Preparing for Advent

It’s sounds kind of funny to talk about preparing for a season of preparation, doesn’t it? But, Advent is almost here, and prepare we must!

Last year, I shared our daily Jesse Tree readings. A Jesse Tree, for those who don’t know, is a kind of a family tree for Jesus. It doesn’t include only His biological relatives, however…it also includes those people, prophets, and fulfilled prophecies closely associated with the Christmas story. There were twenty-eight readings last year, because Advent was as long as it can possibly be. This year, Advent is short, so a few readings must be left out, (which ones to exclude is at the discretion of the reader). Here are all twenty-eight topics one convenient location:

In addition to the Jesse Tree readings, I’m also adding readings for the “O Antiphons” in the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve, as well as a “Jesse Tree Extension“–readings for the 12 Days of Christmas, with corresponding ornaments that will go on the Jesse Tree with the Advent and Antiphon ornaments. I’m very excited about these two additions to our Advent/Christmas routine!

If you haven’t purchased your Advent candles for the year yet, there’s still time! We light our candles before we say the “Prayer at the Close of the Day” from Lutheran Service Book, but I know some families that light them during dinner, or at another time during the day. We also sing a verse from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” at this time. I always take my Advent wreath into the store with me when I buy the candles, because even though the tapers all look the same, there are minor differences in their diameter, which can make them hard to fit into a specific wreath. I recommend that you choose your Advent candles based on the colors used in your church…we used to use purple candles at home, but since our church uses blue,we’ve switched over, and it’s nice to have that continuity between church and home.

There are also several church year commemorations that take place during the season of Advent. We always remember St. Nicholas (in addition to reading about the real man, we also decorate our Christmas tree on December sixth), and St. Lucia ( in our home, we celebrate this day with lussekattes and Lucia Brides and Star Boys, in addition to reading about Santa Lucia), and the last few years, we’ve added Ambrose of Milan (known for penning the Advent hymn “Savior of the Nations, Come”), as well. This usually involves reading a book about the life of the Saint, and/or discussing his or her history, and how God used that person to spread the Gospel. Sometimes we do an additional activity, like opening stockings on St. Nicholas Day, visiting a church named for Ambrose on December seventh, and  making St. Lucia crowns and Star Boy hats on December 13. In addition to these, there are dates set aside during Advent for Noah, St. Andrew, John of Damascus, Daniel and the Three Young Men, Adam and Eve, Katharina von Bora Luther, and St. Thomas (a great time to visit elderly members of your congregation, particularly those who are shut-ins).

I also can’t wait to start our daily Advent readings. This year, we’re back at the beginning of the trilogy with Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide. But, there are two other books in the series to look forward to: Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels. There are other books that count down the days to Christmas, too…some with more secular stories, and some that simply count down the days in December, instead of the actual days of Advent. I like the Jotham trilogy because they both tie into the Bible story, and because they’re meant to be read every day in Advent, no matter how long or short it is.

Advent is my very favorite time of year. I love the solemnity, the anticipation, the getting ready. What are your favorite Advent traditions?

What We’re Reading–The Time of Easter

We have a lot of books for the Time of Easter, which begins with Ash Wednesday, (the start of Lent), and ends with the Day of Pentecost. The focus of most of these books is Easter itself, with the time leading up to Easter being secondary in most cases. I work really hard to make sure we don’t read any resurrection stories before Easter Sunday, which can be a bit of a challenge–sometimes, we can only read a part of book during Lent, and then have to wait until Easter Sunday, (and the days following), to finish it. I’m not nearly so fastidious during Advent, when we read Christmas stories all season long.

I’m also very careful to keep only religious Easter books around–nothing secular at all, so the list isn’t long compared to our Christmas collection. It actually makes me a little sad that there are so fewer options at Easter, when Easter is an even more important festival than Christmas. Again, at Christmas, I’m a bit more flexible in what we read, especially stories that showcase how Christmas is celebrated in other countries or at other times in history, although I do try to stay away from Santa stories wherever possible. You won’t find any “Easter Bunny” in our Easter readings, though–I really want to emphasize that which is sacred at this time of year!

All that being said, I thought I’d share the books that we do look forward to reading every year at Easter time, most of which are published by CPH!

