(See also Using Our Advent Calendar)
I posted earlier in the week about using the online MCC Advent Calendar to spark some ideas for our own family's Advent celebration. [UPDATE September 2007: last year's MCC calendar is gone, and this year's isn't posted yet. Sorry!] Here's what I've come up with so far. The symbols refer to ornaments that we will put on a small Christmas tree (if we don't have an ornament, we'll use a cutout). The suggestions for stories, songs and activities are purposely kind of loose (read this or maybe that) so that others can use them as well without having to track down our books or videos. We probably won't do all of the activities--they're just suggestions for things that we might do during the days or during evening family times. Some of the slots are still blank; they may be filled in as we go.
The devotional thoughts and prayer needs are mostly taken right from the MCC Advent Calendar. I'm planning on incorporating them into our evening times around the Advent wreath. We'll locate the countries on a globe and maybe have the girls colour them in on outline maps of the world. The countries idea could be extended as much as you want: you could look countries up in books or online and look for foods or crafts from those places.
With the prayer needs and the giving ideas, I don't want to emphasize guilt (we have this but children in poor countries don't), but rather the ways that Christians are helping, in this case through Mennonite Central Committee projects, and the ways that we can contribute to that work as well. You could substitute other relief or development projects or missions that you support.
The asterisked days are the Sundays. This is a very short Advent season! The fourth Sunday is also Christmas Eve this year.
* December 3
Symbol/theme: Mary, God with us (Emmanuel); or a small globe-shaped ornament (or cutout of the Earth)
Country: The whole world
Songs: O come O Come Emmanuel; Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus; Joy to the World
Scripture: Luke 1:30-31, 38
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Just as God was with Mary, God is with us every day. Where do you see God in your life?
Giving ideas (adapted from the Lutheran Church of Australia’s African Journey Calendar): Many children in the world do not have the chance to go to school and do not have their own books. Put 5 cents in your “bank” for every book you read or have read to you this week.
Activity: Prepare a collection box or bank for your family’s Advent giving.
Symbol/theme: Horn (trumpet)
Country: The Netherlands
Songs: Glory to God; Sing of Birth (songs from Gold, Incense and Myrrh)
Scripture: read about John the Baptist
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Farmers in the Netherlands blow long, loud horns at sunset each evening during the Advent season to announce the coming of Christmas.
Story/poem: Tomahawks and Trombones (a book about making a joyful noise)
Activity: Mail Christmas cards. Sing & make a joyful noise (with instruments?). Read about Dutch Christmas customs.
Country: Laos (photographs of Laos)
Songs: Away in a Manger; One Small child; Infant Holy, Infant Lowly; What Child is This
Scripture: Luke 2:6-7
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC helps pregnant women in Laos who do not live near hospitals to have a healthy pregnancy and birth. Pray for these needs and also for the local crisis pregnancy centre, for midwives, for mothers and babies.
Story/poem: The First Night, by B.G. Hennessy
Activity: Look at family baby pictures, or your old baby clothes or toys. Talk about how parents take care of new babies.
December 6 (St. Nicholas Day)
Songs: Sing of Birth
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: In Syria, after reading the Christmas story, families light a bonfire with candles. When it burns out, they leap over the embers making wishes. Instead of making wishes, have a time of prayer together.
Giving ideas: Count the number of candles in your house and put 10 cents in your “bank” for each.
Story/poem and Activity: Sit by the fire and read “The Camel of Bethlehem” (anthology p. 68) or another story. Find out more about life in Syria. Be a Secret Servant for someone today (help someone without letting them know. If your mission is successful, put something into the collection box. You will have several more opportunities to do this!).
Songs: Angel songs. Angels We Have Heard on High; It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: In this season of gift-giving, see if your family would like to collect items for MCC relief kits that are sent to those in need. Also pray for the needs of Operation Christmas Child, and for the children who will receive the boxes we sent.
Story/poem: A favourite angel story?
Activity: Make clothespin angels, pasta angels, or other angel ornaments. Make snow angels if there is any snow.
