History: Developing the Advent

* Spoiler alert: the following contains a Christmas spoiler for children.

Developing the advent began five years ago, in 2008. My husband and I were anticipating our first child, and I began designing meaningful, symbolic and fun holiday traditions for our family. Christmas is my favorite holiday, and while I had fond memories of Christmas trees, decorations, food, and experiences that I wanted to continue, I also craved greater symbolism and meaning in my family traditions.

My version of a Christmas advent tree
One of my fondest memories of childhood Christmases was my mother's home-made advent. It was a green felt tree hot-glued onto a burlap background. The tree was covered with numbered, white, felt ornament-pockets containing a Christmas story and a mini-candy cane. After we read the story -- and ate the candy -- we turned the ornament over to display a related picture on the tree. I don't remember any of the stories, but I loved watching the tree fill up with pictures as I anticipated Christmas day.

My mother passed away years ago, and I lost track of her advent tree. But I wanted something similar for my son. I also wanted something more -- instead of a sundry collection of stories I wanted to teach my son the purpose of Christmas and the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Instead of the occasional nativity display, I wanted everything about the holiday to testify of Christ. I wanted His spirit and doctrine to be present in our minds through all the accoutrements of Christmas.

I also wanted to omit Santa. When I was a child I felt betrayed by my parents' deception. At school one day an older child shouted out the truth, but I defended my parents. I assured my questioning peers that I knew my parents wouldn't lie, so Santa must be real, all evidence to the contrary. That night my mom told me the truth. The next day I reluctantly went back to school to tell the others that I was wrong, my parents had indeed lied. It was a horrible feeling.

Fast forward to 2008. I was teaching Sunbeams (a church class of 3-4 year-olds) at the time and even at church, Santa and wish lists were the first topics the children chattered about. I couldn't reconcile the betrayal of my childhood and the focus on Santa at church with a meaningful Christmas season. I decided to give him the boot.

But then, amid the gasps of relatives and peers, I worried about our dull, Santa-free Christmases. I didn't want my child to feel the absence of Santa; I wanted him to feel the fulness of excitement and joy and fun and love that can be felt without presents. I set out to create structured, meaningful fun so that even when I'm stressed or busy Christmas can be an exciting time full of the spirit and connection.

I spent the first two years brainstorming topics and poring through the scriptures. I wanted to answer the question: Why do we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? The written advent topics are my answers. Then, once I solidified the doctrinal teachings, I went through a brainstorming mash-up to connect typical traditions and symbols of Christmas with the topics.

I learned some beautiful things while studying these central doctrines of Christ. I also uncovered some of my faulty beliefs. As I polished the advent, I reviewed my written material to confirm that it was directly supported in the scripture references. Some of my statements had to be removed; they were not supported by scripture. I benefited from refining my understanding of gospel doctrine this way.

For the last three years I have created the illustrated images, tested the advent with family and friends, and prepared for publication. Finally I'm ready to share freely! I'm glad to distribute the files for free so that money does not prevent people from using the topics and scriptures. I'm glad to have beautiful printed cards, just like I envisioned five years ago. Once again, as I share the advent, I feel a rich spirit -- the same spirit I felt while studying the written content.

I've had some spiritual challenges in the last two years. It's helped that my Savior and meaning are  ingrained into our family traditions. My traditions have held out, even when my heart could not. I'm glad to share this resource with others.