Wednesday 23 November 2016

Advent with Children: A Simple Gathering

Advent begins this Sunday. Often I would still be scrambling to make the necessary preparations at this point, but several years of trial-and-error have smoothed the process for our family.

Some years we stay home throughout Advent, while other years have us finishing off the Advent season while travelling to visit family for Christmas. This is a travel year, with the particular joy of getting to spend time with two new nephews born in the past few months.

Whether we travel or stay home, we have always worked to observe Advent in some sort of meaningful way with our children. While always shaped by the particular needs of the family, we have found a steady rhythm in a simple daily gathering.

A Simple Daily Gathering:

1. Candles

We begin by lighting a candle together, which lends a sense of wonder and solemnity to this time of gathering.
    • A traditional Advent wreath is first lit on the first Sunday of Advent, with an additional candle lit each week.
    • A spiral wreath such as this cradle-to-cross wreath or wooden spiral candle holder will count down the days from December 1 until Christmas.
    • Any stand-alone candle can be used instead of a more traditional wreath; more important than the colour or the number of candles is the ritual of marking the beginning of this time of gathering in a distinct way.

2. Scripture

Next we settle ourselves on the couch and read a portion of Scripture. This can be combined with the Jesse Tree portion (below) or can be an additional reading of some sort.

3. Jesse Tree

A Jesse Tree, comprised of 25 stories and their corresponding symbols, tells the story of Christ from Creation to the Messiah's birth. Traditionally a small tree is used on which a new ornament is added after each reading; however, the physical tree, while a nice concrete addition, is not integral to the progression of the story.
    • Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp is a popular option, with free colouring pages and tree ornaments to go along with each story.
    • The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean is a stand-alone story, which is particularly useful during years of travel. Corresponding ornaments can be created in a variety of ways, however, for those who appreciate the inclusion of a tree.
    • There are countless homemade options and other published Jesse Tree resources that allow you to tailor this time to your family's particular ages and preferences; browse Google or Pinterest until you find your favourite!

4. Hymn

Each week we choose a new Advent hymn to sing together at this point in our gathering. This year our selections include:
    • Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
    • O Come, O Come Emmanuel
    • Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
    • Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending

5. Prayer and Peace

We close with a short Advent prayer before exchange the Peace and blowing out the candle.
    • The Anglican Family Prayer Book by Anne Kitch is an excellent resource based on the Book of Common Prayer. I appreciate how much it simplifies the process of responsive prayer for our family.
    • Your own preferred Advent resource is likely to include a prayer for the day.
    • A simple free-form prayer can be offered in response to the days' readings. When going the free-form route, I often have each child share something for which they are thankful as a simple low-pressure addition to our collective prayer.

The details of our time of gathering changes with each year, but this outline provides a simple framework on which to hang those particular details. The basic pattern of coming together with a sort of ritual, moving into the reading of Scripture and/or devotional, and closing with a hymn and prayer provides unlimited potential for shifting and shaping this time in a way that feels smooth and right for your family.

While reviewing my Advent reflections in my Sacred Ordinary Days planner, I noticed that I had made note to not neglect my own personal Advent reflection and prayer. In that vein, my favourite grown-up Advent resources include:

I hope you find some encouragement above as you create Advent rhythms and traditions with your children. December is a busy month, and a simple time of gathering can prevent us from moving too quickly into Christmastide while also allowing us to prepare our hearts in anticipation of Christ.

How does your family observe the Advent season? Please share your favourite traditions or resources as inspiration for the rest of us!