Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas Part II

Yesterday I posted Part I, sharing some of my Christmas decor. Today I continue with Part II to share a few things I do to help my family maintain a correct focus on Christmas.

Music can really put you in a mood. I often hear people say or write about how Christmas music really "gets them in the holiday spirit". I've always wondered what holiday spirit is. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You" the first couple times I hear it each year, but then, like most other Christmas jingles ringing overhead in all of retail, it just gets really irritating. And my kids do love the Looney Toons Christmas album their Grammy gave them last year, though only 3 of the songs are about Christ. I try to play Christ-centered Christmas music as much as I can but I'll admit I've found it difficult to come across many Christian Christmas albums that I just really love. (If you have a favorite please tell me!)

My girls also like their Cedarmont Kids Gospel Christmas album. This year I actually bought a CD of an album that my parents had the cassette tape of growing up. Michael W. Smith's Christmas album from back in 1989. Oh yeah. Love it. I have a country Christmas album that's okay. But my favorite go-to Christmas music is Handel's Messiah. The girls and I all love "Unto Us a Child is Born" the best and have been known to blast it on repeat in the house and in the car. Please enjoy our favorite piece as performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus while you continue to read the rest of my post below. :)

I break out the nativity sets - a collection which continues to grow. I love how excited my kids get to play with them and re-enact the Christmas story. First they ripped into the Playmobil nativity (that my mom found at Salvation Army a few years back). They had fun with that for a week and only lost a handful of pieces.

Then they moved on to my cheap Job Lot ceramic sets. We've only had a few casualties and one wise man no longer has a gift to bring Jesus. I have yet to break out the nice big resin set my mom recently reminded me she passed along to me so the kids couldn't break it. I love to sneak up on the kids with the camcorder as they are acting out scenarios with the figurines.

How appropriate for them to gather around my Christmas cactus!

This year I went through all the kids bookshelves and pulled out every Christmas story book. I put them all in a wooden tray and placed them on the ottomans in the family room. This encourages the kids to read them (or just look at them) and reminds me to read them with the kids as well. I am careful not to just read Bible story books but to read with them the actual Bible as well.

I've got so many great Advent ideas I hope to do with the kids as they grow older. Two years ago, I created an Advent calendar out of mini-stockings. I searched for cheap little red ones in the stores but could only find cheesy blue, gold and white ones that came with a gold paint pen. So I settled. I used the gold paint to write numbers on them. Not my choice color scheme but they turned out kinda a fugly sort of way, but they function for now. I string ric-rac across the front of a shelf in my family room (where we also hang our big stockings since we have no fireplace or staircase) and I use mini clothespins to hang the Advent stockings across.

I was behind schedule in getting these up this year as you can see by our starting date:

Each day, the kids take turns emptying the daily Advent stocking. Inside each one is a little piece of blue paper with a reference to scripture that I read outloud and a piece of chocolate for each child. I have quite a few resources for suggested daily Scripture readings for Advent so I just pick from those.

Some daily readings are prophesies about Jesus to come. Some are from the story leading up to and including Jesus' birth. Some are about who He is - our King, our Savior, our Judge, our Shepherd, our Servant. The challenge is to hold the attention of my 5 year old and maybe my 2 year old as these verses are read and then to explain them in terms they can understand and apply. Sometimes I wonder if any of it is sinking in but I cling to Isaiah 55:11 that reminds me God's Word does not return empty and it will accomplish what He desires!

After reading great reviews about some Advent devotionals for kids I ordered a few story book devotionals, hoping to go through one with my oldest daughter this year.

"Mom, how come there's no pictures??? I don't want to read this book anymore." After a few days of struggling to keep her attention with multiple-page pictureless chapters, I gave up. Guess she's still a bit young for that one...will try again next year.

Yeah, I've got a couple of things on my wish list this year, as if a new mini-van wasn't enough. I want new curtains for my dining room and a new camera. That's it. Strange, my kids each came up with only two things they each wanted too. After going on a few work errands with my mother-in-law, who's a Realtor, one item on my oldest's wishlist is a lockbox!  Her younger sister just says she wants one too even though she doesn't know what it is. :) Needless to say neither of them will be getting a lockbox for Christmas.

My goal is to get my girls to think more about giving gifts than getting them. My oldest already told me what she got me because she was so excited. So I'm working hard to keep her great idea for dad (which she is making) a secret. I also include the girls when I take a gift tag off the tree at the bank. I read them the options and let them choose who we will buy for. And they come shopping with me to help pick out the gift for this stranger their age who would otherwise not get many or any presents.

As with most everyone, I feel the pressure of Christmas tradition obligations. In some ways I'm thankful that I have my hands full with an infant these days and I am forced to pare down my to-do list because I don't have the time. I did send out Christmas cards this year. I am attending several Christmas parties (yay - nights out without kids!!!). I still have lots of gifts to buy.

Every year I spend a few days baking, including at least one whole afternoon meticulously decorating cookie-cutter sugar cookies. I always do up plates or tins of goodies for people. But not this year. My oldest and I already spent one afternoon making cookie-cutter gingerbread cookies (thank you Betty Crocker bag mix) since she's been begging me for months. We didn't frost or decorate them and we've already eaten them all. :)

Last year I filled each of the Advent stockings with little gifts for both girls each day. Not this year. A Hershey kiss will suffice. Last year I decorated the shelf that I hung the Advent stockings from like it was a mantle. Glass jars full of various red glass ball ornaments silver coated pine cones. Not this year. I didn't bother unpacking any of it.

For me, especially this Christmas, less certainly is more. Less decorations, less traditions, less obligations, less distractions. More Christ. More Prince of Peace.

Below is a poem prayer I wanted to share. It's written by Renee Swope of Proverbs 31 Ministries and it arrived in this devotional in my email inbox this morning.

The Manger of My Heart

This Christmas, Lord, come to the manger of my heart.
Fill me with Your presence from the very start.
As I prepare for the holidays and gifts to be given,
Remind me of the gift You gave when You sent Your Son from Heaven.

The first Christmas gift, it was the greatest gift ever.
You came as a baby born in a manger.
Wrapped like the gifts I find under my tree,
Waiting to be opened, to reveal Your love to me.

Restore to me the wonder that came with Jesus’ birth,
when He left the riches of Heaven and wrapped Himself in rags of earth.
Immanuel, God with us, Your presence came that night.
And angels announced, “Into your darkness, God brings His Light.”

“Do not be afraid,” they said, to shepherds in the field.
Speak to my heart today, Lord, and help me to yield.
Make me like those shepherd boys, obedient to Your call.
Setting distractions and worries aside, to You I surrender them all.

Surround me with Your presence, Lord, I long to hear Your voice.
Clear my mind of countless concerns and all the holiday noise.
Slow me down this Christmas, let me not be in a rush.
In the midst of parties and planning, I want to feel Your hush.

This Christmas, Jesus, come to the manger of my heart.
Invade my soul like Bethlehem, bringing peace to every part.
Dwell within and around me, as I unwrap Your presence each day.
Keep me close to You, Lord. It’s in Your wonderful Name I pray.

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