ADVENT NIGHT

Advent night in our home is when we gather the kids to spend time singing Christmas songs, reading the Christmas story or other Christmas story books and reminding them about the true meaning of Christmas. It is always good to remind them, and ourselves too, that Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, and not about wish lists and receiving presents.

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN

The month of December is like a long road trip where kids can’t wait to reach their destination and are asking non-stop “Are we there yet? How much longer?” I love it that kids anticipate Christmas! It is always refreshing to see their eagerness and wide-eyed wonder about Christmas in contrast to the stress that adults normally go through as they deal with their Christmas to-do lists.

To make the time of waiting for my kids much more fun, we always do a Christmas Countdown. This year, the kids and I decided to make a craft out of it. With my old scrapbook papers, envelopes and clothespins, this is what we came up with:

Got this great idea here. Everyday, the kids open an envelope and read our activity for the day. Today, for December 1, the card reads “Check your stocking for a surprise!”

Here are more ideas for you from It’s Written on the Wall!

OUR LOPSIDED CHRISTMAS TREE

It wasn’t after most of our ornaments were hanging on the tree when we noticed how our tree looked. Joaquin, our 3-year old, wanted to join in the fun of decorating our tree so I gave him all our stuffed ornaments to hang. Naturally, because of his height, all the stuffed ornaments ended at the bottom of our tree. That was not how I imagined our tree to look like.

Sometimes, it is really much easier to do things without the help of our kids. I say “help”, but it feels like they’re really not helping at all. We just end up undoing what they did and cleaning up their mess. Last night, Joaquin broke one of our ornaments and another child broke a candle holder. I was tempted to send everyone to their rooms so I can do everything peacefully, casualty-free, and exactly the way I wanted it.

But more than having a nicely decorated home for Christmas, our goal as parents is really to build memories with our children. Sure our Christmas tree might not look perfect, but our kids will remember how much fun they had putting it up. Sure they broke an ornament or two, but those are easily replaceable, but memories stay with them.

As Christmas draws near, let us not forget to build memories with our children. If you’re like me, your December calendar is filling up fast with parties here and there, and we don’t want to leave our children out. Schedule fun activities with your children like make your own ornaments, sing Christmas carols, bake sugar cookies, visit an orphanage or bless another family with a meal. Your activities don’t have to cost a lot. It can be as simple as watching a Christmas video at home with popcorn and brownies.

And most importantly, take time to reflect on what this season is all about… that Jesus was born to give us life!

OUR CRAZY GINGERBREAD MEN

For Advent last night, we planned to make our own gingerbread ornaments. It was supposed to look like this: (of course this was mine ;D)
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But the kids’ finished product were these:

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Nathan: Thankful for our trip to Coron

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Ryan: Thankful for his baseball

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Janina: Thankful for her puppy, Vanilla

Part of me wanted to force them to do it the way it should be done, to follow the rules. The objective of our ornament-making activity was for them to make an ornament, write on it what one thing they’re thankful for this year, while having a great time as a family. I saw how everyone was having fun making their silly gingerbread ornaments, so I just held my tongue and let them have their way.

Rules are good but there are times, we can just throw the rules out the window and allow our kids to have fun!

P.S. And this was Paolo’s. He didn’t follow the rules too ;D
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KICKING CHRIST OUT OF CHRISTMAS

We just finished watching the movie “Elf”, a funny and touching Christmas movie that our family watches every Christmas. Though we love this movie, it is sad that it and even most Christmas movies don’t really talk about the real essence of Christmas. Not just movies, but even the songs that we hear playing on the radio hardly talk about real meaning of Christmas. Interestingly enough, the top 5 Christmas songs for this year are: White Christmas, The Chipmunk Song, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and Jingle Bell Rock, none of which really mention the coming of Jesus. Pop culture has kicked Christ out of Christmas.

I hope that we spend some time to sit down with our kids to bring their focus to what’s really important this season: JESUS. Last night we had a family huddle, which we call Advent night. We sang Christmas carols like Away in a Manger and In Excelsis Deo, and started reading the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. We have an Advent night once a week, just to make sure our kids are not too distracted with all the parties and presents and forget what we are really celebrating.

