Advent: “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event” according to the Google Dictionary. It’s the anticipation of the birthday celebration of Jesus that we specifically look forward to in December. I have always enjoyed counting down the days to Christmas! No matter how old I get, I believe I will always look forward to this part of the celebration.
But when you aren’t in your home country, Christmas may look very different than what you are used to. The normal decorations may not be available. New traditions may emerge depending upon what you have available in your new country and culture. For us, in Uganda, often times families would decorate with balloons and maybe a large branch. But mostly each family did not possess a full range of ornaments and a fake tree to pull out of storage each year.
For our family, advent meant two things. First, out came the advent candle wreath with three purple candles, one pink candle and a large while pillar candle in the center; and second, out came the wall calendar with a pouch for each day to count down holding a piece of the nativity scene. The nativity scene would be built one by one each day until finally on the last day, baby Jesus would be revealed and placed in the manger by use of velcro. Over the years, it became a bit worn and so last year I refurbished it a bit. These two things went with us when we moved to Uganda back in 2010. It was one of the few “normal” things we possessed for our Christmas celebration.
A friend and missionary colleague who currently serves in Uganda, Kari Segner, shared her creative ways that their family counted down by using activities and fun things to do. That set me to thinking of various things to do each day as part of the advent countdown. Depending upon your country of service, you may or may not have the same things available for crafts and activities. But being creative with what you have is part of the fun! Using some of my friend’s ideas as well as my own, I have created a Family Advent Countdown that I will share with you here. Each day is based in a scripture chosen by Kari and then an activity for the entire family.
- Read Luke 1:26-28. Put up the Christmas tree. If you don’t have one, improvise with what you have. Create a tree on the wall with colored paper or find some branches. Diffuse Evergreen essential oil to fill your house with the smells of Christmas. (24 days left until Christmas)
- Read Luke 1:29-33. Make a Christmas card to send in the mail to a loved one. Use whatever materials might be available to you. Get creative with cutting out magazine lettering or drawing your own designs. If you mail them now, there is still time for them to arrive in time for Christmas. (23 days left until Christmas)
- Read John 14:6. Jesus is the Way! Create a maze by hand on paper to trace the way or make a life-size maze for the family to find their way using boxes or furniture and draping blankets. Make it fun! Perhaps you each take turns making one for others to try. (22 days left until Christmas)
- Read Luke 1:34-38. Just as the angel visited Mary to announce that the Holy Spirit would come, add some decorations to the tree that might remind you of the angel or the Holy Spirit. If you don’t have any, you could look for the shape of a dove or an angel to decorate and hang. Perhaps you have glitter that could be added to the angel or dove as well. Again, be creative! (21 days left until Christmas)
- Read Matthew 1:18-19. To celebrate that baby Jesus is coming, have a dance party to Christmas music! Find a fun stream on your device to share and enjoy! (20 days left until Christmas)
- Read John 14:6. Jesus is the Truth. Play a game as a family where you have to give three statements about yourself but one of them is false. Have fun guessing one another’s truths and falsehoods. You might be surprised what you learn about each other! (19 days left until Christmas)
- Read Matthew 1:20-21. Watch a Christmas movie such as “The Polar Express” and eat popcorn together. (18 days left until Christmas)
- Read Matthew 1:22-23. Make snowflakes out of white paper and hang them in the windows. If you have silver glitter, it might be fun to add that as well. Again, be creative. Crumple up the left over paper and have a pretend snow ball fight! (17 days left until Christmas)
- Read John 8:12. Jesus is the Light of the World. Darken a room and play a version of hide-and-seek where the one seeking has a flashlight. Make your own version of the game rules! (16 days left until Christmas)
- Read Luke 2:1-5. Create a scavenger hunt, sending everyone on a journey. Use items that are common and easy to find in your cultural context. It might be in the yard or around the house. End the scavenger hunt with some special family treat that you enjoy together like hot cocoa or surprise candy canes that you brought from home. (15 days left until Christmas)
