piece of white fabric) or swaddled and sleeping in the dolls house cot.
  30. Pick out a gift for the Kmart wishing tree (gifts for disadvantaged kids.) The children could work to earn the money to spend on this. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting with a tiny gift as if ready to open it (the kind that hang as decorations on the Christmas tree), gift wrapped and surrounded by scissors, tape and off-cuts or have gift bows stuck all over the bathroom mirror with the blessing buddies attached to the mirror by one of the bows.
  31. Hide money in the supermarket shelves with a note for a shopper to discover. Pose the Blessing Buddies sandwiched between tins and boxes in the pantry or squeezed inside a pantry storage jar with their face and hands pressed against the glass peering out.
  32. Have a pre-Christmas clean-out and donate good quality toys or clothes to charity. Pose the Blessing Buddies spelling out a message in magnetic letters on the fridge or inside a building made from the kid’s construction set.
  33. Put together pyjama and care packages for the local women’s refuge. Pose the Blessing Buddies brushing their teeth on the bathroom sink with a message on the mirror in toothpaste or having a bath in the dolls house bath with mini face washer and soap, hair wrapped in towel.
  34. Write and send Christmas cards to friends and family. Include a family photo, tract, yearly wrap up letter and family update. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting with a camera, surrounded by photos of themselves up to various antics, with the camera and other teddies all set up for a group photo, in an open box of cards with pens, envelopes and stamps or with a letter written and addressed to the kids (from the Blessing Buddies) for them to open.
  35. Donate food to the local food bank or church food parcel. (Include some special Christmas foods.) Pose the Blessing Buddies balanced on top of a tin can pyramid or rolling cans down the stairs.
  36. Leave candy canes or treats on cars in a car park. Pose the Blessing Buddies holding a note that says “I have hidden (however many) candy canes in this room. How quickly can you find them?” or hanging upside down from a candy-cane and ribbon swing or trapeze.
  37. Post or deliver a book about the true meaning of Christmas to someone. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting at the computer with the screen open to Book Depository or another online book retailer or reading a mini bible to the other teddies.
  38. Take Grandparents or friends on a drive to see the Christmas lights (Kids make invitations several days ahead) Wear PJ’s, play carols on the stereo and 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. Pose the Blessing Buddies holding golden tickets to “Mum’s Minivan Christmas Lights Express” with a single hole-puncher to punch tickets as people enter the vehicle, sitting inside disposable coffee mugs with lids (for the hot chocolate) and special snacks to have on the way or having a marshmallow snowball fight.
  39. Tape a gift card to a shopping trolley. Pose the Blessing Buddies holding a blessing buddies shopping list or a little bag with gift card inside.
  40. Take activity packs, crafts, balloons or colouring books to kids in hospital, a friend’s sick child or a disadvantaged family. Pose the Blessing Buddies surrounded by crayons with half-coloured picture in front of them, hanging under a large bunch of helium balloons or in a little basket under a single balloon made to look like a hot air balloon.
  41. Tape snack size popcorn, biscuits or chip packets to shopping trolleys. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting on the stove holding a wooden spoon and cooking up a “dinner” of Skittles/popcorn etc. in a small frying pan.
  42. Leave treat bags in all the teacher’s pigeonholes. (Clear this with someone in authority first.) Pose the Blessing Buddies with paper bags/baskets/boxes and craft materials to decorate or eating a chocolate; unwrapped with a chocolate smudge on face and chocolate crumbs around them.
  43. Wait at the bus stop and give the driver a coffee or homemade muffin or ask permission to jump on the bus and give all the passengers a flower or treat. Or just give them to the line of people waiting at your bus stop. Pose the Blessing Buddies riding on or in a toy bus, making a cup of coffee with instant coffee granules spilt across the bench or holding a bouquet of flowers.
  44. Give bubble mixture sets to kids in a public area. (The kind that are given out at weddings are pretty cheap.) Pose the Blessing Buddies holding the bubble blower, mixture open, with dribbles about.
  45. Fruit for firies: Decorate boxes and fill them with fresh fruit to deliver to the local fire station. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting in the fruit bowl with a peeled banana in their lap as if eating it.
  46. Nuts for nurses: take a bowl or box of small nut snack bags and leave them on the bench at the hospital nurses station. Pose the Blessing Buddies wearing a nurses uniform, one doctoring the other with a miniature doctors kit or cracking nuts with a nut cracker.
  47. Host a high tea for all the little old ladies at church or anyone you know who would appreciate it. Perhaps invite all the ladies in your street as a way to get to know your neighbours. Make a little craft, treat or decoration for each lady to take home. Pose the Blessing Buddies making the take-home gift such as beaded angels, miniature Christmas puddings or rocky road etc.
  48. Wait outside the grocery store and help people carry their bags or hold doors open. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting in the car with a drink bottle, snack &  lap blanket, wearing a badge; “I’m here to help,” or holding lots of tiny shopping bags (home-made paper bags or Barbie bags.)
  49. Put on a Christmas concert for family and friends or at a retirement village. Each child can sing a song, play an instrument, act out the Christmas story, tell Christmas jokes etc. Serve refreshments afterwards. Pose the Blessing Buddies playing a musical instrument (a tree decoration would be a good size), sitting at the piano with Christmas carol sheet music set up in front, reading a joke book or Christmas story or dressed in miniature nativity clothes (scraps of striped fabric, tinsel halo for angel.)
  50. Go through the McDonalds drive-through for icecream cones and pay for the order of the car behind you. Pose the Blessing Buddies holding an empty icecream cone and ice-cream scoop or riding in a line of toy cars with several other toys as if in a drive-through or stopped at a window of a take-away shop made from Lego.
  51. Blessing balls. Hang fillable baubles on Christmas trees in shop windows or at friend’s houses filled with edible treats or coins etc. Pose the Blessing Buddies squished inside a clear fillable bauble, hanging in the Christmas tree.
  52. Write love notes to leave in Daddy’s lunchbox and pack it for him with some extra special tasty treats. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting in a lunch box with pen and paper or eating a muffin or sandwich (bite out, crumbs around.)