Advent Night
Paolo reading to the kids
Christmas carol
Nathan plays the piano as we sing Christmas carols

Inspite of our hectic schedule this month, we need to make an effort and deliberately teach our kids the reason behind the season.

OPERATION CHRISTMAS BOX

As part of our Christmas traditions, our kids prepare loot bags with goodies and toys and we drive around the city and give them away to street children. I remember one Christmas when Ryan was compelled to give the slippers he was wearing to one boy who was walking barefoot. As we have done this year after year,  we saw how it has developed compassion in my kids for the less fortunate. Here is an opportunity for your kids to give this Christmas:

OPERATION CHRISTMAS BOX: Build a Christmas Gift Box for a Child.

Parents, here’s our opportunity to show our children how to make Christmas special for other people in need. Just one box can make a whole world of difference.

Here’s how to make that difference:
1. Use an empty shoe box or plastic container and fill it up with personal hygiene paraphernalia, school supplies and toys to one person.
2. Label your box for the age of the possible recipient and wrap it like a gift.
3. Place a rubber band or tape around your shoe box and bring your box to EVery Nation Fort Bonifacio Pastoral Services Dept. on or before Dec 15. We will be looking for a VCF community in which to bless these kids.

Christmas ShoeboxSuggested Gift List:
Personal Hygiene: toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, comb, brush, towel, underwear, t shirt, shorts, socks, slippers

School supplies: pencils, papers, crayons, sharpener, calculators,coloring books

Toys: yoyos, small cars, jackstones, jump ropes, toys that light up, etc.

Personal Note: you may include a personal note to the child and a photo of yourself or your family.

For more information, you may contact Ms. Ivy Marquez.

THE SMELL OF CHRISTMAS

Whenever I smell peach potpourri, I am always reminded of my 18th birthday because my give-aways at my debut were little baskets filled with dried barks of peach fragrance. Isn’t it interesting when we walk into a room and smell something that triggers certain memories from the past? How often have you gotten a sniff of a particular scent and it fills you with nostalgia and brings back feelings from a particular experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant?

Scents have an uncanny ability to trigger memories because they are the only sense that directly connects to the part of the brain that stores emotional memories“. Because of this, I always use cinnamon-scented candles in our home every Christmas, and I don’t use it on any other time of the year. I want my children to associate that scent with happy memories from our Christmas celebrations. I want my children, when they are all grown-up already, to smell cinnamon and say “Hey, that scent brings back a lot of good feelings from our childhood Christmases!”

Cinnamon candleThe fragrance of cinnamon was not a purposeful choice. It’s just that years ago, when I first shopped around for red candles, most of them came in cinnamon scent. And we loved it! So we stuck with it and continued to use it for Christmas year after year.

So as you decorate your homes for Christmas, remember what a little fragrance can do. It doesn’t have to be cinnamon, it can be vanilla or pine, but whatever scent you choose, the more important thing is to build good memories that your children can associate with it.

A TREE OF MEMORIES

Every year, we kick off the Christmas season by decorating our tree together as a family. It warmed my heart when Janina exclaimed how she loves our tree because of the different ornaments we have collected over the years and said that she wants to continue the tradition with her own family. This tradition was inspired by our pastors Steve and Deborah Murrell, and it gave a more special meaning to our Christmas tree. Our kids always look forward to opening our box of christmas decor and reminiscing memories attached to each ornament.

Decorating our tree is only one of the different activities we do as part of our Christmas traditions to make the holidays memorable for our children. Here are some of the Punzalan collection:

our first ornament
Our very first ornament from Shakey's Pizza 1995;D
Ryan's first ornament
Ryan's first ornament 2003
Paris ornament
Ornament from our Paris trip 2009
Disney ornament
Disneyland ornament from when we celebrated Christmas in the U.S 2005

Vanilla Ornament
Janina's 2010 ornament. This is the year she got her black lab, Vanilla
Piano ornament
Nathan's ornament because he loves to play the piano