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The following topic is geared more towards "at-home" Advent celebrations and learning experiences. Though originally started during the COVID pandemic, it has many great ideas for future Advents beyond the pandemic.

Be sure to see our menu of hand-picked "Advent At Home" resources --plus a video presentation of those resources that you can share with members.

If you're looking for ideas about "worshiping" at church or at home during Advent, be sure to read our related topic: Advent Worship and Christmas "Programs" during the COVID pandemic. It has many ideas that can be adapted for post-pandemic use as well.

Advent-at-Home-Rotation.org

Advent is a traditionally important time for teaching, worship, special programs, and attendance at church. During the COVID pandemic, Rotation.org created and collected a special set of resources and ideas for at-home and at-church use with social distancing in mind. Many of these ideas are easily adapted for post-pandemic use as well!

You are invited to share your suggestions. Please include details, web links, etc. Keep in mind the needs of older children and youth, as well as singles and seniors. (And avoid 'secular' suggestions like gingerbread houses.)

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A Few Favorite Ideas to Start the Topic

The following ideas can be uses at home or at church, or both. They can also be demonstrated on video by a teacher as an online lesson. They are intergenerational and "different." They not only help tell the story, they also invite individual expression and contemplation, and can be used to share the message of Christ with others. 

Advent Sidewalk Chalk 

People of all ages like to create with chalk and look at sidewalk chalk art, and it can be used to share the message with others — so why not give a gift to your families and their neighbors this year of Advent Sidewalk Art.  

They could create a new part of the Nativity story each week as they progress through Advent. Or draw Advent Candles with messages so others can follow along with your "lighting-chalking of the Advent Candles."

You could also invite families to decorate the walk at church. Have them come at different times or in socially-distanced "chalking pods" to decorate a section of the walk for each week of Advent. Or invite individuals and families to create a special walk for Christmas Eve lit by luminaries. If they won't be coming to church, suggest they do it at home. Have choir members lamenting not being able to sing together? Invite them to "chalk" a favorite line from their favorite song, or create a "Christmas song walk."

You can even create simple themed scenes like the one below that your kids can interact with. These also make great photo memories and Christmas cards to post online or print. Why not one with mom or dad posed as Mary or Joseph, or turning each member of your family into a chalk Advent Candle and photographing it.    (Need to do this indoors? Draw or paint the scenes on paper drop cloths.)

This "flat-lay" photo perspective is a great way to do photo and video dramas. You could use it to create your own Christmas story "flat-lay" videos to be shared online or with family members. Here's a short explanation of "flat-lay" at Rotation.org with a link to a Shepherds and Angels lesson plan that also uses "flat-lay" photography.  

Christmas Chalk Walk

In 2018, a California LDS church invited people to create Christmas sidewalk chalk art and celebrated with a community meal and outdoor program. See their photos here. Some were created by members, others by chalk artists. While the linked photos certainly show a "pre-COVID" festival, the basic idea of creating and sharing "public" art around the story of Christmas is a great idea for families or communities.



Nativity Rocks!

Making Christmas traditions "fresh," interactive, and meaningful are worthy goals -- especially in a year like 2020 when we need refreshing interaction and meaning!

THE CONCEPT:  Nativity Rocks uses the idea of "gratitude rocks" that have been a popular Sunday School art and Thanksgiving-time activity -- and COMBINES IT with the ubiquitous "manger scenes" found in most Christian family homes to create a "journey to the manger" display that prompts interaction by individuals and families as each stone is placed or turned over.

The rocks have images, symbols, and words or questions painted or written on them. Participants can arrange them all at once or over a period of time to create a "pathway" or set of "steps" journeying to the manger. Each rock has a message that can be a question for individual contemplation or group discussion (preferred).

christmas-story-rocks

Leaders can create a discussion guide for each, or use the Nativity Rocks in a guided-demonstration online or video. Ideally, though, families would make and take the journey.

Leaders can provide the stones (cheaper to purchase in bags at local garden stores) or look for local sources (such as a creek). Leaders can also provide paints or paint pens as part of the distribution of the idea and its materials. (Providing the materials will encourage their use!)

