There's one tradition our family can't life without. In fact, even if we are traveling, this tradition goes with us.
Meet our Christmas Manger! We DIYed this little thing several years ago as we were preparing for our first Christmas with little ones in our family. My husband is relatively good with DIY woodwork so he created something himself. But I found this video that gives you step-by-step instructions to make something very similar to what we have. You could even use pallet wood to save on cost!
I knew I wanted Jesus to be the center of our celebration and not the presents under the tree. Let's face it - we're swimming a bit up stream for our culture, so I knew it would require some intentionality. But I was sure of this: "things" don't bring everlasting joy, a person does. And that person is Jesus! So as we pray that our hearts are drawn towards the anticipation of His arrival, and not the arrival of gifts under the tree, this seemed like an exciting tradition to start with kids.
Side (but very important) note: This tradition in your home is an opportunity for you to offer representation of other races for your family! Although we can't be completely sure what skin tone Jesus had as a baby, we can be pretty sure he wasn't a pale, blonde haired, blue eyed little one. To paint a more accurate picture for your family of a Savior with darker skin, grab a baby doll like this one!
We choose to keep gifts hidden, and not displayed under the tree, until later on Christmas day. Instead, we display our empty manger under the tree throughout Advent. Specifically, I love placing it under the tree for three reasons.
On Christmas Eve night, after we have our Feast for The King and partake of some birthday cake in honor of his anticipated arrival, we gather around the manger, everyone in their new Christmas jammies, and sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel. It's a precious time as we look to Him for our Joy and our Rescue. Repetition, repetition. This is what our hearts need! So every effort is made to remind us who this celebration is truly about!
On Christmas morning, we place our stand-in baby Jesus in the manger before little ones wake. After eating breakfast (because little kids and hungry bellies), we gather around the manger, read the story of His birth found in Luke 2:1-20, and sing O Come, Let us Adore Him. I dare you to not get weepy as you sing (either alone, with your roomie, or with your family of 7). After weeks of anticipating this day, we celebrate that He kept His promise. And He made a way! No more darkness. The Light of the World has come. Then we bring out presents and have some fun with some of the physical things He gives us to enjoy.
There are other ways to incorporate the manger into your daily Advent time this year. For instance, we love to allow our older kids to put "straw" (aka: hay) in the manger every evening of December after we read our daily scriptures. This aids little hearts (and big) in remembering that we are preparing for His arrival. That we are watching, waiting, and awake. And too, it's a picture of a believer's heart as we await His second Advent! He came once, He'll keep His Word and return again, dear one. Are we ready?