The Reflective Practitioner: An Advent elf experiment
The Reflective Practitioner: An Advent elf experiment

Elf on the Shelf photo by peapodsquadmom via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Advent. At home. With the kids.Where do I start? I don’t have a wreath. I don’t have a fancy calendar. I don’t have time. Then I saw the familiar message: Slow down. Quiet. It’s Advent!

In an effort to help my kids embrace the reason for the season, I decided to employ one of those cute little elves I see all over Pinterest, store shelves, and Facebook. My husband and I happened upon a stuffed version, which saved us the cost of the whole box set. (The set comes with a hardback storybook about how your elf is keeping an eye on you for Santa. We’re choosing not to include this element in our elf narrative.)

Our Advent elf experiment is a hybrid of tradition, education, and make-believe. Each morning when the kids wake up, St. Bulibosh (so named by my boys the first morning of his appearance) has an Advent message to share.

The first day of Advent, the message was simply that it is now Advent. The second day, he reminded us to be a light to others, suggested that sharing was a good way to do that, and brought doughnuts to share in order to set an example. The third day, he was playing with cars and trucks and asking us if we remember how Jesus arrived to be with us.

I’m using that familiar “Slow down …” Advent calendar for ideas of kid-appropriate messages related to the meaning of Advent. So far it’s been a lot of fun and required less than ten minutes of prep time each evening. And it has led to some good conversations with our boys. (Editor’s note: Our Kate Siberine reviewed the app version of this calendar.)

Including an Advent elf or any other fun, educational piece to your Christmas preparation should not add chaos and frenzy to your life. A friend posted on Facebook the other day, “It’s that wonderful time of the year again where I wake up from a good night’s sleep, stretch, then nearly pull a hamstring flying out of bed because I forgot to move our Elf on the Shelf before the kids wake up!”

I laughed out loud, but this kind of hurry is counterproductive. Slow down. I forgot to move the elf two days in a row this week. The boys didn’t happen to notice because he was in the game closet reminding us to be patient waiting for Christmas—just like we’re patient when we wait our turn during a game.

So tomorrow St. Bulibosh will explain why he’s been “gone” for two days on a trip, helping another elf deliver blankets to some kids who were awfully chilly without them.

Sometimes our elf’s notes to us reference conversations he overhears at the dinner table. We’ve been starting dinner with an Advent prayer rather than one of our usual blessings. I found these prayers in a free book from a church we visited two weeks ago.

At first I was disappointed I didn’t have an Advent wreath like the pretty one in the picture on the cover of this free book. I needed to quiet that nagging voice in my head telling me that what’s in front of me isn’t “just right.”

What I did have was two votives from a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” bag from our move this past August, and a plate in my cupboard. Boom. Advent plate of candles. It’s not the candles on the plate that matter. It’s the conversation around them.

It’s Advent. During this season of preparation, we prepare gifts, we prepare meals, and we must remember to prepare our hearts—not just the young little hearts in our homes, but our own as well.

The best part of this little experiment for me has been that for each reminder I have left for my boys, I myself have been reminded of the amazing gift we’ve been given, the one we remember Christmas morning every year.

This mindfulness has been its own gift of peace and has helped me to slow down, to be quiet, and to prayerfully prepare the way in our home … because it is Advent.

Elizabeth Bentrup (@mrsbentrup) works in Welcome Center support at Virginia Theological Seminary.

Image by peapodsquadmom via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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