Country: Las Posadas celebrations in Latin America, particularly Colombia
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Las Posadas is a Christmas celebration in Latin America where families act out Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter before Jesus was born. Many families in Colombia are searching for a safe home today, due to armed conflict. Pray for those who need shelter: homeless people and refugees.
Story/poem: “The House of Christmas” (Chesterton) (Light of Christmas p. 211)
Activity: Put out a nativity scene.
Symbol/theme: Farm animals (besides sheep)
Country: Southeastern Europe
Songs: The Friendly Beasts
Scripture: Luke 2:8-12
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC is providing livestock to families in southeastern Europe who are returning to their farms after years of war.
Story/poem: On Christmas Day in the Morning, or a story about the animals in the stable, or a farm story.
Activity: Craft: make an animal from knitting, sculpture, or recycled materials; a washcloth sheep. Be a Secret Servant.
* December 10
Symbol/theme: Heart, love
Scripture: John 3:16
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: What is the heart of Christmas? (See today’s Scripture)
Giving ideas: How many pairs of socks do you have? Put 5 cents in your “bank” for each pair of socks you own.
Activity: Make woven paper hearts to hang on the Christmas tree. Make heart cookies or biscuits, and take some to share with a neighbour or friend.
Country: South Africa
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: In South Africa, Christmas falls in the summertime. Many families celebrate with a meal outside or even a trip to the beach! Pray for Christians in South Africa.
Giving ideas: How many countries in Africa do you know without looking at a map? Put a penny in the jar for each one you can list. Find out more about life in South Africa. What projects does MCC have there? (see http://www.mcc.org/southafrica )
Story/poem: A story set in South Africa?
Activity: Make crepe paper chains (one of our Christmas books says that South African children make these at Christmas time).
Symbol/theme: A globe; a dove for peace; or water
Country: Countries of Southeast Asia
Scripture: Luke 2:13-14
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC is building peace in Southeast Asia by encouraging farmers to learn to share land, water and other resources.
Giving ideas: How many glasses of water did you drink today? Put 10 cents in your “bank” for each one. OR Many women walk long hours to collect clean water. Count the number of water taps in your house. Put 35 cents in your “bank” for each one.
Story/poem: A story set in Southeast Asia?
Activity: Be a Secret Servant today. Start planning a puppet show or play for a family gathering next Sunday night. (Adapt a story, or make up your own.)
Symbol/theme: Gifts, wise men
Songs: Songs about the wise men.
Scripture: Matt. 2:7-11
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Do you know what three gifts the wise men gave to baby Jesus? Look for the answer in today’s Scripture.
Giving ideas: Put 50 cents in your “bank” as a “Thank You” for the strong roof on your house.
Story/poem: “What Can I Give Him?” (C. Rossetti). Story about the Wise Men.
Activity: Wrap Christmas presents. Practice your play.
Songs: “Winds through the Olive Trees”
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Many North Americans decorate Christmas trees in their homes. Haiti is losing forests because trees are cut down for fuel and not replanted.
Story/poem: Tree story? (Why Christmas Trees are Not Perfect is one possibility.)
Activity: Practice your play. Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. Nature activity: look at the trees at this time of year; talk about what happens to them in the winter. Learn about Haiti (possibly from the book Material World?).
Country: Uganda, Sudan, Chad
Scripture: Matt. 2:13-22
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC assists families who must move away from their homes to find safety. (Remember that Mary and Joseph were refugees too.)
Giving ideas: Many people do not have blankets to keep them warm when it is cold. Count the number of blankets in your home and put 5 cents in your “bank” for each.
Activity: Be a Secret Servant today. Practice your play. (Do you need props or scenery?)
Symbol/theme: Love, hugs
Songs: “Love came down at Christmas”
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Some families cannot afford presents at Christmas, but still rejoice in God’s gift of love through Jesus. Hug your family today.
Story/poem: Maybe a favourite Christmas chapter from one of the Little House books (Little House on the Prairie or The Long Winter).
Activity: Put up the tree this weekend. Call somebody to say you love them. Practice your play.
