We love Christmastime. I love the cooler weather, the cozy fires, the music, the decorations, holiday baking, the delicious food, the family time, and most importantly, the reason we celebrate in the first place: the birth of Jesus Christ.
In my early years growing up, our family did not celebrate Christmas. Gradually, traditions changed, and we began to celebrate — but never in a highly commercialized way. The focus was mainly on Jesus’ birth; the gifts we exchanged were secondary to the true meaning. I’ve tried to maintain that focus with my own kids.
We have many family traditions at this time of year, but one of my favorites is a paper chain countdown.
It all started when our oldest child was about two years old. She was enthralled by all the lights and beautiful decorations we had in our home, and that we saw wherever we went. And I wanted her to know WHY. Why do we decorate, what are we REALLY celebrating. Is it just lights and tinsel? Is it an excuse to spend money and exchange gifts? Why do we do this thing called Christmas?
In my quest to find a child-friendly, memorable way to teach my daughter the true meaning of Christmas, I tried a variety of different things. The one that stuck, the one that captured her attention and brought joy to her face was a “countdown to Christmas” paper chain — with a twist. On each link of the chain was written one or two sentences of my paraphrased version of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Initially, I was just going to write the scripture straight from the King James Version of the Bible. But as I read it over, I decided to simplify it a bit to make it more doable for a little child. I didn’t want to omit any details, so I drew from the Biblical accounts found in both Matthew and Luke.
Once I had written my paraphrase, I divided the story up into 28 roughly equal sections (because that was the number of days in Advent that year). I wrote the story out on strips of paper, one segment of the story for each day.
Every day during the Advent season, we removed one strip and read it together. Then we read all the strips up to that point. Rebecca would recite the story after me each day phrase by phrase. Sometimes she wanted to read it more than once in a day. And — surprisingly (to me) — by Christmas, she had memorized the whole thing. It was adorable to hear her sweet baby voice telling of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.
Every year since, we have made a paper chain and read the story bit by bit as we count down to Christmas. It’s visual, so the little kids get a good grasp on the passage of time. They are very aware of the passing of days as Christmas draws near. And they are all learning the true reason we celebrate. The wonderful, amazing reality of God coming to earth to be born of a woman, for the sole purpose of taking our sins upon himself at the cross. All because he loves us.
I’ve included my paraphrase here. If you like it, you are welcome to use it. If not, write your own, or use a version of the Bible that you love. There is also a printable with even days in one set and odd days in another so you can easily print them on different colors of paper to make the chain colorful and interesting. Our chain has alternating red and green links with the final strip for Christmas day being yellow/gold to symbolize the arrival of the King. To make the chain, I suggest rubber cement to join the paper. I’ve tried other things (including staples and tape) but the strips would rip and make the text difficult to read. Using rubber cement I can easily peel the joined edges of the strips apart when it is time to remove them and (usually) the paper doesn’t rip. I sometimes have to temporarily place a paper clip or other fastener at the join until the bond is set.
Click here for a printable Countdown To Christmas chain. There are seven pages. Print the first three pages on red paper, the next three pages on green paper, and the last page on yellow (gold) paper.
Have fun counting down to Christmas with your little ones!