This is the story of the Crawford Advent Calendar tradition.
I began with a simple, cheap, felt calendar from Oriental Trading Company. (It is no longer for sale but was kind of like this one.) There was a figure for each of the 24 pockets from the Nativity story (whose cheap gold numbers and cloth figures I had to re-glue every year!)
The first year, I worked on what verses to read each day from the Nativity story as we tried to keep the velcro figures stuck to the cheap, shredding felt calendar. The next year I wanted to add some OT prophesies that helped explain why the Nativity story was so amazing. This took hours of thinking. The OT prophets wrote a lot. For example on the day we pulled out a camel, we would read a prophesy from Isaiah because Isaiah rode a camel, right? I mean, we have seen Veggie Tales Jonah!
The third year, I caught wind of the Jesse Tree movement and tried to do both the Advent Calendar and a Jesse tree. Major overkill. Here is a really wonderful Jesse Tree Devotional if you are looking for one to try.
So fourth year I finally nailed down what elements I would take from the Jesse tree and which ones I would keep from my own evolving tradition. The main reason that I didn’t choose to simply follow one of the Jesse Tree Devotionals is that I didn’t want to rehearse the ENTIRE Biblical story during Advent. It felt like too much to swallow for this one season and I wanted to let the other seasons of the church year have something to teach too. I simply wanted to sketch the outline of the story and highlight important Messianic prophesies.
I then went on a rampage trying to find the right ornaments and I made a calendar that was nice enough to keep indefinately and large enough to hold (most of) our ornaments (using this pattern). Now the only thing to really add is a nicer ornament for some of the days if I happen to find one shopping. We are still using a few paper ornaments form the Jesse Tree and a few cloth figures from our old calendar.
Here is a link to my Advent Calender Activitieslist. I print this off on card stock and cut each day into a strip. Then I fold it in half, add a little decoration on the outside to make it special and tuck each card into the pocket for each day. Each day has a Bible passage to read, an ornament – connected as best as I can to the subject of the verse -to hang on a separate Jesse Tree, and an Advent activity to do for the day. Our Jesse Tree is a medium sized fake tree from Target in the family room and our “main tree’ is just a ‘traditional fake tree’ (oh the hidden history and irony behind that description!) decorated for fun and presents is in the Living room.This year I finally finalized a few other elements to make each day more exciting. I add three dimes, one for each of my three girls, to each day. At the end of Advent, they will choose how much of their money they want to tithe at the Christmas Eve service. And on each Sunday (and maybe a surprise day or two) I add soft peppermint candies. I am determined that the girls will see God as sweet and fun as well as holy and awesome.
I am so happy with our Advent tradition in its present form. It has taken 5 years, but during that time the tradition could really be shaped into something joyful and meaningful and had the time to settled deep enough in our bones to stick with us. This year the girls are finally into it enough that they remember themselves to reach into that pocket each morning, they beg me to read the scripture, they fight over who gets to hang the ornament and they run to the piano to play the song for the day. Ahhhh . . . the fruit of long labor!
I know I haven’t’ shared this early enough to help anyone else with their Advent traditions in 2011, but I will repost it next year in November. For now, I mostly want to share . . . DON’T GIVE UP! Traditions, by definition, take time to stick.
Keep at it and rejoice with me in the truth and reality that the time and energy we invest to really love and enjoy the Lord in our celebrations will bear fruit in our lives and our children’s lives. I know that rehearsing the salvation story each Advent as my children grow will shape their hearts and their minds and stick with them their entire lives. Long after I can no longer be with them wherever they go, the memory of this fun tradition and the word of scripture will be stuck with them, shaping the way they encounter the world, wherever they go.