- Read Luke 2:6-7. Watch “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” or another short movie that portrays the Christmas story. End with a family discussion where each one shares several things they are thankful for. (14 days left until Christmas)
- Read John 10:1-18. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Spend some time talking about Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Then call a family member such as the grandparents together and wish them a Merry Christmas early. (13 days left until Christmas)
- Read Luke 2:8-12. If you have a nativity scene, bring it out now and place it in a prominent place in your home. If you didn’t bring one with you, be sure to prepare for this by finding a locally made one or make your own. You can find ideas online to make a paper one or one from wood yourself. (12 days left until Christmas)
- Read Revelation 5:5. Jesus is the Lion of Judah. Make a large paper lion – remember this is just for fun, so it doesn’t have to be perfect – and play “Pin the tail on the lion” using a blindfold. (11 days left until Christmas)
- Read Luke 2:13-15. Play a game of “Gossip” where you whisper something in one person’s ear, then they pass it on by whispering in the next person’s ear, and so on until the final person must say out loud what they think they heard. (10 days left until Christmas)
- Read Job 19:25. Jesus is our Redeemer. Play a game of “Jailbreak.” Ask the children to each find a personal object that they cherish and bring it to put in a box. The box is the “jail.” In advance (or while they are searching for their personal object) be sure to hide coins of varying values around the room. Then give them time to find all of the coins. Once they have their money, ask them to either buy back their treasured item or choose to keep the money instead. Explain that they can ‘redeem’ their treasured object by buying it back with their coins. In similar fashion, Jesus redeemed us, His treasured possession. (9 days left until Christmas)
- Read Luke 2:16-20. Have a Christmas carol sing-a-long or even go sing a few Christmas carols to a neighbor. (8 days left until Christmas)
- Read John 1:29. Jesus is the Lamb of God. Depending on availability in your country, have a lamb dinner prepared. Or – choose to make sheep by tracing the shape from the internet or a coloring book. Then add cotton balls or glue on crumpled paper towels to give the effect of wool. (7 days left until Christmas)
- Read Matthew 2:1-2. If you don’t already have a Christmas star on top of your tree, make one to place there. Or make a garland of stars to string above a window or on the tree. Again, glitter could brighten this craft up a great deal. (6 days left until Christmas)
- Read Matthew 2:3-6. Make some Christmas cookies, choosing your favorite recipe if possible. (5 days left until Christmas)
- Read Isaiah 9:6. Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor. Make an obstacle course and then blindfold someone. Tell them that they must listen to your voice which will guide them through the obstacle course. Show them that listening to wise counsel helps them find their way. Take turns and change up the obstacle course each time to keep them guessing and help them rely on listening to your voice. (4 days left until Christmas)
- Read Matthew 2:7-8. Play a game of “Hide Baby Jesus” where someone hides a baby doll or something that represents baby Jesus and the others try to find it, taking turns. Or simply choose to play your own version of hide-and-seek. (3 days left until Christmas)
- Read John 15:1. Jesus is the True Vine. Make a popcorn garland or use fresh plants to create a garland for the Christmas tree representing a vine, talking about how Jesus is the True Vine. (2 days left until Christmas)
- Read Matthew 2:9-12. Make this last day special with something that is traditional for your family. It might be a classic Christmas book that you read together. Or it might be that you have a specific meal where you invite friends and neighbors to join. Perhaps you watch “Elf” or another Christmas movie together. You might even decide to create a new tradition based on something in your new culture. (1 day left until Christmas)
- Read Luke 2:1-20 and pray together, thanking the Father for Jesus’s birth. Make a favorite breakfast and declare Christmas morning as PJ zone. Don’t forget the birthday cake! (Merry Christmas)
As you can see, creativity is key as well as availability in your country. But the main thing is to enjoy the journey together as you anticipate our dear Savior’s birthday, the birthday of the King! Whether you are in Uganda, another cross-cultural setting, or in your home country you can anticipate December 25th with the excitement of a child together!