  • Amon’s Adventure–Like its counterparts for the season of Advent, this book by Arnold Ytreeide is meant to be read throughout Lent. It is not divided into daily readings, however…that’s up to the reader to organize. I find that a bit irritating, because, unlike Advent, which can have a varying number of days, Lent always has the same number of days, and should have been easier to write into daily readings. Except for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week, I chose to forgo readings on Wednesdays and Sundays, and split a few of the longer chapters up over two days, in order to stretch out the readings to last through the whole season of Lent.
  • The Very First Easter–A fantastic book by Paul Maier, which tells the whole Easter story. This is a follow-up to another family favorite, The Very First Christmas, and like the Christmas story, Maier’s Easter tale is Biblical, well-written, and has beautiful illustrations.
  • The Very First Christians–Sometime between Easter and Pentecost, we read the follow-up to The Very First Easter, which focuses on Pentecost and the early church. Like all of Paul Maier’s other books, this one is also excellent.
  • The Real Story of the Exodus–A different series, but also by Paul Maier, this is a good book to read on Maundy Thursday, to make the connection between the first Passover and the Lord’s Supper.
  • That’s My Colt!–This is a story about a boy whose pet had a special purpose on Palm Sunday, and then continues to follow the story through all of Holy Week.
  • Easter ABCs–This is a new book for us this year. I got it mostly for Ladybug’s benefit, and as the title suggests, it goes through the alphabet letter by letter, and mentions some aspect of Easter for each.
  • The Easter Cave–This is a rhyming book, with each line building upon the last. It’s especially good for preschoolers, as they can help “read” the story through the repetition.
  • Things I See At Easter–The children are really too old for this book, but it’s good practice for Moose to read it, and the simple pictures are good for both him and Ladybug to look at and connect to this time of the church year.
  • The Time of Easter–We all still love the story of Smidge and Smudge, two mice living in a church, learning about the church year. As the title suggests, they learn all about Lent through Pentecost in this title.
  • The Story Bible–Through the course of our Jesus Tree readings, we’ll be reading the whole Holy Week/Easter story in this children’s Bible. I’m very impressed with this particular Bible, and if I didn’t already have it, I might have bought The Easter Story, which is taken directly from The Story Bible, and includes all of the parts of the Easter story.
  • Before and After Easter: Activities and Ideas – Lent to Pentecost–I know, I know…a book from Augsburg Fortress? But, I found that there are some good stories and activities in this book, even if I don’t use everything in it.
  • Celebrate Jesus! At Easter–This isn’t a read aloud book, or a children’s book…it’s more of a devotional. And while we don’t use it daily, it does have lots of good ideas, Bible verses, and hymns that can be implemented throughout the Easter season.
  • A Very Blessed Easter Activity Book–OK, technically this isn’t a book we’re reading, either. But it is a reproducible book with fun crafts, puzzles, and Easter pictures. The reproducible part means we’ll get a lot of use out of it, and it’s good for a variety of ages, so I can find something for everybody in it at this point.

A New Lenten Activity

Every year as Lent approaches, I find myself wishing that there were more activities available to do with the children, similar to the things we do at Advent. Last year, I found one new resource–a book by Arnold Ytreeide that continues the story started in Jotham’s Journey, but this time, set around the events of Holy Week. That was a good start, but I still wished for more.

This year, I stumbled across the resource I didn’t even know I was looking for–The Jesus Tree: A Lenten Journey Through the Gospels.

The idea is similar to the Jesse Tree–there’s a daily Bible reading, and an “ornament” to be placed on the tree to reflect the reading. Instead of focusing on Jesus’s family tree, however, this tree focuses on Jesus’s life, culminating with the events of Holy Week, and, of course, Easter Sunday.

My plan is to do the reading from the ESV each morning, before Moose has to go to school, just like we did with the Jesse Tree. I’m also hoping, when possible, to read the story again in the evening, but this time from a children’s Bible. I’m hoping to share each day’s writing and symbol here, as well, again as I did during Advent. Of course, once the baby arrives, there are no guarantees for what I will or will not get done!

I’m very excited about using this resource. I will admit, it’s a lot of work for me, at least this first year. All of the felt patterns need to be cut out and glued together, and felt and I do not get along! But once the work is done, this is something we can use year after year, and I’m so excited to have found something for Lent that’s the same caliber as one of our favorite, and most meaningful, Advent activities. Now if only there was a Lenten equivalent of the Advent Wreath, we’d be all set…

Advent Resources

Advent is my very favorite time of year. Despite all the busyness, I also have a great sense of peace, possibly because we force ourselves to slow down every day, make sure our prayer time is intentional, and make sure we’re focusing on the real reason for the season. I love the anticipation, the preparation. Even though I love Christmas, and all the decorations and activities, (and take part in them during the season of Advent), I love Advent even more–the watching and the waiting.

The center of our Advent observances every year is the Advent Wreath. We light the appropriate candles each night at our family prayer time, and for some reason, that candlelight helps us focus more. I am always sad to put the wreath away every year, because it is such a special time, and one of the things I look forward to most as Advent approaches.

Another important part of our Advent ritual every year are the story books written by Arnold Ytreeide. Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels are interwoven stories, and each is broken down into daily Advent readings. In addition to the daily stories, there is also a brief devotion written for each day. To be honest, I can take or leave the devotional parts (although I usually do read them, but occasionally with some censorship), but the stories are excellent. They are very real, and filled with action and emotion, and excellent cliff-hangers. Although I read them with *my* children, they really are meant for a slightly older audience–probably beginning around age 8 or 10, depending on the child. But there is really no upper limit for age of enjoyment–I look forward to our daily readings, and often find myself peeking ahead to see what will happen next!

This year, for the first time, we have a Jesse Tree. I remember doing this once or twice when I was a child, and I think it’s a cool idea. There are books and kits out there that you can buy, to complete your tree, but I simply cut a tree out of poster board, and printed the ornaments and readings from a website that was offering them for free. The children look forward to seeing what the ornament is for each day, and hearing the accompanying Bible verse, as well as an explanation for how that verse points to Christ. Even Moose and Ladybug participate in this–they can hang the ornaments, and they get great joy out of counting the ornaments every day!