Round or flat stones need to be cleaned before being painted or drawn on with various CHRISTMAS STORY IMAGES & WORDS such as:  Prepare and Confess, Hope and Wonder, Light and Darkness, Tell and Serve, Change, or any words you want to emphasize.  

Giving Away Nativity Rocks:  Create many and give them away, or leave them in public places for serendipitous sharing with others.



Combining Creche, Candles, and Bible to Tell and Display the Christmas Story

The kernel of this idea comes from a "Godly Play" blog. Each Sunday of Advent, a new "scene" is created using parts of the family's nativity set, and a candle "lit." Notice the use of electric candles in the photo and on the felt. Notice also the way the Bible storybook is included in the display. Much more interactive and tactile than a simple manger scene or bunch of candles with fake greenery around them!

A Leader could create a weekly "script" and scripture selection for family use, or simply include words from the church's liturgy of the Lighting of the Advent Candle. Consider providing a strip of felt and the battery operated tea candles (cheap in bulk) to encourage the telling. A parent can lead the weekly "laying out" of the story, then invite the children to retell the story to their family using the same objects. 

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I LOVE the sidewalk chalk ideas. So many opportunities there. 

Also, we used the Nativity rocks for Advent a few years ago. We gave the preschoolers stickers to put on the rocks. I know it was not so much art but it was great for the youngest disciples. It helped them retell the story in a fun way.  We also had an activity where the kids placed rocks around the premises of the church for people to see. 

Cathy Walz also noted this "Nativity rocks" idea over in our Treasures forum. Here's what she posted....

Reaching Out with Rocks?

Member Heidi Weber shares this great idea about spreading the Good News about Jesus to the community with Baby Jesus Rocks. 

Church members paint a simple picture of baby Jesus on smooth rocks, add a Bible verse on the back, then scatter them about the community —on park benches and ATM machines and counters and other places—for people to find. 

Cathy also noted this Treasure: a "Christingle" craft from Luanne Payne:

WHAT is a Christingle? 

It is a candle-lit celebration using symbolic objects (an orange, a red ribbon, dried fruits and sweets, and a lit candle) to point to Christ as the Light of the World. This would be a wonderful activity for families to do at home.

Luanne, our Resource guru, has put together description of the activity along with Scriptures to read as you make the Christingle. I’m excited to try this at home!

 

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LIfeway Kids has a very nice free printable Advent Guide for Families.

One page for each week of Advent with brief kid-friendly content and family activity suggestions.

View and print it from https://s3.amazonaws.com/minis...ily-Advent-Guide.pdf

Screenshot of Week 3:

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Christmas Song Games

My kids and I love to sing and play "Christmas Song Games." They're all grown up now and STILL love to play them!  Our favorites are "Name That Tune" and "One Word Carols."


This isn't a picture of my family, but it looks just like the fun we have every year.
Like the crowns too.

These games can be played in person or via FACETIME and ZOOM.


Name that tune
-- in my family we usually start with the first two notes of the song (no words) and see if anyone can guess it. Then we'll add single notes until someone gets it right.

"One Word Carols" goes like this: you pick only one word from a Christmas song and say it to the group. Each person gets to guess the song it comes from. If nobody gets it right, a second word from the song is spoken. The rules are that they have to be songs people will likely have heard, and the words have to be significant words (no "a" or "the").

We've also played Christmas Carol Pictionary (or pantomime) often expanding the "drawing subjects" to parts of the Christmas story or Christmas traditions. That's always a popular one. there are many websites that offer printable "Christmas Charade Cards" like this one.

Some of us like to play a funny Brain-twisting Carol game we made up where you have to sing one set of Christmas lyrics to another Christmas tune. (This one sounds like the "Christmas Song Mashup" game suggested at the below site.)

"The Spruce" website has a good list of Christmas song games you can play at home.

One suggestion: If you have people who don't think they know many Christmas songs, print them a list or send them to the "Christmas Music" entry on Wikipedia which has both carols and popular songs. They'll be surprised how many they actually do know!

