I hate to see Advent Calendars in grocery stores that hold no meaning except to provide a countdown and a piece of candy for children. Often the calendar has no reference to Christ or anything remotely spiritual. It’s nothing more than a box of chocolate with cartoon characters on it.
Years ago I decided to buy an empty wooden Advent Calendar with little drawers that had numbers on them. Oh sure, when the kids were little some of them contained candy or tiny toys. But most were filled with scriptures to help them reflect and prepare for Christmas.
As they began to get older, I had to get creative in finding ways to keep their attention so they continued looking forward to opening the calendar drawers each day. They are teens now and they still love doing the Advent because I change what’s in the drawers each year. They never know what they will find. It could be a scripture passage from the birth of Christ, some money, a riddle, a challenge to perform an act of kindness–who knows?
My goal is to create a sense of wonder, waiting, and reflection on the coming of Christ to Earth. But I don’t get uptight if that doesn’t happen every day. Sometimes it’s just plain old-fashioned fun. And that’s ok. I don’t want to get so hung up on making every day a serious, reverent lesson that it loses its joy for the kids.
Try to spark your own creative ideas. Here are some ways to change up your calendar and keep it interesting for older kids:
- Do the advent each day after dinner as a family. Make it an event for all. Not just one person opening the calendar door/drawer by themselves.
- Use higher quality chocolate. As people mature, cheap candy isn’t as appealing. Place it randomly, not every day.
- Every other day, only include a typed scripture from the Christmas story. Use full passages of several verses. The kids are older and can read more than they used to. Ask them questions about what they read. Make it a family discussion. I prefer to put the passages in chronological order so that by Dec 25th they will have read the entire account from Luke or another gospel.
- If you include money as a surprise, don’t get crazy. $1 is sufficient. It’s not about the amount, it’s about sparking a conversation regarding the greatest gift of all.
- Type up the lyrics to a Christmas song but mix up the words. They must try to guess it.
- Include a deep question in one day like “Imagine you are an angel hearing God’s plan to send Jesus to Earth for mankind. How would you feel?” OR “What kind of emotions do you think Mary’s parents felt when they first realized Mary was pregnant?”
- Write the word EMMANUEL on a piece of paper and challenge your teen to see how many words they can make from those letters in three minutes.
- Throw in a small gadget here and there (keychain, bookmark, nail polish, a Chick-fil-A coupon). Make sure it fits in the space so they can’t see it until they open the container or door for that day.
- Use your printer to print out tiny photos from significant memories from the past year. Ask your teen to share what that means to them and how they saw Christ in that event.
Be creative and think outside the box. There are no hard-set rules. It’s not a time to strive to turn every day into an opportunity for rigid religious training. Nor is it a time to reflect on Santa and parties. It is an “Advent Calendar” after all. For us, a balanced time of spiritual reflection and fun is what works best. I found when I trust the Lord, he can turn any of those advent days into a God moment. Even a candy cane can spark a spiritual conversation.
Trust God and have fun.