When you think back on your childhood, what are some of your fondest Christmas memories? Baking cookies, decorating the tree or gathering with family? Listening to Christmas music? Waiting impatiently for Santa to come down the chimney? These cultural traditions are so much fun, and Santa is a popular guy in our house, but we don’t—scratch that—we can’t forget the real reason for the season. We need to make sure our kids know how the birth of Jesus fits into God’s amazing plan.

One of the best ways we can help our kids grow up to know, without a doubt, what Christmas is really about, is to help them practise some of our rich Christian traditions that foster an environment of deep spiritual formation and growth for the whole family—such as Advent. So, what is Advent, why do we participate in it each year and how do we bring our kids along?

It’s not just a calendar counting down the days until Christmas with chocolate and candies. It’s so much more. Advent is the season that comes before Christmas in the Christian calendar, a time of expectant waiting and preparation. Historically, Advent was a time to remember and anticipate. During Advent, the church remembered one of the essential beliefs in the Christian faith, the Incarnation of Christ. God became human, was born in a barn and lived among us. Advent was a time to remember that God is with us, but also that he died, rose three days later and promised to return.

Advent means the same things today, but like many of our Christian traditions, it sometimes gets overshadowed. During Advent, we still remember that beautiful truth—Emmanuel, God with us. Not only did Jesus come to live with us, but he came to offer his life for us, as a model of how we should live and as a sacrifice for our sins. Whosoever believes in him will have eternal life—will live forever with him. We still anticipate during Advent. We anticipate his promised return—Jesus came, and he will come again. This is still the heartbeat of Advent.

This may seem like a lot. It may even seem like it would go over our children’s abilities to understand. But we have a responsibility to raise our children in the way they should go, so they will never depart from these biblical truths. We need to teach our kids our rich traditions without dumbing them down. How? By taking the time to help our littles understand what all of this actually means.

For many families, Advent is something you “do” at church, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some things you can do at home:

• Make your own Advent calendar and fill it with Scripture and treats.

• Read through a verse of the Christmas story each morning at breakfast.

• Create a prayer garland with the name of a family member or friend to pray for each day of Advent.

• Add a new paper ornament to your Christmas tree every day.

• Create your own Nativity scene with Play-Doh or paper, cardboard or sticks.

• Design your own Advent wreath and light candles each week.

• Try a reverse Advent calendar and donate something every day instead of receiving a treat.

Advent is the posture we take before Christmas, as we remember that God sent his Son to die for us and is with us. This is a big deal. Our God stepped down from his throne because he loves you and your littles more than words can even express. He humbled himself and was born in a barn among sheep and donkeys, simply because he loves us. We celebrate the birth of our Saviour—the one so long-awaited, the one who would save us from our sins— at Christmas.

Enjoy your trees and decorations. Leave your milk and cookies for Santa. Celebrate like mad this Christmas (because we all know 2020 needs a whole lot of joy). But do all of that while raising biblically literate kids who can be in the world, but not of the world, because they hold deeply to the truth that God is with them.

Captain Bhreagh Rowe is the community ministries officer at St. Albert Church and Community Centre in Edmonton.

Photo: Natalia Bodrova/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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