The holiday season is officially here. For the three to seven-year-olds in our lives, the excitement and anticipation of holiday events can be excruciating. Developmentally, children of this age don’t have a solid concept of time. Today, tomorrow, next month, next year, in five days—these are abstract ideas to our youngsters.
Waiting for Christmas when the tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving, well, it is difficult. Tension builds until it’s almost impossible for children to stay in control of themselves. No wonder for the holiday song, You’d Better Watch Out!
One tradition that can help build a sense of time and understanding of the Christmas holidays is the celebration of Advent. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and continues through Christmas Day. This year Advent began November 29.
Activities using Advent candles and an Advent calendar provide a method for a daily countdown of the season.
Many people use five different colored Advent candles, each candle representing a weekly aspect of the Nativity, such as the prophets, angels, shepherds, and wisemen. A circular arrangement of a gold, white, green and blue candle with a red candle in the center form the Advent wreath. Every night the candle for the week is lit, along with the previous weeks’ candle. After the candles are lit, a Bible verse and hymns or carols are sung. Part of the celebration includes changing the date on the Advent calendar and selecting a surprise treat.
There are many versions of the Advent calendar from intricate handmade versions with pockets to hold surprises for each day, to a simple paper calendar. Traditionally, the pocket of the calendar held a small goody such as a coin, a candy, or a marble. Our family enjoyed handwritten slips of paper in the pockets with suggestions such as make some popcorn, bake some banana bread for the neighbors, play a board game, call grandparents, or watch It’s a Wonderful Life. A paper calendar works well by adding a sticker to each day, and selecting a surprise from a gift bag.
The daily celebration of Advent takes only a few minutes; the time needed to light candles, read a passage of scripture, sing songs, change the calendar, select a treat, and extinguish the candles.
Here is a brief outline of Advent celebrations. Since young children love repetition, read the same Bible verse for a week. Older children may enjoy reading the verse as their part of the celebration.
Advent Sunday: The Prophets
Light gold candle, read Isaiah 9:2-7, sing O Come O Come Emmanuel, change calendar.
Second Sunday: The Angels
Light gold and white candles, read Luke 2:8-14, sing It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, change calendar.
Third Sunday: The Shepherds
Light gold, white and green candles, read Luke 2:15-20, sing While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks, change calendar
Fourth Sunday: The Wisemen
Light gold, white, green and blue candles, read Matthew 2:1-12, sing We Three Kings, change calendar
Christmas Day: Jesus
Light gold, white, green, blue and red candles, read Luke 2:1-20 sing Joy to The World
(Word of caution: Please treat matches and lit candles with care. Keep matches out of children’s reach and place candles away from flammable objects.)