And yes, we even play this with young children. You just need to give them suggestions and hints and let them play on your "team" so they don't feel excluded. Funny how fast they learn a lot of songs.

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Advent in a Box

If you're thinking about sending resources home, take a look at Traci Smith's "Advent in a Box" idea. Details at https://www.traci-smith.com/adventbox/   You can find other "Advent in a Box" ideas by searching online. 

Click the image to enlarge it.

TraciSmithAdventBox

Traci writes:

For this box, I selected 5 activities:

  1. Create an Advent Paper Chain
  2. Make an Advent Wreath
  3. Tell the Story of the Candy Cane
  4. Have a Hot Chocolate Gratitude Party
  5. Say a Prayer on Christmas Morning

Her box includes a copy of her book, Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred, available on Amazon. If the book doesn’t fit  in your church’s box budget, many of the ideas in the book can be shared in your box (but Respect copyright and don’t copy pages out of it). Each suggested item above is taken from an entry in her book.

You might add:

  • A copy of your church's Advent schedule (including plans for your ZOOM Christmas Carol Singalong and Advent Trail).
  • Stories from members of your church about Advent memories and expectations this year.
  • Suggested Christmas movies, songs, games.
  • Local "safe" Advent activities in your area.
  • Local mission agencies that need your help.

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At-Home Advent Lessons & Resources

(Many of which can also be used "in-church" too!)

Jesus Is Born - Easy At-Home Advent and Christmas Lessons for Families

The Writing Team has adapted its Jesus is Born lesson set for "at-home" use and opened it to everyone. They've made the lessons shorter and a bit simpler, which also makes them suitable for in-church teaching this year in cases where your time is short or your teacher is relatively new.

Best Advent Videos for in-church and at-home "Sunday School" viewing, especially during a pandemic but good for any year.

We've put together a list of favorite good Bible videos that teach the Advent/Christmas story. Many are short free clips on YouTube. And at least one is a full-length movie.

Advent Bible Story "Trails" and Walk-Throughs

This collection of terrific "Nativity Story"  walk/drive/journey-through ideas could also be something families could create at home for themselves and their neighbors.  It could also be an "Advent Project" for a Sunday School or fellowship group at church.

"Home for the Haggadah" this Advent ~ an at-home special meal and celebration

This special topic here in the Advent 2020 forum outlines an "at-home" Advent meal. This meal could also be a "socially distant" meal at church.

And don't forget!

Our Advent Forums are full of great lesson ideas that could easily be adapted for at-home use. Over the next several weeks, we'll be highlighting a number of them in this topic.

Be sure to "click the bell" icon at the top of this topic to "follow this topic."
You'll get email notifications of new posts.

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Waiting and Road Construction

a children’s sermon or at-home lesson
with props and a demonstration

Now also with notes about how to turn this into a lesson plan!


Background and Bible Study:

Contrary to the opinion of many parental wishes, and contrary to many children's sermons I've heard, "WAITING" in the Bible is never just about killing time or simply learning the virtue of "patience" (which most kids won't have anyway). Instead, "Waiting" in the Bible is often synonymous with "preparing and seeking."

In fact, the Hebrew word for "wait" ("qavah") means something like "gathering, collecting, binding together, getting ready," with a sense of "get it together, prepare." Whereas the various words for "patience" in Hebrew (and in most kids' minds) mean "slow" or "long" and suggest endurance or suffering (how fun).

Below are the interesting implications that the correct translation makes when you substitute the more correct Hebrew meaning of "GET READY" (gather, collect, prepare) for "wait" — the rather beige English word traditionally  used in the following famous verses:

Lamentations 3:25-26 The Lord is good to those who GET READY for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good to GET IT TOGETHER quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Isaiah 40:31...they who GATHER for the Lord shall renew their strength

Micah 7:7  ...I will look to the Lord; I will PREPARE for the God of my salvation

The ADVENT connection:
Isaiah 40:3-5’s “prepare a way" captures perfectly what the Hebrew says we're really supposed to be doing when people tell us that Advent is a season of "waiting." (And that's my "cue" for starting this children's sermon using some earth-moving toys I borrowed from the neighborhood kids. )

Advent is Road Construction! -- the children's sermon

prepare the way, make a highway, fill in the holes, level the ground, move those rocks!

