I spotted something very tiny that looked like a human figure on the floor near the fireplace. As I was getting down on my knees to discern what it was, I spotted two other similar figures nearby. I wondered if the hero from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! had visited our home. No, it was the wise men from our miniature nativity set. Mimsy, our third born, was simulating the long journey of these seekers. I learned that she inched them along each day during the Christmas season until they traveled across the family room to the nativity by January 6th every two years. She desired to follow the scholars’ suggestion that Jesus was likely two when the wise men visited. I was amazed that she found playtime for this, an element of our faith. She had heard the Scriptures for many years during our extended Christmas season, and this gave me pause to think about the blessings of the Church Calendar.
This discovery took place during Advent, one of our favorite times of the year. It is the season that includes the four Sundays preceding Christmas, and the days in-between. It marks the beginning of the Church Calendar year for most of the Western church.
The Church Calendar, also known as the Ecclesiastical Calendar, the Liturgical Calendar, or the Church Year Calendar, is the organization of the days in a year around special feasts, memorials, significant events, activities and the like in the Christian church. There is variation in the Church Calendar among the Western churches, those bodies in the Roman Catholic tradition, and those springing from the Reformation, and the Eastern Church, those bodies that follow the Eastern Orthodox pattern for worship.
Advent, which means coming in Latin, refers to the coming of Christ, and Christmas as a celebration of His coming. Every day of Advent we light a candle on our Yule log, alternating them, so that by Christmas there is a full set of triangle shaped, lighted candles, reminding us of the darkness dispelled by the coming of Jesus. We also use an Advent wreath, which has four candles, one for each Sunday in Advent and one for each century of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.
These provide light for our family devotions that center on God’s Word regarding the coming of Jesus so the children are hearing the story over and over, year after year, gaining a memory of the prophecies of old.
Years ago I made an Advent calendar that has daily activities related to Christmas tasks. This helps reduce the load of the Christmas rush and chaos as the month rolls on. It takes us several days to get the tree in order. For example, Day 5 states, “ See Dad about a special evergreen purchase,” so we go to a nearby tree farm and cut a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. A bare evergreen sits in our family room and this brings many questions from guests. Some days later the activity is to add the lights, and even later in the month the actual decorations appear on the assigned day.
On December 6, the activity is to learn about the real Saint Nicholas, a well-loved Christian who lived in the 300s. This day is St. Nicholas’ Day and we learn how it is celebrated around the world.
Some activities are designed for sheer pleasure, like the days we read I Spy Christmas and make either a gingerbread church or giant gingerbread men.
As a child, I was noticeably sad at the conclusion of Christmas day. Christmas was forever in coming. The day of fun arrived with an explosion of gifts from Santa and others, only to be suddenly over until another year. When we had children, we purposed to find an alternative way to celebrate so we might focus more on Jesus, the joy of the holidays, and reduce this let down.
When Christmas Eve and Christmas day arrive, we begin the celebration of the wonderful season known as Christmastide. Just as we learned that Advent is celebrated in many places around the world, we also discovered that the Twelve Days of Christmas are as well.
We knew there was so much joy in the real story of Christmas that we avoided sharing the myths associated with the season as if they were true. We wanted the children to celebrate the real meaning to its fullest extent. This really avoided disappointment in the long run, and built a tradition on the best news possible in life.
On Christmas morning, each child receives one gift, something they hoped for, from Bruce and me. There are others from extended family members, and now that they are older, gifts for one another they have bought or made. This is plenty for them to enjoy Christmas day, and it helps avoid over stimulation. We also require that as each person opens a gift, the rest watch. This helps us appreciate the time and effort that the giver put into selecting the gift.
We then continue in the joy of the Lord as we celebrate the next Twelve Days of Christmas. The fun and blessings of the season are actually just beginning on Christmas day. Melancholy is absent!
We light all the candles as we share our daily devotion. We each receive one gift each day. They are often small, like a pair of socks, or a favorite treat. About half of them are more substantial gifts, but some are non-material to help reduce spending and excessive focus on things. One Christmas I made puzzles and guessing games about different countries. When they guessed the country, we learned about it and what God was doing there.
Another time, I took the sentence, “Today we will visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s house, Falling Water,” and cut up the separate words. Each child got a small gift of “words” to unwrap. They next put all their individual words together to make a sensible sentence, and learned of the field trip, which was a shared gift.
By Mary Ann Eagleson
Mary Ann Eagleson has a Masters in Christian Education. She her husband Bruce have homeschooled their four children, ages twenty-six to sixteen, since 1981.
—Originally published in Homeschooling Today magazine, “God’s Word Does Not Return Void” issue, 2009