A sugar-free advent calendar

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We have several different Christmas advent traditions running throughout December, one of which is opening the little numbered boxes on our wooden stable. Magnetic figures are added to the stable scene each day to tell the Christmas story and traditionally there would be a treat of some kind for each child. In order to cut down the junk over this period we have opted for non-food related fillers for a while now. Last year I purchased a secondhand random assortment of Lego bricks. I had my eldest son make little things from the blocks for each child each day. There were miniature birdhouses, cars, furniture and all kinds of things to open. They loved it, but we don’t have the benefit of another pile of cheap Lego bricks to use so I am going to borrow a great suggestion from one of my readers Kath, who commented on my Christ Centred Christmas Traditions  post to say that she has purchased a 260 piece jigsaw puzzle for her advent calendar. She has split it up into 25 piles of pieces and each day the children will add them on to eventually complete the full puzzle.

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I have whipped out and bought a puzzle so we can do the same thing as I think it is a wonderful idea. I first made the puzzle which took both my husband and I over an hour (did I mention I hate doing puzzles?) then took out groups of around 10 pieces. I wanted each day’s pieces to be able to join up to form a section of the puzzle, rather than a random assortment that may not join together for quite some time. This puzzle is very detailed and shows many scenes from the biblical story of the first Christmas so I wanted to place the sections in the order that they occurred to slowly build on to the story. I also numbered the back of each set so that I NEVER have to do this jigsaw again because as I said, I detest doing jigsaw puzzles.

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The piles of pieces are safely behind each little wooden door, ready to build on to our masterpiece each morning and should provide some Christmas fun. Thanks Kath for the great idea.

 

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.

 

 

Christmas Blessings

IMG_9054We have been searching out our Blessing Buddies each day to find out how we will be blessing someone else rather than ourselves this Christmas. Rather than a new blessing every day we have chosen a few bigger blessings to work towards this time.

The two eldest girls and myself participated in “The Road To Bethlehem” which is a live nativity show that takes 30 minutes to progress through as groups move from scene to scene. We enjoyed selling cloth and news scrolls to the crowd and working on our funny banter. While we enjoyed it, there certainly was an element of work as we repeated the same scene over and over again for around 4500 people over 3 nights. It was good for the girls to be reminded that it wasn’t about them and that the purpose was to bless those coming to view the show, rather than what we could get out of it.IMG_8969 We cooked up a storm for a ladies high tea at our home which was a blast as we served 22 hard working women from our church as a way to thank and bless them for all they do throughout the year.IMG_8931 The children made take home gifts for the ladies. These snow covered luminaries were very effective and so easy. Jars painted with PVA glue and sprinkled with epsom salts sparkled and the electric tea lights gave a lovely glow to the tables. We found an old Christmas tree on the side of the road during verge collection and cut off all the branches and berries to make the napkin rings and jar decorations, as well as mini Christmas trees is pots.IMG_9045IMG_9078We will be dropping off biscuits to the pastoral team and workers in the church office today as a thank you to them. The children have created hand-made thank you cards to go with them. The Blessing Buddies did get into the choc-chips first though!IMG_8929My eldest son used branches from the park to put together the stable we used for our new nativity this year and the separate parts have been arriving daily with the Blessing Buddies.IMG_8943 Occasionally the blessing of the day includes the children and they were lucky enough to be able to eat the Blessing Buddies’ bowling balls.IMG_8950 “What’s in the box?” hasn’t been that much of a hit this year. The purpose of this in the past has been to give the youngest child (usually 18 months to 2 1/2 or 3) something new and interesting to play with while the older children work on the craft or blessing of the day. This year though the youngest is too young for it and has her own table activities and the next youngest (3 1/2) would rather do the same activities as the other children. Next year it will be back in full force as our little one will be the perfect age but I have let it slide for now in favour of our craft of the day. The pretend play cooking activity above would have been loved last year but just hasn’t hit the mark with the in-between ages this time.

What are you doing in your family to help them focus on blessing others this year?

For a tonne of acts of kindness blessing ideas see blessing buddy ideas, Christmas “What’s in the Box?” ideas are great for toddlers and we used many Christian craft links for our Advent craft count down. Ideas for family traditions for a Christ-centred Christmas are here.

Christmas Traditions 2015

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The Christmas season is in full swing for us as we begin our many special traditions again this year. As always, we have tried to keep the focus on Jesus and blessing others over this period, rather than on presents and “getting.”The Blessing Buddies have arrived with their acts of kindness  for others and the children are excitedly searching for them each morning to see what they are up to. (Full explanation, printable poem and many acts of kindness ideas here.)

We are opening one special Christmas book to read each evening. This year I have sewed 24 bags for the books that I can reuse year after year.

The child of the day rushes out each morning to open the advent calendar and place the nativity figure onto the stable. Rather than treats this year, our advent calendar has an envelope filled with a handful of Lego for each child to open on their appointed day.  I was able to buy a huge bag of secondhand Lego cheaply at an op shop and had my eldest make up little sets for each day.

The same child takes their turn to pull out the day’s Jesse tree reading. This year we are focussing on the symbols of Christmas, looking at their meanings and how they can help point us and others to God.

