Happy New Year! Have you started thinking about New Year’s resolutions yet? Don’t worry, I’m not talking about the ones you make at the beginning of January. I prefer to start thinking about them now, as we get close to the beginning of a new Church year with Advent. I don’t make resolutions on diet or exercise. These are spiritual resolutions, and Advent presents the perfect opportunity to instill new traditions in your home. So what are some Advent resolutions you can make? I’m glad you asked. Please, join me for a sampling of ideas.
Devotions: If you aren’t in a regular habit of reading devotions together as a family, Advent is a perfect time to start. There are all sorts of Advent devotionals out there, written for daily use. Most churches give away free copies of such devotionals, so check to see whether your church offers them as well. Establish a regular time when devotions are read. This can vary from family to family. Sometimes it works best to do it at breakfast, while everyone is still (hopefully!) fresh. Dinner time is often a good time to read them as well, but if you have evening activities to rush off to, perhaps you could wait for bedtime instead. Find the time that works for your family and try to stick with it as much as you can. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day here or there, but do try to establish a regular schedule that can naturally continue with daily devotions once Advent ends. (And while you’re at it, it’s a good time to make a routine for your own personal devotions as well!)
Music: Believe it or not, there’s more to Advent than “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” As a church musician, I often get frustrated that there are soooo many arrangements of said hymn for piano, organ, bells, instruments, and vocal solos, but apparently the world at large doesn’t realize there are actually other Advent hymns out there. In our house, music is a big part of devotions, so one of my resolutions is a “hymn of the week.” Last Advent that worked really well. Each of the three and a half weeks before Christmas, our family sang a verse or two of a different Advent hymn. By the end of each week, our kids had those verses memorized. And once you’ve started this tradition, why not keep it up into the next season of Christmas, and then Epiphany, Lent, Easter… You get the picture.
Bible Verses: Like the hymn of the week idea, we also have a Bible verse of the week during Advent. We memorize Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 40:3-5, and Micah 5:2. Copy it down and hang it on your fridge so everyone can see the verse of the week. Kids have amazing memories, and honestly can probably memorize this stuff more easily than you can. So during your devotional time, quote the verse together a few times and watch how easily they pick up on the beautiful promises of Scripture.
Unique Family Traditions: All of the things I mention above are generic enough that anyone can adapt them, but each family is unique, and so should have traditions that highlight their uniqueness. One neat idea I’ve heard is from a family who wraps up 25 Christmas books and opens one each day during December to read together. Ask your spouse or kids for ideas and see what you come up with. I’d never heard of the Advent ribbon tradition until I got married and my husband filled me in. Now we do that with our children rather than a traditional Advent calendar. Each child gets a ribbon hung on the wall, and every day they get a little surprise on their ribbon. Often it’s a piece of candy or gum or stickers, but every now and then they’ll each get a dollar just for kicks. They love this. (It’s a great incentive for getting them out of bed on school mornings, too, for the record…) You can put a Bible verse or hymn verse or an encouraging note on their ribbons for them as well, if you’re so inclined. It’s a fun family tradition that they look forward to each year.
Try as well to include some type of service activity, perhaps even making a resolution to do one service activity per month as a family. Some families volunteer at soup kitchens or go caroling to shut-ins or at nursing homes. Growing up, every Christmas Day we went to visit a shut-in who had no family, and although I know we kids complained about having to do it at the time, looking back I realize how much that meant to that gentleman. If you can find a way to include your children in reaching out to others, you will be giving them a gift worth far more than the latest gadget. Squeeze in time during the hectic month of December to help them make Christmas cards for older church members or handmade Christmas gifts for grandparents and teachers. Show them by example that it’s better to give than to receive. After all, Advent and Christmas are about giving. God promised to send a Savior, and He did. Your Advent and Christmas celebrations should include giving in some way, and I mean more than just a bunch of toys for the kids. Show them the best gift ever given—Jesus, God’s own Son, sent to this sinful world as our Savior. That’s reason to celebrate—not just during Advent, but all year long.