So you are feeling a bit overwhelmed by all those inspirational Advent ideas popping up around our little cyber-neighborhood like vibrant spring bulbs you somehow forgot to plant. Perhaps you just hosted Thanksgiving and find it impossible to believe yet another season is already knocking at the door and demanding admittance. Maybe you simply have not been able to get to the store to purchase supplies. You see the beauty all around and worry that your dear children will be shortchanged.
Take heart! It is not too late!
At a time like this, we may follow the example of Our Blessed Mother, who was herself the perfect symbol of Advent. "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart," [Lk 2: 19] teaching us that prayer and reflection are the soul of this holy season. Simple prayers, like the Christmas Novena or The Angelus may be begun with the children tomorrow morning, bringing in the eternal mystery of Advent to their waiting hearts with no advance preparation necessary.
Yesterday, during one of those quietly humming moments of our school day, I found myself thinking about our Advent Cubes. These simple little cubes are so dear to my heart, and I have high hopes for them as an addition to our own celebrations this year, yet a nagging thought kept insinuating itself into my daydream: Why should the activity be so dependent upon the wooden cubes? Shouldn't a mother with nothing but paper and a pen be able to bring the six separate aspects of the project to life?
My nine-year-old was fairly surprised when I interrupted her math page to ask, "Margaret, do you know how to make paper cubes?"
"Sure," she responded immediately, happily fashioning a cube out of looseleaf using a pattern block as a guide. I asked her to repeat the process with pretty pink paper, and the result was every bit as beautiful as any wooden block could hope to be:
[You will note that we wrote the name of the Jesse symbol rather than drawing it to show it is not necessary to transform the blocks into Jesse tree ornaments. The children could just as easily participate in creating a paper tree similar to the paper creche.]
Yes, I hear some of you saying, "Those are sweet, but what mother has time to fashion twenty four paper cubes by Sunday?" Well, the truth is that even paper cubes are not indispensible. You could use plain or colored paper, writing down your six Advent Cube panels on each one and allowing the children to pick folded papers like names out of a hat. Wouldn't something like this work?
Or, if you wanted to get fancy, you could fashion paper leaves, writing the name of a Jesse tree symbol on one side and the five other cube panels on the other. Each day, as you complete the activities on both sides, one of the children would draw the Jesse tree symbol directly onto the leaf, adding it to a paper tree similar to the one in the original O Night Divine post, but without the need for blocks. (Karen Edmisten's Thanksgiving Trees would be perfect for this purpose. Just imagine a tradition of a Thankgiving Tree transformed to a Jesse Tree each year.)
In other words, no special or expensive materials (or elaborate preparation) are needed to create a children's creche and Jesse tree, honor the saints of the season, offer a nightly treat, emphasize penance and sacrifice, and remember the books, hymns and prayers that make Advent sing.
At the end of a day, the joy of a new activity and family time spent in prayer is all that matters. For your children, your smile is the only glitter needed to make this Advent shine brightly in their minds and memories.