December / Advent & Christmas Ideas

Make an Advent wreath.
This year, why not make an Advent Wreath to use as the center of your Advent devotions?

  • Buy or make a circular base. The circle is eternal — like God’s love for you.
  • Attach evergreens to the base. Evergreens stand for everlasting life and hope. (In our home we use artificial greens to help avoid fires.)
  • Insert 4 nondrip candles into the base and place a 5th candle in the center. People often use 3 purple or blue candles and 1 rose-colored candle in the base. The candle in the center is white. (Purple is the color of the king, blue is the color of hope; rose stands for joy; and white stands for purity.)
  • Light 1 candle on the first Sunday of Advent, 2 on the second, 3 on the third, 4 on the fourth. Light the rose candle on the 3rd Sunday. On Christmas Eve, light all 5, including the white one in the center. [The names of the candles are: 1) Prophet; 2) Angel; 3) Mary; 4) Shepherd; 5) Christ.

A very easy way to make an Advent Wreath is to make a circle of greenery on a plate large enough to hold 5 small candle holders. Put 1 candle holder in the center of your circle; put the other 4 around the circle.

Counting down the days of Advent — Why not create your own paper chains to use at home, using blue paper for the weekdays & gold or silver for Sundays? As you cut each day’s loop from the chain, pray a short prayer for a special concern or ministry throughout the world.

Have family members quietly do good deeds for each other — & put a straw in a manger for the baby Jesus each time they do a good deed for someone else in the family.

Celebrate special Saint’s Days in Advent:
December 6 – Nicholas, Bishop of Myra —
Though Nicholas is one of the church’s most beloved saints, little is known about his life. In the fourth century he was a bishop in what is now Turkey. Legends that surround Nicholas tell of his love for God and neighbor, especially the poor. One famous story tells of Nicholas secretly giving bags of gold to the three daughters of a father who was going to sell them into prostitution because he could not provide dowries for them. Nicholas has become a symbol for anonymous giving. In some countries, gifts are given on this day, and may include a visit from Nicholas himself.

One of the ways Nicholas can be remembered is for families to prepare gifts that will be given anonymously as a way to remind us of the tradition of giving gifts as a sign of God’s love given freely to all.

December 13 – Lucy, martyr (d. 304)
Lucy was a young Christian of Sicily who was martyred during the persecutions under Emperor Diocletian. Apparently she had decided to devote her life to God and her possessions to the poor. Beyond that, however, little is known for certain about Lucy. However, her celebration became particularly important in Sweden and Norway, perhaps because the feast of Lucia (whose name means “light”) originally fell on the shortest day of the year. A tradition arose of a girl in the household, wearing a crown of candles, bringing saffron rolls to her family early in the morning on the day of Lucia.

Pray for Christians who are being persecuted and martyred throughout the world. More Christians have been martyred in the past century than in all the previous centuries added together.

Family Devotions —
Christmas Card Advent Devotions
During dinner, after grace, parents could read aloud the Christmas Cards that have arrived that day and talk a little bit about the message on the card and the people who sent the card. At the end of dinner, have a special prayer for each person in the family who sent the card. Talk about what a great gift from God it is to have people in your life who are precious to you.

Go Christmas Caroling in your neighborhood. Invite some friends to go with you.

String cranberries & popcorn. (Red for the blood of Christ / white for the purity of Christ) Decorate your Christmas tree with the string.

Make Chrismons out of meat trays (in the shape of a fish, cross, manger, star, lamb, etc) — Hang the family Chrismons on the Church Christmas trees

Buy a Christmas present for a child at Martin Luther / Silver Spring school. You can find suggestions on the small tree in the narthex at church.

Set up your creche: Get out your stable and nativity figures (or make a stable out of a shoebox and figures out of play-doh), Instead of setting it all up at once, add a figure to your nativity scene each night — or several each Sunday. Wait until Christmas Eve to place the Christ Child in the manger (if you can manage to wait that long). One of my friends set out her 3 wisemen at the far end of the room and brought them a little closer to the creche each day until January 6 — her kings didn’t arrive at the manger until Epiphany (the day we celebrate the arrival of the magi).