Decorating the tree was eagerly awaited as always and our youngest placed the star on top as is our tradition, despite the fact that Daddy had to hold her hand in place to do it.

Another morning search finds our “What’s in the box?” Christmas table activity tray for the day. These Montessori style trays are for the toddlers and young children to do while the older children work on more difficult crafts or activities.

After our morning devotion using the symbol of the day we look in the craft box to find a special Christmas activity for the morning. With carols in the background we create something special, often related to the blessing of the day and meant to be given away to bless others.

We will be cruising the canals admiring the Christmas lights soon and attending the living nativity in a couple of weeks, with one important difference this year – the girls are in it. Our high tea for the senior church ladies is all set for a couple of Saturday’s time and we have a full schedule leading up to Christmas.

Having asked the children some weeks ago what they remembered as special about Christmas in our family I was glad to see that they did recall most of the traditions we have started and were looking forward to doing them again. Hopefully they will look back on this family time with fond memories and a heart that is knitted to us and their siblings for life.

For a full list of all our Christmas tradition and family identity building ideas for the Christmas period, see this post.

Blessing Buddies; What have they been up to?

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Making flour footprints with an invitation to cook something tasty for the ladies who meet in our house once a month.

Since their arrival on the first of December, the children have been enjoying searching for the Blessing Buddies each morning and finding out what their act of kindness for the day is going to be. Our 2 1/2 year old is also loving searching for his special Christmas activity box each day.

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The Blessing Buddies were found on the front doorstep on Dec 1, along with the special sparkly box with the day’s toddler Christmas activity and supplies for the first act of kindness.

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Baking biscuits was messy but fun – 6 children in pairs baking 120 biscuits was a bit crazy but we did it!

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My favourite blessing so far. We went down to the local shops and surveyed the shopkeepers of the smaller stores, asking them to name their favourite chocolate bars. We then went into Coles and purchased their choices and delivered them back with a note from the Blessiing Buddies explaining the real reason for the Christmas season. Lots of fun seeing their faces when they received their chocolate. We deliberately waited until they were busy to stealthily (not so much!) place the bags on the counters and dash out again before any reward other than their smile could be forthcoming.

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The children were outraged that the boy Blessing Buddy was being mean! I thought it was funny but they could only focus on the injustice! They don’t seem so concerned when they are doing similar things to their own siblings!

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The end result of the previous blessing craft. These felt trees were very easy to do (hot glue gun the bits together for the young ones and sew them on for the older kids) and the end result was really stunning. They look a lot nicer in real life than the photograph shows. They will make lovely Grandparent gifts this year.

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The Blessing Buddy bead ball-pit! The kids thought it meant we were going to an indoor playground! Had to disappoint them there and make beaded animals and other creatures to give away instead.

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Our church is collecting food for Christmas hampers so we added to the collection.

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One of our Christmas traditions is to buy a new nativity scene each year. The Blessing Buddies bought this one and were found worshiping Jesus.

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We made Christmas tree cross ornaments to give to the ladies who attend our yearly Christmas high tea so the Buddies were found swinging from the Christmas tree. The odd decorations they are on are our Jesse tree symbols.

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One of our children has a December birthday so the blessing for the day was all about them. The Buddies were found hanging out of her birthday gift.

 

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers part 2

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Today is the second instalment of our planned “What’s in the box?” activities for advent as we count down to Christmas. Our hopefully very excited toddler will search the house for this sparkly Christmas box each morning which will contain his morning table activity. Previous activities will be available in his “school” cupboard for use while his siblings are working on their Blessing Buddy act of kindness for the day.

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Day 6

Using tweezers to transfer stars into an ice cube tray will be new to him so I’m not sure whether he has the dexterity for the tweezers or not. The tweezers can be easily swapped with small tongs if need be.

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Day 7

Pretend cooking play is always popular, especially if I come over for a taste of Christmas cookies now and then. These large coloured glass stones and oversized marbles are from our local discount variety store. A mini muffin tray and tea bag tongs promote one-to-one correspondence practise and transferring skills.

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Day 8

Dotting with bingo markers inside do-a-dot pictures is a semi-controlled way to present a painting experience. I am quite certain however that dotting in the circles will not be satisfying enough and that the final product will be well and truly smeared with paint! (Better cover the tray with newspaper for this one.) Free printable pictures to dot are here and here or google do-a-dot for hundreds.

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Day 9

Decorating playdough Christmas trees with beads and tiny bead strings will be fun. Toddlers find it very difficult to roll out dough though and may also need assistance with the cutter. Be prepared to cut a bunch out for them if necessary.

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Day 10

This toothpick Christmas tree is great for fine motor skills. The child pokes toothpicks with coloured ends into holes in the top of the box lid (use a skewer to poke them through.) I used coloured contact for the tree and punched holes with a single hole paper punch before sticking it onto the box lid as I know from experience that poking holes through contact on cardboard can be difficult and doesn’t always leave a nice clean hole.

How is your Christmas planning going?

