I did not grow up observing Advent - although once someone bought me a cardboard advent calendar with chocolates in it. As I recall, I didn't know anything about Advent as a religious observance and I opened all the doors early so I could eat the chocolate inside. But in an effort to slow down what is often a hectic season and focus - really focus - on Christ, I've vowed to observe Advent this year.
My first thought was to obtain an Advent calendar. It was surprsingly difficult to find something Christ-centered. Most calendars were covered with images of snowmen and Christmas trees. I also wanted something we could use year after year that would ideally help the children tell the story of Christmas on their own. I couldn't find any locally, but did find two I liked over at ChristianBook.com: One with pockets for the various Christmas story characters (shown above), and one with Velcro pieces. Neither is what you'd call cheap, but either should last for several generations. (If you have the time and energy to sew your own Advent calendar, all the better! There are lots of tutorials on the web, including a simple felt Christmas tree, a bubble wrap Christmas tree, a calendar made of boxes, a felt pocket Advent calendar, and a sewn pocket calendar.)
As it turned out, I didn't plan ahead well enough, and ended up just using a plain, poster-like Advent calendar that came with a book I bought for my daughter last year, called Waiting for Christmas. (It's a nice little book that I do recommend. You can read my full review over at Christian Children's Book Review.) I plan to buy a long-term Advent calendar when they go on sale after Christmas.
I also like the idea of an Advent wreath, but I didn't want to use real candles my 13 month old might find a way to touch. So it will be fake, plastic, electric candles for us this year. The light of the candles represents the light of Christ, and the evergreen wreath they sit in represents everlasting life. One of the four candles is lit every Sunday before Christmas arrives.
It's also customary to do Bible studies on Christ during the Advent season, so I'm focusing our Bible reading time on the Christmas story, taken a little bit at a time so we can really think about the story, finding details we may have forgotten.
How are you celebrating Advent this year?