  53. Leave a very generous tip at a restaurant.Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting next the word “tip” spelled out with coins or   drinking from a glass using a bendy straw.
  54. Give gingerbread biscuit nativity scenes to Sunday school teachers or neighbours. Pose the Blessing Buddies asleep on the packet of biscuits with head on a marshmallow pillow.
  55. Make Mum or Dad breakfast in bed. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting in the fridge on the egg carton. Colour or dye the shells of the eggs in the egg carton or write a message on the eggs (one letter on each.)
  56. Mailbox attack. Leave treats inside random mailboxes in the neighbourhood and/or decorate the mailboxes with handmade decorations. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting in a mixing bowl holding a mixing spoon with ingredients on the bench, making the crafts with scraps and equipment spread about, in your mailbox with the treats or dangling from a piece of tinsel wrapped round your mailbox (as if in the process of decorating it.)
  57. Make a list of things you love about someone and send it to them. Pose the Blessing Buddies holding a long list of things the blessing buddies like about the kids.
  58. Send postcards or Christmas cards to friends who have moved away or people who used to go to your church. Pose the Blessing Buddies in the midst of writing a postcard or Christmas card to the kids themselves.
  59. Give popsicles to outdoor workers (in hot weather.) Pose the Blessing Buddies hiding inside one of the popsicle molds or eating their own miniature popsicle – made of felt?
  60. Conduct a Christmas chocolate survey at your local shopping centre. Write down the name of the shop and ask the cashiers to tell you their favourite chocolate. Purchase their choices and slide them into decorated bags with a tract and card and tag of explanation. Deliver them back to the cashiers anonymously if possible. Pose the Blessing Buddies holding a partially eaten chocolate bar with a smudge of chocolate on their face, looking through junk mail catalogues or holding a pre-printed survey page with a bunch of cut out bag tag poems of explanation (I have printables.) Have the Blessing Buddies favourites already written onto the survey page.
  61. Pass out stickers to children waiting in a doctor’s office. Pose the Blessing Buddies covered in stickers.
  62. Take board games to a nursing home and play games with the elderly. Pose the Blessing Buddies playing a game of Monopoly with some other toys.
  63. Decorate placemats for meals on wheels or your church’s food parcel ministry. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting at the dolls house table and chairs with dinner set out on the table.
  64. Hold a spa day at a nearby nursing home for residents: paint their nails and do their hair and make-up. Pose the Blessing Buddies with their hair in crazy designs or sitting underneath a message on the bathroom mirror written in lipstick, with the lipstick open next to them.
  65. Donate your gently used stuffed animals to a local firehouse or police station to give to children in emergencies. (Do they do this in Australia??) Go to op shops and choose nice stuffed toys to take or donate your own. Pose the Blessing Buddies  hidden in a large pile of stuffed animals with only their faces showing, camping out with other teddies in an A-frame tent (T/towel over string between chair legs?) or tucked up in bed with the other teddies.
  66. Leave notes/postcards/sticker pages in your favourite library book for the next child to find. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting on a pile of books with one open that they are reading to a bunch of toys or peeking out from between the books in the bookshelf.
  67. Decorate the rubbish bin for the collector with posters and a gift. (We would need to stake out the truck and give ours in person as they usually wouldn’t get out of the truck.) Pose the Blessing Buddies tight-rope walking or riding a flying fox between the 2 rubbish bins.
  68. Pay for the meal/coffee of the person behind you in a take away line. Pose the Blessing Buddies inside a hamburger box or take-out coffee cup.
  69. Buy a gift voucher for the person behind you in the supermarket check-out lane. Pose the Blessing Buddies in a big box of packing peanuts gift wrapped, holding the voucher, building a coin stack or hiding in Mum’s shopping bag.
  70. Leave a food parcel for someone in need; knock and run style. Pose the Blessing Buddies in the oven with cooking equipment, recipe and ingredients or reading recipe books with a mixing spoon and measuring cups in their hands.
  71. Start a Christmas book per day tradition – wrap 24 books in paper to be opened each day in the lead up to Christmas. Choose 1 today to read to your little brother or sister. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting on the books with a large ribbon tied over them and the stack, with scissors and wrapping paper and scraps as if just finishing wrapping up the books or bound head to toe in the ribbon used to wrap the book stack.
  72. Make a cake for Jesus and start Christmas morning by singing Happy Birthday to Him. Pose the Blessing Buddies with an electric tea-light decorated to look like miniature birthday cake with a lit candle on top or holding a party whistle and wearing a party hat.
  73. Sell stuff you no longer want or need and donate to your favourite charity or someone who needs it. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting inside a large heart shape made of coins.
  74. Babysit for a single Mum or a friend so that they have the opportunity to go Christmas shopping or out for the evening. Have the kids plan games/craft/activities for the children you are watching. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting on a couch cushion eating a bowl of popcorn with a TV remote control next to them or cutting out paper snowflakes with cuttings spread everywhere while sitting at a doll-house sized table and chairs.
  75. Weed a neighbor or elderly person’s garden. Pose the Blessing Buddies outdoors in the garden planting a row of lollipops.
  76. Organise a garden makeover for someone in need. Pose the Blessing Buddies next to a little pot of soil with candycanes growing out of it or holding a seed packet with “candy cane seeds” written on the side.
  77. Brave the cold (for those experiencing a white Christmas) to deliver hot chocolate to an outdoor worker or bell ringer. Pose the Blessing Buddies sitting on the top of a large mug filled with mini marshmallows holding a teaspoon. Place a tin of cocoa next to the mug.
  78. Brave the heat (for those of us in the middle of summer!) to deliver cold drinks to construction workers or anyone who needs to be outdoors for any length of time. Pose the Blessing Buddies having a picnic with some other dolls and teddies using a child’s tea set.
  79. Fill parking meters that have nearly run out. Pose the Blessing Buddies as if they are having a car race with some other toys (all driving their own vehicles) and a finish line sign set up.
  80. Bring in all the neighbour’s bins after the rubbish truck has been. Pose the Blessing Buddies climbing a rope up the side of the bin or abseiling down the side.