I began this children's sermon by having the kids help me spread out a large blue tarp on the floor of the sanctuary in front of the steps. Then I pulled out several large "Tonka" earth moving toys: a bulldozer, a dump truck, an excavator, and a road grader that I had borrowed from neighbors.

I asked the kids "what's missing?" and indeed one of them said "DIRT!" -- which was the cue for the man at the back to come forward with a bag of dirt and rocks and pour it onto the center of the tarp. I stood there and said, "that's not enough, more dirt please!"  which was the cue for a second bag of dirt and rocks to come forward.  (After the stunned and giddy looks and my quip about how much trouble he was going to be in for making a mess in the sanctuary, I continued...)   

I told the kids that "THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO ‘WAIT' FOR CHRISTMAS" and asked them if any of them understood what I meant (nobody did), so I went to work with the Bulldozer and all the toys playing through the pile of dirt -- happily and loudly making all the "truck noises" as I took my time leveling the pile and moving dirt around. (Congregation and kids loved that.) I quickly invited the kids to help me "make the hills low, and fill up the valleys and holes so we could prepare a flat Christmas highway."  (They happily joined in, and I told them to use their hands if they didn't have a toy.)

When we had moved the dirt around a bunch, I gathered the toys and started reading Isaiah 40 out loud to them, the great GET READY passage of Advent, -- while acting out with just the bulldozer the actions heard in the words:

“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

I then made a few comments as I continued to construct my highway create the visual of what I was talking about: Advent is a road we're moving down, a journey to celebrate and meet Jesus. The "holes" and "rocks" are problems/bad attitudes/ about Christmas we might get stuck in or block us from seeing the reasons for the season (meet and celebrate Jesus!). Etc.

BulldozingRock

Then I wrapped it up with the question: "And WHO did the prophet Isaiah promise we will meet if we prepare a way for him?" Obviously, they already know the answer is Jesus, but I made the point by doing the following: I stood up so the adults could see me too, then pulled out of the sack a toy car, to which I had taped a baby Jesus in the manger figurine, then knelt back down and proceeded to drive him over the flat highway towards each kid, making engine noises (their eyes grew wide with smiles as the car drove toward each of them).  I finished with a short comment about talking with your family about things you all could do to "make a highway" for Jesus this Advent, to fill in the holes and move some of the rocks that might get in the way of really learning the true reason for the season.

I didn't belabor the point because I knew the demonstration would be remembered and talked about. Short prayer asking for Jesus' help. Amen, Let's go to Sunday School!

Now I realize that someone with a greater sense of propriety might NOT want to dump dirt on a tarp in the sanctuary and then drive a toy car across it with baby Jesus strapped to it -- but I'm here to tell you that I still have friends who remember that children's sermon with great fondness, as do I, and the nearly-retired Senior Pastor thought it was a hoot. We left the dirt and baby Jesus in the car there for the entire service, and many people came up to see it and remark afterwards. I'm also sure it was talked about in a hundred member homes that Sunday. The only problem was what happened AFTER the service... some of the kids came back to prepare a new way for the Lord.


For an extended lesson or in-home use, follow up with these questions:

What are the holes and bumps in the road? (things that make you feel stuck in your faith, memories you can't get past, and how do they get filled in? how about prayer, service to others? --they are great ways to "get out of a spiritual hole")

What are the rocks in the way?  (things that will get in your way, weigh you down, hold you back, sins, attitudes, grievances, worries)

What kind of curves are in the way of you meeting Jesus in this year's Christmas celebrations? (a curve is something you can't see around, can't see what's coming, things that are in the way of you seeing God more clearly)

What things will help us BEST get ready, prepare for the birth of Jesus?  And which things are not very helpful?  (This is an opportunity to examine your Christmas practices and expectations.)

Finally, place the toys under the Christmas tree or with some Christmas decorations as a reminder of the lesson.

How to turn this "Construction, Prepare the Way" children's sermon into a full-blown lesson plan...

