98. Advent

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Oh, my, I intended to be much more organized with Advent preparations and traditions this year, especially because my son is now four and is more aware of the impending holiday on December 25. But a variety of illnesses conspired against us and made me modify my plans. Although everything didn’t work out, I’m happy with what we’ve fit in and think it has given us a good foundation for future years.
Fortunately, we were able to celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and St. Herman of Alaska on December 13. Their celebrations tie in well with the season, St. Nicholas for obvious reasons and St. Herman because of the chance to use evergreen cuttings and talk about stars (he was called the North Star) and woodland animals. I overheard him singing his own song about St. Herman, improvising on liturgical melodies. It was quite sweet. (I will likely use the same basic idea for St. Seraphim of Sarov on January 2, given some of the similarities in setting and theme between the two men.) He asked about the reason for St. Nicholas giving gold coins to the girls, so hopefully the idea of charity is beginning to form.
I put up the Advent calendar at least a week late, but he didn’t notice. We made it last year out of a birch stick I’d carried around the country for a decade. The bags were simply sewn and contain figures from small wooden Nativity sets (found at Target) and Christmas ornaments. Mary, Joseph, and the infant Christ are in the last bags. I love how all the Nativity figures are lined up in a row with an angel waiting to greet them – one of those signs your kid is Orthodox!
He has greatly enjoyed having a simple paper chain to use to count down the days, perhaps because he gets to use an adult scissor to cut them off.
We also made ornaments together for an Orthodox children’s ornament swap. Despite his (sometimes) long attention span, I knew I couldn’t get him to make 12 ornaments entirely by hand, so he helped me pick out paper color and shape (oval, not square) for the Nativity silhouette cuts and then placed the stars on them. We’ve received our first one in the mail. He immediately hung it on the tree and asked the names of the children who sent it. What a sweet tradition!
And now we wait for just a few more days!

94. Shoebox Time (& Child Sponsorship)

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It’s amazing how much you can fit into a shoebox when you really start to think about it! Advent (a time of preparation, including giving to others, before Christmas) for Orthodox Christians begins on November 15. Operation Christmas Child collection week begins right after that. It’s great timing to talk about what Advent means for us.
I was surprised by how seriously my son (three years old) listened when I explained to him that we would be purchasing gifts to send to children around the world who may not otherwise receive any gifts. He was full of questions about why they might not have gifts if we didn’t send any.I love having a way to give back that is on a level that a child can understand. I love that it’s tangible, that he can see toys and art supplies being shared with other children instead of just being purchased for him.
Just for some ideas, I’m sharing our list. (I’m one of those clearance-crazed ladies who strolls the end caps of Target throughout the year and stashes everything in a box until Christmas time.) In our box: socks, underwear, tights, toothbrush/paste, soap, washcloth, school and craft supplies, a small teddy bear, small toys, hair bows, and to be added, combs, a little hard candy, small sewing kit, small tape measure.
Related to this topic, we are so happy to be able to be involved with child sponsorship through World Vision. As my son becomes more and more interested in geography, I’ve finally put up a map at his level with the locations of our sponsored kids to help him make the connection. He sees me writing letters for them, and he sees the letters and drawings that they send to us. It’s powerful stuff. Having the map up where I can see it often has been a huge help for me as well, helping me keep their needs and the needs of children like them in the front of my mind. I want my son to know that, while he is blessed, part of being blessed is giving back.
I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts with Operation Christmas Child and sponsorship!

53. Children’s Library at Church

We recently began a little children’s lending library at our church. Adult church libraries are common, but we are blessed with many youngsters at our parish and a children’s library seemed like a good idea, as Orthodox Christian children’s books are hard to find in public libraries! We’re starting small, just a basket full of books and a checkout sheet (stocked with titles from the recent huge sale at Ancient Faith Publishing). We hope to add more titles and invite parish members to contribute used and new books.