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.

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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.

J star on tree

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?

Beaded cross advent Christmas craft

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Photo credit: my 11 year old son!

Christmas is fast approaching and with it all of our advent crafts and projects. In line with our focus on blessing others throughout the month of December, we will be making these beaded crosses for all of the ladies who attend our high tea. They are economical and very simple and require only a few items to make.

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You need:

  • Two nails (One larger than the other)
  • Approximately 1 metre of thin wire (Make sure it is flexible – the wire I originally tried was too thick to easily bend around the nails)
  • Thread/ribbon for hanging
  • Beads of choice (Check that the diameter of the holes will fit on your wire.)

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Anchor the two nails together by winding the wire tightly several times diagonally around the point at which they cross. Leave the wire attached to the centre and thread a few beads on at a time, winding it around one section of a nail heading out from the centre. As you wind back towards the centre, cross the wire over the part you have just beaded to anchor it tightly in place. Don’t forget to make a small loop of wire at the top of the centre nail to attach the string for hanging.

It took me around 10 to 15 minutes to make one cross from scratch and anchoring the nails was a little fiddly so if you are doing this craft with young children it may be a good idea to anchor the nails for them ahead of time. I expect that it will take my children around 30 minutes, depending on how many beads they decide to add. Seed beads will obviously take a lot longer.

IMG_1248 beaded cross

You can vary the colour and size of beads you use and even the size of the nails for a different look. Small crosses would work well for bookmarks and larger crosses for Christmas tree decorations.