When all of the figures have been added to the nativity scene, pray together as a family: Dear Heavenly Father, bless us as we gather around this stable. As we celebrate the birth of Your Son into the world, may we receive Him into our hearts. AMEN.

Christmas Tree Blessing:
When the tree is decorated, but not yet lit, gather the family.

  • Have someone read Psalm 96:11-13:
  • Then have someone else pray the Blessing Prayer:  Blessed are You, O Lord our God, for the blessings around us that point to You. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, for the signs of this holy season that awaken in us wonder. We praise You for the steadfast green of this tree which endures in all seasons, like Your love. We praise You for the light that illumines our darkness, your Son Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Join our hearts and voices with those of the trees and of all creation who clap their hands and sing at Your coming: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth. AMEN.
  • Then light the tree

Make a Jesse Tree: A Jesse Tree uses symbols to show Jesus’ ancestry (read Isaiah 11:1-9). Trim it with symbols from the Bible: an apple for Adam, a dove or rainbow or ark for Noah, a crown for King David, etc. You could also decorate it with tiny nativity figures.

Make a family tree Centerpiece: You will need a bare tree branch, spray painted if you wish; plaster of Paris (available at paint and hardware stores); pail or flowerpot with no hole in the bottom; decorative paper or tissue; ribbon; wooden curtain loops; yarn, ribbon or thin wire; scissors; glue or tape; snapshots of your family members (at Kinko’s you can make copies of photos you want to be able to replace in the family album).

Find & spray-paint the branch you want to use
. Mix the plaster in the pail (according to package directions). (Note: Do not pour excess plaster of Paris down the drain: it will harden)
As the plaster begins to harden, insert the stem of your “tree”
Allow the plaster to set at least 2 hours.
Cover the tub with decorative paper or tissue.

While the plaster is hardening, tie a loop of yarn, ribbon or thin wire around your curtain loop. (For hanging your ornament)
Cut your photo to fit on the back of the wooden loop.
Glue or tape the photo to the back of the loop.
Hang your “decorations” on the tree.

Tell stories about the people in the pictures, pray for them & thank God for giving you these people to love. (Note: After the holidays, save the tree for use at Valentine’s Day & Thanksgiving)

Christmas for the Birds
If you have a tree in your yard, decorate it with edibles for the birds. (You could make a small evergreen into a “Christmas Tree” for the birds.)

Smear globs of peanut butter on a pinecone, roll the pinecone in birdseed, tie string around the top and hang it on the tree.

String cranberries & popcorn

Make a garland of bread pieces cut into fun shapes with cookie cutters (string the leftover bread pieces in between the “cookie” pieces)

Note: Once you start feeding birds in winter, you must continue throughout the rest of the winter.

Give Visitors to your home a Candy Cane: The candy cane, which has become a traditional Christmas treat, was designed by a candymaker in Indiana. The candy cane’s shape represents J for Jesus. When turned upside-down, the J becomes the shepherd’s crook that brings back lost lambs. Jesus is kour Good Shepherd.

The candy is hard — like the solid rock of God’s promises which we find in the Bible.

And the candy itself is red and white. White symbolizes the purity and sinless nature of Jesus, and red stripes represent the blood of Jesus and the whipping he was given. Jesus shed His blood so we could receive eternal life.

Make a graham cracker church: To “glue” crackers to a piece of sturdy cardboard, use the following thick white frosting recipe: Combine 1 1/3 cup confectioners sugar, 1 egg white, and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar. Beat on high speed 7 minutes, until stiff. Add a licorice cross to the roof.

Christmas Traditions to Try:

Start a tree decorating tradition. Serve the same menu each year as you trim the tree. (Menu suggestions: clam chowder and bread sticks; Christmas cookies and hot chocolate; Christmas cake and hot cider)

Each Christmas, let each of your children choose an ornament to be his or her own. Mark the ornaments, but do not give them to the children until they are grown. When they are grown, their ornaments will have special memories as they trim their own “family tree.”