Another thing we’re doing for the first time this year is an Advent Calendar. I had many of these growing up, particularly once I was in High School and selling them for German Club. Many Advent Calendars are secular (think of the cardboard, winter decorated ones filled with chocolate), and that doesn’t really bother me–I think that again, the important thing is the counting down, the anticipation of Christ’s coming. To be honest, ours is secular–a Lego Advent calendar. But that suits our family quite well, so it works.

Devotion books can also be helpful during Advent (as well as other times). One I like is Celebrate Jesus! At Christmas, which was published by CPH. As far as I know, it’s no longer in print, but I’m sure it can still be found. Every day includes a hymn, some Advent, but not all, as well as a Nativity building activity. What I really like about this book is that it goes all the way to Epiphany–it’s nice to have a resource that doesn’t end abruptly on Christmas Eve, when there is still the whole season of Christmas ahead of us!

The ADVENTure of Christmas by Lisa Whelchel, (yes, from The Facts of Life), is another good resource. I don’t use all of the suggestions and activities in this book, but it’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a special idea to add to your Advent celebration. There are fun games and activities, teachable moments, science experiments, recipes, and stories explaining some of our Christmas traditions.

Getting Ready for Christmas is a fun activity book to use with young children as you count down the days until Christmas. Each activity also incorporates a Bible verse and a prayer, and the illustrations are very cute. The back cover even has a lift-the-flap Advent countdown built right into it! It’s perfect for little hands.

The Very First Christmas isn’t technically an Advent resource, but we often read this story toward the end of Advent, in preparation for Christmas. I love The Very First… series, and this book is no exception. It begins with a modern-day boy wanting to know a story about real people, not the typical myths you hear around Christmastime, and so his parents tell him the whole Christmas story.

There are so many wonderful way to prepare our hearts for Advent–every year I look forward to choosing what we’ll use, and how we’ll use this season to prepare!

Arnold Ytreeide Strikes Again!

Last year, I read Jotham’s Journey with Turkey and Bunny every day in Advent. I had heard about this book from, I don’t know, *every* homeschool forum I frequent (and that’s not an exaggeration!). Everyone has loved reading that book with their children, and there was also a big stir because the two follow-up books, Bartholomew’s Passage and Tabitha’s Travels, were being reprinted after several years of being unavailable. And everyone that raved about the books wasn’t kidding–they’re excellent stories that I would recommend every family to read, homeschoolers or not (but do be aware that they’re best read with children who are probably at least 7 or 8). Actually, I would even recommend the books for adults to read on their own–even though the main characters in the stories are children, they are such compelling books that I think adults would also benefit from adding them to their busy Advent schedules (I know I sure have!).

Jotham’s Journey is a cool story about a shepherd boy who gets separated from his family after they think he has been killed by a wild animal. He spends the remainder of the book trying to find them, trying to get away from some bad men who are after him, and making new friends he otherwise would never have met. Two of these friends, Bartholomew and Tabitha, are the main characters in the follow-up stories. Oh, and of course the ending–well, I won’t ruin the whole surprise, but remember, I said we read it every day in Advent–so what event do you think Jotham got to witness firsthand?

Of course, this is a fictional book that just happens to be set around real events. But it is such a real book–it really makes you feel as though you’re in Israel with Jotham, experiencing the things he’s experiencing. There are some tense, even scary parts, and because you read a section every day, there are days that leave you wondering what will happen next, if Jotham will ever be reunited with his family, if he’ll even survive! Not to imagine the twists the story takes–there were some revelations that shocked even me! It’s an excellent story.

We’ll be reading Bartholomew’s Passage this year, and Tabitha’s Travels the next, then we’ll start over again with Jotham. I think it will make a nice three-year cycle (somewhat similar to the lectionary), and put enough time between each reading that we don’t get bored with any of the stories, and might even forget some of the more interesting twists and turns.

But the Jotham trilogy isn’t even what I’m excited about today (although I am ecstatic that we’ll be starting Bartholomew’s Passage in less than a month!). What I’m really excited about is that, while nosing around on Amazon this morning, I discovered a new book by Arnold Ytreeide, set to come out January 31, 2011, called Amon’s Adventure. And while this book is an Easter story instead of a Christmas story, it appears that it is set up in the same way, with a reading for every day in Lent, leading up to Easter. It focuses on some familiar characters from the original books, as well as some new characters. I can imagine which events will be witnessed by those characters in this book, given that it’s a Lenten story.

I have sorrowed every year when we put our Advent wreath away–we have our family prayer time around the candlelight every night in Advent. I have wished for some kind of similar Lenten wreath, even though I know it wouldn’t be the same, and really, wouldn’t be as meaningful, anyway. Well, we may not have the same candlelight for Lent this year, but we will have a story to read every night, that will remind us of Jesus’ great sacrifice for us, and help us better understand the events of the Passion.