Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Non-religious families differ widely in their approach to Christmas celebrations. I will share our secular Advent traditions in this post in the hopes that it will help other non-religious families or families with blended religions establish their own way to celebrate arrival of Christmas Day.
Advent celebrations and traditions for non-religious families Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate and this post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure, please click here and thank you for supporting my blog!

Does Advent Have a Meaning for Secular Families?

As my long time readers know, we are a non-religious family. I was raised atheist, my husband was raised in a liberal Lutheran family and stopped practicing when he came over to the United States. But it doesn’t mean that we are giving up on all the fun and traditions associated with Christmas. As a child, I remember anxiously awaiting a New Year Day, since Christmas was not celebrated when I was growing up. My husband had a very traditional German Christmas every step of the way, and he was very determined to spread the magic of Christmas season in our house, of excitement and anticipation, of special activities leading to Christmas Day and… of sweets. Ever since we met, he made me a special Advent calendar with sweets, and Advent calendars sort of exploded in the house since daughter was old enough to understand that something special is about to happen.
Do we talk about Christ during Christmas season? Yes. We think that Christianity is an important driver of our culture, and we certainly want our daughter to know about “the reason for the season”. We read a wide variety of Christmas books, both religious and non-religious. In fact, one of our cherished Christmas traditions is based on a religious Christmas book that we bought when daughter was 2 years old.

Advent Storybook

Advent StorybookAdvent Storybook by Antonie Schneider is a German Advent book translated from German by Marissa Miller. Every day of December Mama Bear tells her little son stories about the perilous journey that Benjamin Bear undertakes while following a magic star to Bethlehem. Every short story (less than a page long) ends with a one sentence explanation connecting the story with God’s laws. I thought that the book was somewhat too religious for our family, but my young preschooler loved it, and every year she asks to read it again. She already reminded me about a “Bear book” and looking forward to its reappearance this Christmas season.

Advent Calendars

As I mention, we usually have an explosion of Advent calendars in the house. For several years we went with basic “chocolate in colorful tissue paper” calendar that took about an hour of preparation.
Advent Calendar 2009 Last year my husband invested time and energy in sewing up felt calendar that has drawstring pouches. Our calendars usually have chocolate on every day, plus a small surprise on Sundays leading to Christmas.
Advent Calendar 2014In addition, Smarty’s German grandfather sends her a store-bought chocolate Advent calendar that hangs on the wall, and her German uncle and aunt traditionally give her Playmobil calendars. This was the one that she is still playing with 2 years after its arrival:
Playmobil Advent Calendar As you can see, there is no lack of excitement in the house on December mornings, when new treasures are discovered and inspected:

Advent Journal

Writing Journal for Advent Last year we also introduced a new Christmas tradition – an Advent Journal. Every day Smarty and I wrote stories and lists in this journal. It made a great memory of the season. Since the journal still has space, I hope to pull it out again this year.

Activity Advent Calendars

I admit that I love the idea of Activity Advent calendars, except the Elf on the Shelf – I am firmly in the “creepy” camp on that. In reality, I was never able to complete an activity Advent successfully – not with the craziness of school plays, Christmas shopping, and other distractions of the season. But my blogging friend MaryAnne from Mama Smiles: Joyful Parenting shared a simple idea for a book Advent calendar that I think we might try this year. I might have to go to the library sale first and get a few more Christmas books :)

More Christmas Ideas for Kids?

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Your Turn

Do you have any special Advent traditions in your house?


Ticia said...

I"m like you and can never keep up with daily activities, we seem to do the activities in random batches each year.

We have a random assortment of traditions our family does, and each year my daughter insists on adding more traditions in for the year.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

This is funny, because I was just discussing Advent calendars with my sister this week - Christian (which to me means with verses) vs. secular (just chocolates or toys). I was telling her how excited I was to finally find one with verses - the Christmas story told from Scripture a little each day, and chocolates. I only bought one, because it was more expensive, and we really only need one with verses - so for the rest I went with secular versions. I was having a hard time deciding if it looked weird to hang a the one with a Nativity scene picture next to five with elves and Santas - happily I found some with teddy bears and presents, instead. My sister thought the whole thing was strange - since Advent refers to the arrival of Christ - how can you have a secular Advent. I'll have to refer her to this post.

At any rate - it wouldn't seem like Christmas if we weren't counting down with a little surprise each day. And, I'm with you on the Elf - it's just a little creepy...and I'd never remember to keep up with it. The nice thing about the calendars is that once they are hung it's up to the children to open the doors - and they never forget :)

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

Thanks for sharing my book advent calendar!

My kids are each getting a Playmobil Advent calendar this year - it will be their main Christmas gift, since we do simple Christmases, but they get to open it a day at a time. And you already know about our family book advent calendar. I love advent calendars - religious and secular.

Emilia said...

Thanks for the ideas. We are similar in our approach in many ways. I have taken the approach that it will be a time for me to teach my kids about my extended family's traditions and try and create a strong since of family during the advent season. We do the normal chocolate countdown calendar, but I have also tried to take up the Sunday advent that my Grandmother really loves. I have done it in a very different way except for the lighting of the candles on a wreath which I still do. I have tried to use this as the activity oriented advent and since it is much fewer days I feel it is more achievable. We do the decorating one day, a family gift (maybe a family game, or a trip to go sledding), we join my Mom in lighting up our kayaks and floating down the river, and those types of things and then light our candles that night at dinner. It has been enjoyable so far.

Sunshine Cook said...

I have a secret hack for making an activity calendar work. Fill each slot *the night before* and just put something you know you'll feel like doing the next day! So easy.