Traditions with Kids: The Advent Wreath

Another wreath from a friend a church - an old cart wheel adorned with seasonal greens. 

Another wreath from a friend a church - an old cart wheel adorned with seasonal greens. 

It is hard to say, but I think I promised a post or two about using the advent wreath with your kids. I am by no means an expert on this. In fact, this is the first year that Lois has really cared one iota about the wreath - but I have been excitedly planning on it for a few years now. Actually I have been reading, planning, and plotting all sorts of Christmas traditions since I was pregnant - but that’s another story for another time. What I am is just another mother trying to make it, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. So: 

Doing the Wreath with Kids - 

After sometime really spent worrying about whether I would do it right, or what scriptures I should read for each candle, or why our children’s program didn’t follow the usual order, I received some truly great advice from my friend Ruth (who is an expert on doing all these things with children). First she told me to chill out and stop worrying about there being a “right” way. When working with children, all you really need to do is tell a story - use the wreath to send your kids on a journey with the wise men, the holy family, the prophets, and the Christ child. Her second piece of advice was much nicer and just as useful. Referring to the fact that Lois is just a toddler, she said, “At that age, all you have to do is make her aware of the light.” During Advent and Christmas there is a growing light that gradually overcomes darkness - just get that image in her head and heart. That image is the foundation of the Christian story, isn’t it? And in order to do that with a child, all you really have to do is turn the lights off, tell her it is dark, and then light just one then two, then three, four, five candles, all the while drawing her attention to the way the candles change the way we see and feel. 

So that is my best advice for anyone deciding that they want to use the wreath to teach their children to expectantly wait for Christ. As long as your telling a story or maybe just communicating the myth and mystery of light and darkness (mystery-laden things like light lasts much longer than candles), there isn’t a wrong way to do the wreath. In my head, the best way to fend off some of the “Christmas is all about the miracle of Santa” crud is to just steadily, steadily move your child through a story that concludes on Christmas morning. While Santa may help deliver the gifts (what a jolly postman), they come because Christ is here - Christ is the gift and He is giving and it is His presence that causes such celebration and charity by us and his Saints (Santa = Saint). That is why our Santa makes sure Lois wakes to three gifts on Christmas morning (one from him and two from us). His story must resonate with the original story, Christ himself received three gifts, brought to him by the three wisemen. Saint Nick, out of respect for the big event, the Christ birth, the thing that motivates us, him, and everyone, brings three gifts to our sweet Lois because this is how Christ has been celebrated from the beginning. In this way, Santa is another one of those traditions that Lois grows in to, not out of. 

Our Little Ritual

I will tell you what we do with Lois - but our tradition is in its infancy, and like I just hinted at above, Daniel and I are trying to give Lois traditions that will get richer and more full as her understanding of love, charity, and Christ Himself deepens. That being said, the way we do the wreath might change and grow as our family grows. Oh, and let me give credit where credit is due. For the most part, we are using the Godly Play way with Lois. In children, play and worship is the same thing and Godly Play is a children’s program that really seems to get that.  It is also the system our Church’s childrens program uses so it makes a lot of sense for us. 

First, after assembling the wreath together, maybe by putting in your fresh candles and greening everything, here is a great blessing from To Dance with God that you can pray this with your family:

“Oh God, by whose word all things are made holy, pour your blessing on this wreath, our sacrificed wheel, and may it remind us to slow down our hectic pace and make our hearts ready for the coming of Christ your Son and Lord.” 

The Godly Play script has this really beautiful opening that is a perfect place to start on that first night. I said this with Lois and she listens. I don't think she gets the words, but she is getting something. I know it because now when we sit around the wreath she points and squeals as we ready our selves to make some light. She gets the light, which is really all you can hope for at her age. But anyway to start:

"A King is coming, but not the kind of kind that people thought was coming. This king has no army, no big house, and he isn't rich. this kind is a baby who is born in a barn! The coming of this King is a mystery. A mystery is sometimes hard to enter. That is why this time is important - the time of Advent. Sometimes people walk right through this mystery and don't even know it is there. But Christmas is such a great mystery that it takes four weeks to get ready to enter it." 

I might emphasize the key words, ask her to point to the king in her nativity, talk to her about what a barn is, or use voice inflection to communicate big, small, mundane, and grand. Then I tell her we are traveling to that barn to meet Jesus. Weeeeee! I mean, I think you get the picture. Make it fit your family. Then, after that is said you have a different thing you do each week (See below). 

We don't light the candles every night, although I wish we did. When we do light the candle(s) we turn off all the lights, see how dark it is, and then light them. We usually turn a few lights back on to eat, but not as many as usual. I want us to benefit from and enjoy the candle. It is special. 

Click on each to see the posts:

Week 1: The Prophets Candle 

Week 2: The Holy Family’s Candle 

Week 3: The Shepherds Candle

Week 4: The Wise Men’s Candle

Christmas Day: The Christ Candle