This year we may well have to change how we celebrate Christmas. Large gatherings and community singing won’t be easy, so let’s be creative and start thinking about what we want to achieve in our Christmas celebrations, and start thinking of new ways to celebrate.
One of the things I love most about Christmas is the way every family has it’s own traditions, from going out to choose a tree together to cooking a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas eve. It’s not about doing the biggest or best things, but about repeating the things we love with the people we love.
When I’m planning our Advent and Christmas season for our family, I like to start early! This way I get to work out which traditions we will definitely do and plan in space for them, before adding news things (I do LOVE new things!). I like to think of ways we are going to explore the story in a fresh way. I like to do this personally as well as together, and I often get an Advent devotional or storybook to read. I don’t always stick with it, but, that’s also the joy of a person who loves new things!
I have a box of books which I get out at Christmas time, usually wrapping 24 of them for a Christmas book a day. I add new ones each year, and always have a chapter one on December the 1st so we can read it together through the month.
I have a box of nativity sets (yes, I’m a nativity set addict!) and I get these out one a week-ish, adding additional ones around the house when no-one’s looking in an attempt to hide the number I have! One year I sorted all our Play Mobil and made four collections and put a new one out each week so that my children could play with a new section of the story each week. This year they are really into Lego, so I may need to sort something they can do with Lego if I want to really engage them.
One thing I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to do is have Advent Calendars, and you probably know I make a fab sticker one each year where the stickers tell the story. I’m delighted to say that this year it’s bigger than ever before, opening out from a folded A4 to an A3 picture in the centre, with 40 stickers to add one a day alongside the whole story from the Bible in a mini-book. The story is straight from the Bible and is divided into 40 roughly equal parts, so that Jesus is born on Christmas Day, leaving time for the stories of the shepherds, wise men and Simeon and Anna in the Twelve Days of Christmas unto Epiphany on January 6th.
Every time a character speaks (even a quote from an Old Testament prophet), their speech is in speech bubbles, which makes it really easy to create your own DIY, no practise nativity. This could be something you do in your home, with extended family (there are lots of parts to play!) or even over Zoom with your church community.
I know some churches have used this book as a script to do a no-rehearsal nativity at Christmas, and found it to be really fun, as well as a great way to actually a huge section of the Bible text of the story. The book includes the story from both Matthew and Luke, blended together to give a more of less as-chronological-accurate-as-possible telling.
The writing in the mini-book is large and clear for early-readers and those needing reading glasses, so helpful for an inter-generational collection of actors 😉
Once you’ve done your play, you might enjoy asking a few open-ended questions (also on the calendar):
- I wonder what part of this story you liked best.
- I wonder which part of this story is the most important.
- I wonder if there is a part of this story we could do without and still have all the story we need.
- I wonder where you might be in this story.
I’ve found these questions are usually enough to get people really discussing the story in depth and forging their own connections with it. This works particularly well in inter-generational gatherings where adults and children are all encouraged to participate and offer their ideas. This would work in your living room or over Zoom or in a gathered service around coffee tables.
One of the things we’ve learnt during lock down is that having lots of different people contributing to our services is a really beautiful thing and makes the most of being the body of Christ. Giving value to everyone’s contribution and being willing and open to hearing from God through whoever he chooses to speak to us, is a wonderful way of discovering God and His ways of connecting differently which everyone He has made.
Another things we’ve discovered is that faith isn’t locked inside our church buildings, but it is real and living in our homes. This Christmas, if we are intentional about it, we could see this continue to grow as families engage with the Christmas story together, connecting with each other and God as well as their church friends. If God was happy to send His son to be born in a normal family, I’m sure we can celebrate that birth in ours.
PS If you haven’t ordered you Advent Calendars yet, you can get yours here.