* December 17
Songs: Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Shine Jesus Shine
Scripture: Luke 2:25-32; John 1
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Jesus was born to be a light for those who have lost their way. Think of this when you hang lights or light a candle this Christmas.
Giving ideas: Many people live each day without electricity. Count the number of light bulbs in your house and put 5 cents in your “bank” for each.
Activity: Make paper lanterns? Science experiments with candles? Walk or drive to look at Christmas lights. Have a special family gathering time (maybe with relatives or friends?) and put on your puppet show or play.
Songs: Star songs
Scripture: Matt. 2:1-11
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: MCC supports artists in Bangladesh who make paper stars. The stars are sold in ten Thousand Villages stores at Christmas time.
Giving ideas: Give 5 cents for every star you can count in the sky.
Story/poem: “The Star” by Helen Waddell (Light of Christmas, p. 29)
Activity: Find out more about Bangladesh. Go to a Ten Thousand Villages store and look for star ornaments. Make star decorations. Go outside at night and look at the stars. Watch Veggie Tales’ The Star of Christmas, or The Little Drummer Boy.
Symbol/theme: Shepherd, sheep
Songs: While Shepherds Watched; The First Noel
Scripture: Luke 2:15-16
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: When you wake up Christmas morning, think of how excited the shepherds were to see what the angels had announced.
Giving ideas: Give up eating a snack or drinking a soft drink today and place the money you would have spent to buy it in your “bank”.
Story/poem: A sheep story?
Activity: Be a Secret Servant.
Songs: Go Tell it On the Mountain
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Do you see poinsettias at Christmas? They are native to Mexico, where people thought the bright red leaves looked like the star of Bethlehem.
Giving ideas: In poor countries it is usual for health clinics to have very few medicines for the sick. Count the number of times you have been sick this year and put 25 cents in your “bank” for each time, OR put 25 cents in for each time you have visited a doctor.
Story/poem: Nine Days to Christmas
Activity: Mexican decorations?
Symbol/theme: Food needs—food item?
Country: All countries where people are hungry; or one country where there is a special need or relief effort going on
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: In the Lord’s Prayer we pray “Give us our
daily bread.” While some families enjoy feasts on Christmas, others struggle to have enough food.
Giving ideas: Put 25 cents in your “bank” for each meal you ate today. OR Count the difference in cost between your simple dinner and an "average" one; put the difference into the box.
Activity: Serve a simple meal and pray for those who don’t have enough to eat. Be a Secret Servant.
December 22 (Night of Poems--a family tradition)
Songs: In the Bleak Midwinter; The Huron Carol; snow songs; Silent night.
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: If you have a white Christmas, you can gather clean snow, like children in Lebanon, and add fruit juice and sugar to make a snack called yuksuma. (Or eat some sherbet or popsicles.)
Story/poem: A story about Lebanon? (here's one link)
Activity: Play in the snow, make a snowman. Help prepare food and table decorations for Christmas Day. What does MCC do in Lebanon? Prepare for the Night of Poems. Have a few minutes of quiet; pray for peace.
Symbol/theme: Candy cane
Country: Bangladesh (or another country since it was used on the 18th)
Songs: Favourite Scripture choruses and Psalms
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts:
Activity: Sweet snacks are great at Christmas! Try a snack that children in Bangladesh love to eat: puffed rice with sugar and shredded coconut on top. Or make another Christmas treat. Help prepare for Christmas Day (this is our grocery day). Look on the kitchen wall for a list of small jobs that need doing. Cross them off as they get done.
* December 24 (Christmas Eve)
Symbol/theme: Star of David.
Country: Israel and the Middle East
Songs: O Come O Come Emmanuel; O Little Town of Bethlehem; Joy to the World; Lift Up Your Heads O Ye Gates (a favourite Psalm)
Prayer needs or devotional thoughts: Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Find Bethlehem on a map. Offer a prayer for peace in the Middle East and around the world.
Story/poem: “The Stable” by Handel H. Brown (Light of Christmas p. 23)
Activity: Secret Servant (last chance!).