One of our "workshops" in the Rotation Model is called the "Construction" workshop. In it, students construct and play Bible scenes using a variety of big fun materials like LEGOs, cardboard, blankets, etc, and lots of figurines and posable action heroes. (Jesus as Iron Man?)

PrepareTheWay-Rotation.org

Kids love to bulldoze, excavate, and otherwise shape dirt, gravel, mulch. Add a couple of cardboard buildings, manger figures, etc. and you can use that kind of fun to have the kids create an ADVENT STORY LANDSCAPE (map)   --a road they "prepare in the wilderness" of your dirt to tell the Advent story.  Start with Galilee and the Sea, traverse the mountains and down the Jordan River, then up the Jericho Road to Bethlehem. Add some sand for the trip of the Wisemen coming from Persia. 

The nice thing about these materials is that they are easy to get, cheap, and fun to play with, and they can be REUSED or put on display.  A big blue tarp will surely come in handy. Screw together a simple frame of 2x4's and lay a canvas painters tarp over it -then place it on a big table before you add the materials.   Don't worry about a little bit of dry dirt or mulch on the floor, that's what shop-vacs are for.   

There are lots of building metaphors you can discuss.

  • How do you build a "road" for Jesus?
  • What are some of the obstacles?
  • What road signs are trying to take us the wrong way to Christmas?
  • What kind of Advent road will quickly wash away? How do you make it last?
  • No room at the inn? Build a place in your heart.
  • Where should the road lead away from Advent?


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An At-Home Christmas Eve

This photo of two of my girls is one of my treasured possessions.

Xmas-at-Home

It shows MacKenzie our youngest "leading the prayers" one Christmas eve day at our house, while Shelley, one of her older sisters, bows her head in prayer after having delivered the "Christmas message" (which she wrote). Also seen is Gus the cat who decided to take part when our oldest daughter decided to sit next to mom on the couch.  The year? We think it was 1999.

This was our second Christmas Eve "at-home" service for our family. Two years earlier we stayed home for our first time due to an illness and the kids performed their own *Live* Nativity.  The year this photograph was taken, my wife (an RN) had to work Christmas Eve and the girls felt bad about her missing the church's Christmas Eve service -- so they did one for her before she left for the hospital.

The secret to this service's success was two-fold, the staging of chairs for the leaders, and that microphone which we had plugged into a guitar amp. Kids love microphones and they WANT to talk when they have one -- even our shy MacKenzie who in those days was afraid of her own shadow. And "setting the stage" gave each a sense of structure and expectations for their moment leading us.

The first year we did an at-home Christmas Eve service the kids dressed in sheets and blankets and put on their own Nativity Drama. (I was the donkey, of course, and the girls still laugh about watching their little sister trying to hang on to both me and baby Jesus as she rode in.) Then we turned out the lights, lit a bunch of "Advent" candles with a word about what each one meant, and sang a few Christmas carols at the piano.

In the second year (pictured), in addition to the prayer led by the youngest and "meaning of Christmas" message delivered by Shelley, we each had to "pantomime" a portion of the story -- and then the mime read their portion out loud using the microphone. My oldest and I opened and closed the service with guitar-led Christmas carols.

There was one problem, however. Every year afterward when we started to get ready to go to a "real" Christmas Eve service at church, the girls would fondly bring up "doing their own."

In 2020 when we couldn't attend Christmas Eve services due to COVID, we recreated our at-home services with with two of our grandkids helping to lead. The now grown-up girls had a great time debating and organizing it, and debating which baby doll should be Jesus, who's going to tell the story and how, and whether there should be photographic evidence

Do not be afraid to try it.   It is good news and a great joy, and may just become one of your family's fondest memories too.

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The at-home Christmas eve worship service described by Neil above sounds very memorable as well as sweet and meaningful.  It provides good perspective that while we and our children may be disappointed that things are different from the usual traditions this Holiday season, they can still be special. And new traditions may be born!

Churches could even encourage this sort of at-home worship if they are in an area where gathering at church for worship is not possible (for snow or Covid reasons).

