One of my fondest memories of childhood Christmases was my mother's home-made advent. It was a green felt tree hot-glued onto a burlap background. The tree was covered with numbered, white, felt ornament-pockets containing a Christmas story and a mini-candy cane. After we read the story -- and ate the candy -- we turned the ornament over to display a related picture on the tree. I don't remember any of the stories, but I loved watching the tree fill up with pictures as I anticipated Christmas day. The anticipation!
My mother passed away years ago and I lost track of her advent tree. But I wanted something similar for my son. I also wanted something more--instead of a sundry collection of stories I wanted to teach my son the purpose of Christmas and the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Instead of the occasional nativity display, I wanted everything about the holiday to testify of Christ. I wanted His spirit and doctrine to be present in our minds through all the accoutrements of Christmas.
In this advent, cards that present a topic about Jesus Christ, scriptures from the canon of the Church, a suggested activity, and an illustrated symbol, replace the flaps on a traditional advent calendar. Each day you read a card, look up the scripture references, do a related activity, and display the symbol on the back of the card. When you have finished all the cards you have reached Christmas morning.
Using the advent may be as simple or involved as your schedule requires. For example, during the month of December I read the written paragraph and one or two scripture references (usually the ones marked with stars on the cards) in the morning for my daily scripture study. In the evening, my family does a related activity. We do the same activities every year as we complete the advent. Most of the activities include our favorite Christmas traditions, and doing them with the advent ties them to the "reason for the season."
For the rest of the activities we use some of the easier suggestions included in the companion document Making Christmas Count: A User's Guide, but your own use of the cards need not be so structured. Some people may choose to only read the scripture references, mix up the order of the cards to match traditions they have done in the past, or skip some of the cards when schedules get busy. Others look at the symbols instead of doing the activities, or play it by ear, choosing something new for each card each year. The card topics and scripture references could even be used year-round to guide an in-depth study of the life and mission of our Savior.
However you choose to implement the advent, enjoy yourself! Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy the spirit of a Christ-centered holiday!
If you plan on incorporating this calendar into a yearly tradition, you can also purchase a higher quality, professionally printed version of the advent deck of cards--very similar to a standard deck of 52 playing cards--from the author, Sarah Ashworth, for $10 online. These beautiful and durable cards can then be used for many meaningful Christmases to come!