My goal in this post is to give some insight into the benefits of intentionally planning for Advent. I come from a Christian perspective that mixes many traditions. I tend to be somewhat pragmatic when evaluating ideas and activities from various Christian faith traditions. If I find something that can be useful to our family celebration, I will evaluate it biblically and then implement it in our observance. Such as Advent as a whole. Our family celebration of Advent has developed over the past several years. Early in our marriage, we simply went to church activities during the Christmas season and did not put much effort into our home plans. When I began serving full-time with the Army, we needed some stability and tradition to supplement, because of our frequent moving. As a result, we have developed a robust and structured way of celebrating the season. I encourage the reader to apply the following observations to their own journey.

As we plan for Advent, three categories of activities guide our planning; Scripture, experience, and fun. Advent activities will fall loosely into one of these categories. The first category, Scripture, is paramount in Christianity. We gain our values and understanding from the Bible. God has revealed Himself through the Scripture, thus it is the foundation of the season and our lives. When we plan for Christmas, Scripture has the primary role. The second category, experience, takes many forms. It can be Church attendance, community service, personal ministry, or other activities. Finally, fun, should always be considered, especially when planning for the participation of children. Fun does not always means games and silliness. It can be going on a picnic, or simply listening to music together. The idea is enjoyment together.

As I share these observations about how we plan for the Christmas season, I encourage the reader to see a framework that can be used with any season. My wife and I take time to talk about important things to include as we lead up to Christmas. We use the categories without much thought. We have been planning together for many years, so our processes are somewhat automatic. For instance, we know that getting a Christmas tree is a family event that everyone anticipates. That event provides a time for growth and sacrifice. Some years it is the most fun we have, other years kids ride home crying.

We start with the foundational category for our planning, Scripture. For this category we start with our Church calendar. At this point church and family traditions can be useful in bringing Scripture into our Christmas celebration. So we start by blocking out the days we will attend services. Usually, we will be in church for each advent Sunday. We will also plan on attending Christmas Eve service as the basis for our December 24th activities.

We are also committed to doing Advent readings each night, and lighting the advent candles each week. We do not light our candles on Sunday, which is traditional. We light the candles on Monday evening as part of our family worship. We found the weekends are so hectic, we needed to remove the lighting to a quieter day. In these times we discuss the Bible and connecting the Scripture to our lives. We also discuss the biblical teachings that impact our understanding of the holiday. These readings and our church attendance provide the first element to our season, Scripture.

The next element to consider are experiences/activities throughout the month. These activities allow us to use all our senses to take in the meaning of Christmas. We have some traditions, like putting colored lights on our house, trimming our Christmas tree, and playing seasonal music. We also will look for some ways to serve as a family during the season. Usually, this involves taking part in a church program. One year, my kids helped another church with their Christmas events as they were short handed. This was a way for them to serve the greater Christian community in our town. These experiences are also the building blocks of lifetime memories. Many of these experiences will stay in their memories for years. I mentioned getting our tree. These excursions have left memories (and scares) which have become part of our family history. Never underestimate the impact of something as simple as choosing a tree.

The final element is fun. While other things we do together are fun, these activities are just for the sake of fun. One of our traditions involves watching Christmas movies together. We have watched Elf, Shop Around the Corner, The Star, Charlie Brown Christmas, and The Most Wonderful Time of The Year, just to name a few. We have a long list of movies for possible viewing, together we choose what we watch. Yes, Hallmark is a major contributor to the list. However, many of these movies become the stuff of laughter and silliness, which is exactly why we watch them.

We also plan for special meals during the holiday. As a family we decide what foods we want to have in our Christmas Eve smorgasbord. This is a family pot luck dinner. It is a fun way of working together preparing the evening meals. We also must look for places to provide elements for the meal. While in California, tamales became part of our tradition. Now we must find a good place to order our Christmas tamales.

When we finish our planing, the season has flexibility, with some rigidness to help maintain the structure our celebration. At the end of the season, we have read about Christ's birth, experienced Christ's presence, and enjoyed the blessings that Christ gives to our family. Planning has given us the opportunity to relax and enjoy the season while we grow in our faith. We have come to grasp a little more fully the thoughts of Isaiah when he wrote, "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." ( Isaiah 9:6)

Structuring around holidays provides the family with the opportunities to grow spiritually as they enjoy the richness of having traditions and experience the fun of the season together.