Creating a Meaningful Christmas for Our Family
On December 22, 2018, my daughter Cara said, “Mom and Dad, you say that Christmas is all about Jesus. But it feels like Christmas is all about presents.” Oof.
At that point in the year—60 hours from Christmas Day—it was too late. Too late to change the course of the season and make our kids’ experience of Christmas match our lofty intentions.
Jump ahead to November 2019: my wife Kristen and I began looking for a resource that would help us center our family on Jesus all throughout December.
Christmas is full of lights and cookies and songs and, well, presents. We didn’t really want to take all that away; but we did want to add something to the holiday that created an anticipation about Christmas that was bigger than presents. Namely, we wanted to make Christmas about Jesus.
We knew that whatever we used had to be tangible, at the center of the home, and impossible to ignore. There needed to be some visual element that drew us in and represented the anticipation of Jesus’ birth. We wanted it to tell the story of the whole Bible, showing why Jesus’ birth mattered. We wanted it to be simple enough that, by December 25, everyone in the family would remember something.
We did a lot of searching. We came up empty. So I started sketching some ideas.
I sat at our dinner table and showed Kristen three ideas for how some wooden pieces would move in order to create anticipation. She immediately picked the one that would become Advent Blocks. The very next day I called Chris, a friend and writer, who agreed to write 25 days of content.
That first year, five families went through Advent Blocks. On many days, Chris was writing that morning what we would be reading that night. The blocks were enormous (the size of softballs), and our kids painted on them by hand.
Looking back now, I can see that we were trying to cultivate what pastor Eugene Peterson calls congruence—a congruence between the intention of living out our faith and the experience of our daily lives. Like Cara pointed out, we wanted to match what we say we believe with what it feels like we believe.
From 5 to 5,000: How Advent Blocks Exploded
We had created Advent Blocks for our families. But it was so engaging, we began to think, Maybe others would want to try this as well. We started making plans to make some more sets in my garage. We knew most families wouldn’t want to do the whole painting thing (candidly, we had mixed feelings about that part, too), but they would probably use a ready-made kit.
We needed a designer. Enter Brian Turney. He was able to translate the richness and playfulness of the stories into visual form, creating beautiful images for the blocks.
The more we talked with people about our plans, though, the more interest ballooned. Soon we realized that the screen printing ink and scraps of wood in my garage wouldn’t (ahem) cut it. We decided to go bigger, finding a manufacturer to cut the blocks, print the books, and design a box for the whole set.
That year (2020), Advent Blocks took off. We sold 700, first to friends and family, then to their friends and family. An online store contacted us to order hundreds more, in bulk, to distribute throughout the country—and in the United Kingdom. We ordered, then re-ordered, then re-ordered again.
And what had been five families in 2019 suddenly exploded into 5,000 families in 2020.
From Christmas to Easter: More Blocks (and Fire This Time!)
Christmas came and went. Early in 2021, people began to ask for an Easter resource. Frankly, we wanted one, too. As we tinkered with ideas, we realized the issue with Easter wasn’t re-directing anticipation but cultivating it. Easter often snuck up on us. We wanted to create something that made for meaningful moments in the home leading up to Resurrection Sunday.
Chris wrote another devotional book (in my opinion, even better than the Advent guide). We made a set of blocks and added a candle to help the family slow down—and because kids seem to like fire.
We weren’t sure the prototype was exactly right until Lindsey Love—now our photographer and videographer—took a couple trunks worth of Easter-ish stuff from my house and sent us some pictures. She helped us see Easter Blocks for the beautiful creation it could be.
We sold all 100 sets of Easter Blocks that year. In 90 minutes.
At this point, we knew we had something. We had a team that could create beautiful, meaningful products. We had a new partnership with a group of entrepreneurs (called the Sherpas) who help small companies like ours grow. (In short, we found our “sharks” and didn’t even have to go into the “tank.”)
But beyond our team … beyond a couple of holiday products … what exactly were we building?
Why Was This Connecting? Finding Our Secret Sauce
One friend told me that around December 12, as he left his house and told his kids he’d have to work late that day, that they begged him to be back in time to do Advent Blocks. Stories like this started pouring in. Countless times, people told us that Advent Blocks was the first advent resource they had actually finished.
Chris, Brian, Lindsey, and I—the creative team—got together to ask, What did we stumble into here? Why is all of this connecting?
After consulting a few books on habit creation, we realized that Advent Blocks had almost every element mentioned in these works. We had (more or less accidentally) built a beautiful, tangible item that was so easy and rewarding that families could actually do it. The more we dug into these ideas, the more we realized that they weren’t just good for forming habits; they were staring at us from the pages of the Bible, too.
That’s when we discovered the secret sauce of what made Advent Blocks (and Easter Blocks) meaningful:
All throughout the Bible, God encourages us to engage with him in tangible ways. We humans are not primarily thinkers. We are embodied beings, so God teaches us about himself through embodied means—alters, buildings, even the communion meal.
For us, this means we make items you have to be able to actually hold. (And kids have to be able to hold it too … and not break it.) Digital resources have their place, but they simply aren’t as helpful as something tactile.
For something to live in your home all December, you have to want it there. It has to draw you in. In many ways, it has to be aesthetically pleasing decor.
A desire for beauty isn’t as vain as some people might think. The first creation account in the Bible—which ends up being echoed countless times throughout the Old Testament—is intentionally poetic and beautiful. God revels in extravagant beauty for its own sake. Advent Blocks aren’t just useful for families; they are intentionally beautiful, made to be a seasonal centerpiece that catches and delights the eye.
As with most habits, you can start with a high bar. But you probably won’t clear it. And then the habit is gone. “Exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week” is a great goal, but a difficult one to maintain. Instead, aim for “Drive to the gym parking lot 3 times a week.” The bar is lower … but so is the chance for success. And what starts small often grows into something bigger.
Jesus said he came to bring an “easy” yoke for his followers (Matthew 11:30). He said he was bringing rest for weary souls, not more homework for those of us failing class. We want to take him at his word. And we want to create resources that allow as many people as possible to pick up that yoke.
Most families we’ve talked to have started Advent readings, but struggled to finish them. But with Advent Blocks, there’s a daily reward: Turn the blocks and see the image. You don’t even have to discipline yourself to finish, because (trust me) your kids will remind you.
Long term, the true reward lies in knowing God. But like most good habits, we get to the long-term reward by starting with smaller short-term ones. Playing sports as a kid is fun (short-term), and the fun makes it more likely that we’ll exercise when we’re older (long-term). The same is true of spiritual practices. After all, God’s Word isn’t just a bunch of propositions to be understood, but a collection of habits to undertake.
Which Brings Us to Today: Developing the GoodKind of Habits and Holiday Celebrations
There are a lot of great resources available to Christians today. These resources tell us all about God. They tell us why we should practice our faith. They even give us really good ideas for practicing our faith. But they don’t provide beautiful, tangible items that help us practice our faith.
We are committed to helping people start—and continue—practices that draw them to God and to one another. We want to help people practice their faith by having meaningful moments with their families. We want to do that by providing tools to make the most of your regular habits and holidays.
Essentially, we want to help people develop the GoodKind of habits and holiday celebrations.
This is what you can expect from us now. We are going to bring people together, because practicing our faith is a together thing (and it makes it more enjoyable). We are going to encourage your spiritual practice. We are going to help you cultivate meaningful moments in your life. We are going to share experiences with each other, since we believe seeing each other grow (and even fail) is great motivation.
That is what we want for ourselves. This is what we want for all of you as well.