Start the special Christmas tradition of viewing all the family photographs, slides and “films”. Its fun to see how everyone has changed, and it stirs warm memories to reminisce about when the pictures were taken.

On December 1, set up a card table with an appropriate jigsaw puzzle (500 – 1000 pieces). As guests drop in throughout the holidays, they will enjoy working on the project. The object is to complete the puzzle by Christmas.

Set a date with another family to go caroling in the neighborhood. Close the evening with refreshments.

One night after dinner, take time to read aloud the Christmas Story from Luke 2.

Christmas Cards can be used as a meaningful part of family devotions during the Advent season;
✓ Have someone pull a specific number of cards from a basket used for this purpose.
✓ During family devotions at dinner time read the cards aloud.
✓ Have a prayer for the families who sent you the cards.

Make plaster-of-Paris hand prints each December. Paint with bright colors, shellac, or spray with fixative. Put name, year and age on the back. (Or you could make hand prints on card stock paper with tempura paints).

Before Christmas Dinner, put two fresh cranberries on each plate. After the family is seated, pass around a basket, and, as cranberries are dropped in, share two ways in which Christmas is special to you. Follow by reading John 3:16, and conclude with prayer

On Christmas Eve:

Share your love. Invite someone who is alone to share in tonight’s activities with your family.

Have a Christmas Ceremony on Christmas Eve. Carry the baby Jesus figure to the manger in a candlelight procession. Ask the youngest family member to place the Christ Child in the manger. Pray together the nativity blessing:

  • Dear Heavenly Father, bless us as we gather around this stable. As we celebrate the birth of Your Son into the world, may we receive Him into our hearts. AMEN.

Light your Advent Wreath. Light the white candle in the center of your Advent Wreath. This white candle represents Christ. Light all the candles and sing “Joy to the World” or “Silent Night.”

Read the Christmas Story. Before you enjoy your Christmas Eve meal, gather together to hear the story of Jesus’ birth. Read Luke 2:1-20.
Worship at Church. Hear again the good news of God’s love for you and join with the angels in singing praises to God.

And remember that the Christmas Festival lasts from December 25 through Epiphany, January 6

What shall we do now that Christmas is over? Well, even though December 25 may be past, we can celebrate that Christmas is not over. From December 26 through January 6, we are in that wonderful time of the Christian Church Year known as The 12 Days of Christmas. If you were simply too busy with preparations to enjoy very much of December, and if you wished that you could slow down enough to enjoy Christmas, then the Church Year has good news for you. During The Twelve Days, your wish can come true. The Christmas Season does NOT begin Thanksgiving Weekend. For the Church, Christmas doesn’t even begin until Christmas Eve. And then it lasts for 12 luxurious days, in which you can listen to Christmas Carols, munch on Christmas cookies, put your feet up and relax — without having one blessed gift to buy or wrap, without having one card to mail, without having one thing to do in preparation for Christmas. Now is the time to enjoy Christmas. The only problem is that most of us don’t know how to enjoy The 12 Days. Here are some suggestions for you mothers and fathers whom Luther called the “pastors” of the household. After all, even when we are at home, we continue to be “the church

Leave a few decorations up until January 6. It would be great if every Christian family kept up all of their Christmas decorations until after January 6. But this is not likely to happen. Instead of putting all of them away, leave your Advent Wreath and Creche up until January 6. Bring the kings a little closer to the stable every day, and light all 5 candles on your wreath every night.

If you put your Advent Wreath and Nativity people away together, in their own box, on January 7, think of how easy it will be to find this box among your boxes of decorations next year. When it is Friday night on Thanksgiving weekend next year and you suddenly remember that Sunday will be the First Sunday in Advent, you will know exactly where you put your wreath . (If you put some blue, rose, and white candles in your freezer right now, you won’t have to race around for them, either.)