Things I would put in a family do-it-yourself Christmas eve worship box:

  • An outline of the scripture passages for traditional Christmas readings.
  • Words and music for a few familiar favorite hymns. (Or a CD, if the budget allows.)
  • Tinsel so that each family member can be part of the angel choir.
  • Cake mix, frosting, candles to make a "Happy Birthday Jesus!" cake.christmasFunfettiCake
  • If you give this box at the end of November, you can also include supplies for an Advent wreath (battery candles may be appreciated by families with younger children) as well as Advent candle lighting readings. Otherwise give one (battery-operated) white candle to be the Christ candle.
  • Prayer suggestions.



What would you add?

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This yummy fun manger scene is made from graham crackers held together with peanut butter.  This idea from the Gluesticks blog is a perfect family activity to accompany the reading of the Story of Jesus’ birth from Luke 2. The people are made from gumdrops, and animal crackers provide a nice assortment of animals for the manger!


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If your family is more interested in a “traditional” gingerbread house, try this variation made from pop tarts!  The blog includes an easy recipe for royal icing to hold it all together. Perfect for a family fun night! And it can be adapted to be a fancier, more highly decorated stable for the baby Jesus by using the pop tarts in place of the graham crackers suggested above.

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Christmas Resources "Pony Express"

ChristmasPonyExpressRotation.org"Pony Express" is a creative method of sharing teaching materials between families any time of the year but can be especially welcome this Advent with the pandemic disruptions we're all experiencing. The idea not only gives the church a way to get resources into homes, it encourages families to be in "safe-contact" with one another and feel connected in spirit during this important season.

The basic idea is simple and easily adapted:

The church fills a polyester bag with Advent resources and distributes them to a number of families.

Inside each bag is a list of "who to share the bag with next," and instruction to use the bag for up to five days before delivering it to the next family on the list.  (4 families is usually a good number.)

Families are also encouraged to "put a homemade gift in the bag for the next family" such as baked goods (that have been safely handled).

Families are also encouraged to include notes about which resources they used.

Suggestions for what to include in the Christmas Pony Express Bag:

  1. Christmas storybooks
  2. Devotions
  3. DVDs of Christmas movies for various ages.
  4. A Christmas craft project (including supplies)
  5. Church Advent schedules and special opportunities
  6. Suggestions for activities, such as the Advent Haggadah meal here at Rotation.org, or the video presentation here at Rotation highlighting favorite Advent videos and lesson ideas.
  7. You could include a big Christmas Card to have each family sign and forward along with the bag. Invite them to write a special message to each other and include a family photo.

When the bag reaches the last family, they return it to the church and post the Xmas card and photo in a public place for all to read.

This is a great way to get your Advent resources and DVDs off of your shelf and into the hands of your families this Advent.

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A friend who uses Rotation.org saw the post I did with "stay home" BINGO and was thinking of doing a Christmas version. Here's what we came up with. Collaboration for the win!

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Help your families remember that Christmas does not end on December 25: it continues Twelve Days until Epiphany on the first Sunday after the New Year's Day (which traditionally can be between Jan 2-8).  Here are some suggestions to help them celebrate at home (you will find many more ideas that can be adapted in our Epiphany (3 Kings Day) Topic and also in the Jesus' Birth through the Eyes of the Wisemen Forum.

Photo Booth

Adapt this idea from Building Faith and have families stage Three Kings pictures at home and have them answer the question, "What gift would YOU bring to Jesus?"

Epiphany-booth

Make stars

You can find many sites with videos and how-to instructions for crafting stars. Here is one with a variety of techniques. Have families think about what it means to follow Jesus as they talk about the Wise Men who followed a star.

Look at the night sky!

Like the Magi and psalmists of old, we should look to the sky to see God's plan written in beauty and wonder and light.  So why not set up a telescope on the church lawn? or in your neighborhood?

Be sure to check this year's star charts. In 2020, for example, there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturday just before the 12 days of Christmas

Make a king cake

Investigate the King Cake tradition and then make this yummy treat. We have suggestions here. And Supporting Members can use the full Magi King Cake cooking lesson in the Magi Writing Team lesson set.  You can see more Three Kings and Epiphany cooking suggestions here.

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