(pictures from last year, because we're in the process of decorating!)
So, even if you've never celebrated Advent before, I invite you to do two things this Advent season. Two things that will capture the imaginations of your children (along with yours!) and make it a meaningful and memorable season. Make an Advent wreath and buy a nativity set. Your wreath can be as simple as a few evergreen branches and four candles, or even four candles themselves on your dining room table or mantle. And your nativity can be fancy, silly, playful, or very simple. We have gathered a few over the years because I love them so, but you could even make one out of wooden peg people and paints, or print one out and make a shoebox house. In the age of pinterest, there are a million ideas about how to be crafty! Start with what you have.
These two items can help you develop your own Advent rhythm. Ours always, at the least, consists of gathering around the wreath every night, lighting it while we sing "O Come O Come Emmanuel," saying a few prayers together and singing a few Christmas songs. Over the years, our tradition has come to include a special treat, like a cookie or hot chocolate, an Advent calendar, and an ornament taken from a bag and placed on the (at first) sparsely decorated tree. We now have a custom of often including family and friends in our Sunday celebration, and doing something even more elaborate and special (and tasty!). But all of these things are extra. All you really need is the magic of coming together and awaiting the arrival of Jesus in our midst.
The children are free to play with the pieces of the nativity throughout Advent. We do remove the baby Jesus until Christmas proper, but that doesn't stop the kids from making their own babies, so I'm not really sure how important that part is. :-)
Oh, and then tell the Christmas story again and again and again. You can say it in your own words, read it from your Bible (or, better yet, for small children, from this bible), or read one of the many wonderful Christmas books available. There are many at the library, and I have found that the single best place for children's Christmas books is the thrift store. Here are some of our favorites (I'm just pulling out books, so I'll add more as I remember them!)
Praying for Christmas (this one is a great "devotion book" for the littlest members of your family)
And one of the amazing things about celebrating Advent together as a family is that you, as the Adult, are also preparing to welcome Jesus into our midst. Ben and my favorite book to use together is this one by Henri Nouwen. We might need to switch books this year, because I believe we've used this book for eight years straight and can recite most of the passages by heart.