Observe St. Stephen’s Day – December 26 “Good King Winceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen …” This lovely old carol begins with a reference to the great – indeed the very first – martyr, St. Stephen, whose death is so movingly recounted in Acts 7. Precisely because he was the first person to die for the faith, he in honored by having his feast day immediately after Christmas. No one knows why, but Stephen has since very early times, been considered the patron saint of horses. In many parts of Europe, horses were decorated on this day and brought to church to be blessed. Often the whole family would take a wagon or sleigh ride, called “St. Stephen’s ride.” You could celebrate today by doing something especially nice for the wild or domestic animals under your care. Or, you could take some small children (your own or those of a friend from church) to ride one of the carousels found in several of our local malls. Tell them the story of St. Stephen and give them a carousel ride.

December 27 — St. John’s Day
St. John is a complex and fascinating saint: a simple fisherman and a deep theologian; one of the Sons of Thunder, with his brother James, but always stressing the Love of God. John is called “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and was the one who stood with the three Marys at the Crucifixion. John is the one who took care of Jesus’ mother Mary in his own home following Jesus’ crucifixion. According to a delightful Christian legend, the Emperor Domitian tried to kill St. John by ordering him to drink a cup of poisoned wine. St John took the cup and blessed it; the poison immediately took the form of a snake and slithered away. Ever since, in many countries, there has been a tradition of blessing wine on this day, in the name of St. John.

Families with small children might like to prepare a non-alcoholic wine. (Recipe follows.) At dinner on December 27, the father blesses the cup and then each member of the family takes a sip, saying to the others, “I drink to you in the love of St. John.”

Recipe for non-alcoholic St. John’s wine: Into a large saucepan, pour 1 quart red wine. Add 3 whole cloves, 1/16th tsp ground cardamon, 2 two-inch cinnamon sticks, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, and 1/2 cup sugar. Boil for 5 minutes (after 5 minutes the alcohol has completely evaporated). Serve hot.

December 28 – Holy Innocents Day
On Christmas Eve, it is customary for Swedish Lutherans to eat rice pudding (with lingonberry sauce — or raspberry sauce in this country if you don’t know where to buy Swedish Lingonberries). Pastor Mandy grew up with this custom, and made sure that her children did as well. This is done in honor of the Holy Innocents; may they never be forgotten. (See Matthew 2:7-18 for their story.)

The Holy Innocents are the children-of-Bethlehem-two-years-old-and-younger Herod killed in his attempt to kill the baby Jesus. They have been honored from very early times as martyrs. Wicked King Herod killed all the children in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger because he was sure that one of these children would be the Baby Jesus. Herod wanted Jesus to die.

In honor of these children, it has been the custom in many European countries to serve a sweet white pudding with a sweet red sauce on Holy Innocents Day.

December 31 — New Year’s Eve Family Night
Gather the family and give each family member an unlighted candle

  • Lower the Lights
  • As each person’s candle is lit, have that person ask one blessing of God for the family, for the coming year.
  • Close with a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s provision and protection during the past year.
  • As you’re waiting for midnight, choose a board game that everyone can play; record the winner for that year in the lid of the box; over the years it will be fun to see who reigned as the New Year’s “champ”.

Note: New Year’s Eve is a great time to give Family Night a jump start” if you have slowed down since last summer.

January 1 — New Year’s Day

In Coventry England, It has long been a custom to visit one’s god-child on New Year’s Day and to offer the child a blessing and a delicious little triangular pastry called a “God-cake”.  These little cakes are triangular in honor of the Trinity, and they are often filled with sweet fillings (or sugared dried fruit or chocolate chips — anything sweet) as a sign of the special bond between God, the god-child, and the god-parent.

New Year’s Day is a wonderful day to reflect on what it means to be a baptized child of God — and to eat triangular scones, slices of cake, or slices of pie in honor of our godparents and in gratitude for our own baptism.  Talk with your children about the day of their baptism and the godparents you chose for them.

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