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers part 1

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Our “What’s in the Box?” advent count down of Christmas preschool activities is a new tradition for us. While the older children are working on other projects for our Blessing Buddies acts of kindness, our toddler will be opening his special Christmas box to find his table activity for the morning. The sparkly box will be hidden somewhere around the house for him to find each day and will contain a new and exciting challenge for him to work on independently while I help with the older children’s more complicated projects.

Here are the first 5 days of “What’s in the box?”

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The first activity needs to be one that is guaranteed to hold his attention for a longer time span as it will be the only one available. As each new activity is introduced, I will place it onto our toddler activity shelves so that I can rotate between them when interest in the new tray for the day has worn off.

Day 1

This Christmas sensory tub will be filled with all the wonderful “Christmas” items in the photo above. (If it’s green it’s Christmassy right?) The items can be sorted, transferred with tongs or cutlery, hidden and found, tipped and poured and generally fiddled about with.

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Day 2

A new batch of green playdough formed into a rough Christmas tree with small lights cut from a plastic Christmas garland to poke into the dough. You could also use beads or any other small decoration.

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Day 3

A colour sorting activity with 3 colours of Christmas bows. I have included a toothpick with a large flat end to hold while sliding it into one of the loops of the bows to transfer them into the matching coloured bowls. We’ll see how difficult this is for him – it may be quickly changed to small tongs.

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Day 4

Simple pattern block puzzles.These free printable patterns are available here. I intend to laminate these for greater durability. My older children all jumped at the chance to fill these out for the photos and after watching me prep these trays throughout the day, my 11-year-old commented that he almost wished he was a toddler again, just so he could do the activities!

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Day 5

Threading bow-shaped beads onto coloured chenille sticks (pipe cleaners.) Make sure the holes are large enough so that this is not too difficult for little fingers. Older children could make patterns with the colours.

Stay tuned for days 6 to 24.

What are your toddler’s favourite Christmas activities?

 

 

 

 

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Knock and run 12 days of nativity

advent candles and nativity

If you are like me and have neglected to get started on your 12 days of nativity knock and run, here is my “deliver it all at once” version with introductory poem and readings for a 10 piece nativity set. (10 days until Christmas if I deliver it today!)

If you have no idea what I am talking about, this is a nice outreach idea for neighbours or friends at Christmas time. You can either deliver one piece of the nativity each day (with their corresponding readings) or all at once, to be opened one per day. If you live close to the recipient I think the every day approach is more fun, especially for the children as they take turns being the stealthy deliverer who cannot be seen delivering the daily piece. This year for us however, one delivery it will be as we have a lot on and I’m sure to miss a day or 2 otherwise. 

I have included the instructions for both versions in poem form and the readings we are using this year. Feel free to print them out and tweak it to fit the set you have. Have fun introducing someone to the good news of Jesus birth.

All at once version:

Jesus came to earth to show the world God’s love

Amazing grace and forgiveness, sent from heaven above

At your door this gift you’ve found, unwrap it one per day

It will tell the Christmas story, in a special way

To remind you of the gift of God, as a baby He was born

Jesus Christ, God on earth, in a stable all forlorn

The date will tell you which to unwrap and set upon display

Isn’t it amazing; we can receive God’s love today!

One per day version:

Jesus came to earth to show the world God’s love

Amazing grace and forgiveness, sent from heaven above

At your door a gift you’ll find, unwrap it every day

It will tell the Christmas story, in a special way

To remind you of the gift of God, as a baby He was born

Jesus Christ, God on earth, in a stable all forlorn

Leave the basket out each night for us to fill for you

Don’t try to peek or find us out, it will spoil it if you do!

Mary

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, (Luke 1:30-32, ESV)

Mary was a young girl who trusted God and was willing to obey Him. She was given the privilege of mothering Jesus, the Son of God.

Joseph

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21, ESV)

Joseph was a man of character. God entrusted him to raise His Son.

Donkey

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. (Luke 2:4-5, ESV)

Mary may have ridden a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. God was watching over her and fulfilling His divine plan.

Cow

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7, ESV)

Fulfilling the prophecies, God’s son began His life in a stable because He loved us so much.

Baby Jesus

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17, ESV)

Jesus left heaven to be born on earth as a baby. He grew into a man, died for our sin and rose as our Saviour.

Angel

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14, ESV)

An angel gave Mary the wonderful news that she was to bear God’s Son. Throughout the Christmas story angels share joyous news and praise God for His wondrous salvation gift.

Shepherd & sheep

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. (Luke 2:16-17, ESV)

God shared the miracle of His Son’s birth first with humble shepherds in the fields, rather than the important people of the time. The good news is for everyone.

King/wise man

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2, ESV)

The wise men came to worship the newborn king. They bough Him gifts because they recognized who He really was – King of Kings and Lord of Lords

King/wise man

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)

The wise men probably travelled on camels as they carried their loads of precious gifts and belongings. We come to Jesus loaded down with burdens but He promises to carry our burdens and give us the rest we need if we will trust in Him.

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knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19, ESV)

The wise men bought precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the gift of forgiveness for our sin is the most precious of all. Jesus came to purchase our freedom from sin. He sacrificed Himself in our place so we can know God and live in peace and joy with Him forever.