The first Sunday of Advent, we begin reading from this series by Arnold Ytreeide. The stories begin with Jotham, then each year you can read the next in the series. In each book, you follow the tragic events in the main character's life that lead them to the birth of the Messiah. Each day, there is an cliff-hanger chapter followed by a short advent reading. It sounds cheesy, but everyone in the family crowds onto the sofa and sits spellbound as I read the day's pages. I wouldn't suggest these books for young children, it would be over their heads. They also might be stressed with the perilous events in the books. We love them, and I love that it makes us sit still and think about what Advent means to us.
The other tradition we have is an advent calender. My mom bought it for us years ago. It is wood with magnetic pieces. As the month passes, the nativity scene is built, day by day. It doesn't matter that we open the little doors every year, or that I always put Jesus behind the 24th door.
The biggest tradition is the celebration of "Jesus Day". This evolved over seven years ago. We wanted to do something that focused on Jesus and on serving others. We always find a service project to complete as a family. Over the years we have stuffed boxes for the military in Afghanistan, where my uncle was flying helicopters with the Marines. One year we made baby blankets for the local Women's Center. Last year, we sewed and delivered bags for walkers and wheelchairs for residents of the local nursing home. My mom sings hymns with them twice a month, and we join her the Monday before Christmas to sing Christmas Carols. This year, we baked cookies and treats to deliver to several fire and police stations on Christmas Day. The kids even got to tour the firehouse! We also found an organization that provides crafts and projects for children in the hospital. This was perfect for our large family. Our group ranged from under a year old to 83 years old.
We also put on a family nativity play. I know, it sounds super cheesy, but it is one of those family traditions that will never end. When Everett was a precocious five year old, he wanted to direct the adults in a nativity play. Seeing as he was pretty cute, we all agreed. I still have visions of my 80 year old grandpa dressed up as an angel, complete with golden wings and a halo. As the families have grown, so has the play. This year we celebrated with a 22 member cast. It's not a serious event, but has been happening each Jesus Day for seven years.
I love the holiday traditions, but its terribly important that you choose a few special events and let that be enough for your family. In my life, I am the ultimate in mom-guilt. During the holiday season, mom-guilt can peak at an all time high. In the world of Pinterest and Facebook, it's easy to look at the amazing things that other families are doing and feel like you aren't doing enough. I've been there! This year, in an effort to stay sane and healthy, I dialed things down. My kids didn't care that our annual 'homeschool Christmas party' turned into sledding and lunch with dear friends. It was fantastic!
I hope this helps you out with a few ideas of simple things our family has done to celebrate this special time of year!