Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber, beloved characters in the classic Veggie Tales movie, The Star of Christmas, sang, “There must be more to Christmas. I think we’re really missing something…..”
Ever had the same thought? Several years ago with four children and their ever growing wish lists, we knew we had to do all we could to keep the focus on the true meaning of Christmas – the amazing birth of Jesus. It was important to me that they learn the joy of helping others and learn the value of giving.
I surprised myself by sewing an advent calendar. Comprised mostly of felt, there are 24 pockets, each decorated with either a number or a holiday symbol. The first year we used it, I filled each pocket with candy and trinkets for the children, allowing them to take turns each day to draw out a surprise.
The children certainly enjoyed this, but I wondered if this craft project, created by an uncrafty mom, might be put to better use.
I had heard of families using pieces of straw as a reminder to do things to bless others. Each time a child did something selfless, he was allowed to place a piece of straw at the manger scene. By Christmas, if the children had been self-sacrificing, the Baby Jesus would be comfortably lying on a cushy bed of straw.
Why not apply this principle to my spiffy Advent calendar? I thought of 24 giving things my children were capable of doing. I wrote them on slips of paper and placed one into each pocket.
As the days before Christmas passed before us, the children were challenged to think of others, not what bounty they would reap come Christmas Day. I tailored many of the activities to our unique interests. Our good deeds, which I later named “Compassion Capers,” included the following:
- Bringing a bag of cat food to the animal shelter
- Shoveling a neighbor’s walkway
- Making a get well card for a fellow church member
- Hand making a special gift for a sibling
- Making cookies for the neighbors
These can be related to the needs and opportunities available to your particular family. If your sibling relationships are strained, they can focus mainly on building relationship and blessing one another. If you have a family ministry, such as visiting a nursing home, you can relate each task to that ministry.
The slips of paper do not need to be all pocketed at the same time. You can add one each day, depending upon the needs and schedule of your family.
Why do we call them Compassion Capers? Caring for others is one of the most important life lessons we can teach our children. In our family they are called “capers” because they are done anonymously, as much as possible, and certainly without expectation of recognition or reward. The children are doing good deeds simply for the joy of bringing Christ’s love and compassion to others.
So how about your family? Do you want to change your focus to be more outward rather than inward this Christmas? You don’t have to sew an Advent calendar.
Here are a couple ideas from items obtained from Dollar Tree. I purchased some red/white twine, clothespins, red cups and paper lunch bags. You can make a compassion countdown with the bags or cups for a few dollars. Get the kids involved in making the calendar and in listing the good deeds.
I have provided a pdf of 26 ideas for the family. There are lots of extra spaces for you to add or substitute your own ideas.
Rather than a season of out-of-control consumerism, work with your kids to teach them the value of giving. This could be your best Christmas yet!