This year in addition to our advent wreath and nightly story traditions (more later), we're instituting a new tradition.
We're not really big on Santa here. We pretty much never speak of him (other than in reference to St Nicholas) and we neither confirm nor deny any rumors. If they ask or share some part of the story we tend to say things like "yep, that's what I heard, too," or just an "Oh really?" I love the story of St Nicholas and the idea of sharing and giving and rejoicing and all that; but Santa as we know him in the US is just a nightmare of greedy wants-ies. And our kids don't handle the wants-ies well. I took Katie with me to the store last weekend to buy a birthday gift for her cousin who turns three this weekend and she cried and whined all night about every little thing real or imagined. She finally told us it was because she was so very sad not to have an X, Y, and Z from Target. Yep, not going to Target again for awhile and certainly not going to encourage her to focus on thinking of all the things she wants and does not have.
So anyhow, since we don't push the Santa thing around here, we also don't have the threats of "If you don't knock it off right this very second Santa will erase your name off his list forever!"
I ran across this idea on a Catholic education website and love love love it. The kids know that Christmas is Jesus's birthday and our job during Advent is to prepare our hearts so we're ready for Jesus and to make the world a better place for Him. This little project makes it more tangible.
Empty Advent Manger
1. One wooden crate or box or basket ($4 wooden crate from craft store)
2. A doll the appropriate size for your container ($4 Circo brand (aka Target brand) doll)
3. Straw or other fill. I found 12 feet of gold colored tinsel-y garland at the craft store for $5 and cut it into 2-3" puffs.
4. Possibly (we did): some tulle or mesh to line the box to contain the fluff a bit better.
Line the box with mesh and stuff the "straw" into a container. We used a clear glass vase and put a pretty gold-accented wreath around it and set it on the dining room table. That may not look like much but when it's fluffed and loose it's enough to fill that crate to the very top.
Tell the kids the nativity story, focusing on how Mary and Joseph had no where to put the baby Jesus and how baby Jesus deserves a nice soft bed and a lot of love. I put the baby doll in the bed and intentionally bumped its head a bit "Ouch! This bed is so hard!" (yea, that's right, in my spare time I beat up babies. Not just any babies, either. Baby Jesus.)
Then we talked about what else Jesus wants for his birthday (kindness, love, sharing, etc.). I told them that when they do something good, kind, loving, helpful or extra cooperative they are helping prepare for Jesus and can put a puff of "straw" into the manger. When we celebrate Jesus's birthday in a few weeks hopefully we'll have a nice soft bed (and good, kind, prepared hearts) awaiting Him. Until then the baby Jesus doll is tucked away.
For now the nearly empty manger is sitting on a side table in the dining room with just the remnant bits of straw from the chopping project and one little puff from Jorge's super cooperative morning.
I like this for several reasons:
1. Focus on the real reason for Christmas (Jesus vs. Santa)
2. Focus on preparation and kindness (vs. wanting gifts and avoiding being caught misbehaving)
3. Catching them for being good and rewarding good behavior rather than threats and focus on bad behavior
4. If necessary we can always say that really poor behavior hurts God's heart and we can remove some puffs. The equivalent for Santa is, again, to say really good behavior means...more gifts? Eh.