One of my friends, Elizabeth, from @athomeontheprairie on Instagram, hosts simplifying challenges each month. November’s challenge is to complete four tasks that will alleviate December’s stress and allow for a more peaceful and focused Advent.
I shared in my Instagram stories last week that one of my tasks is to print all of our coloring pages and activities for Advent early. My children adore coloring so I’m always searching for beautiful coloring pages to print for them. They also act as simple, festive decorations that we hang around our kitchen table for the day.
Every year after Christmastide we put our Christmas themed books away so that when Advent begins it is the first time my children have seen them all year. I check out the ones we don’t own from the library and we place them in a basket with a festive bow. I love how these stories work their magic all Advent long as we prepare our hearts for Christmas morning. Here are our favorites.
Today I want to share with you the ways we observe Advent with young children. I have also added suggestions for how these traditions can be adapted if finding, preparing, or affording materials is difficult. I wish you a blessed Advent and joyful Christmas season!
Playing with the Manger Scene
Playing with the figurines of the manger scene helps a child understand who are all of the persons involved in the Christmas story. I will catch my children acting out the Christmas story quietly with their figurines, especially after we read the Nativity story in their Christmas books. I recommend finding a set that is durable for little hands, preferably made of wood or plastic. We put our set away during the year and take it out only during Advent and Christmastide so it is extra special.
Here are a few sets we own or my children have played with that I recommend, at different price points:
Filling the manger with straw brings the spirit of Christmas into our home. We encourage our children to perform acts of kindness, service, and generosity all Advent long. For every good act they place a piece of yarn in the manger, in order to give Jesus a nice, soft place to lay his head.
Late on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, the infant Jesus is placed in the manger. In our home, we read the biblical narrative late on Christmas Eve by candlelight, pausing after the passage of His birth so our children can place the infant in the manger.
For this tradition, you will need a wooden manger or a small box (like a cardboard shoe box), yellow yarn cut into 4 inch pieces, and a large Jesus figurine. You could also make an infant Christ by wrapping a baby doll in a white cloth or use straw purchased from the craft store. Look around your home and see what you already have! My manger is made of a small plastic box covered in batting fabric.
Many of the books we read during Advent center on the Nativity or have characters that exhibit generosity. The books seem to work their magic all Advent long as we prepare our hearts for Christmas morning! I put our Christmas-themed books in a basket in the living room and adorn the basket with a festive bow. I make sure to request the ones we don’t own from the library a week before Advent begins. Here is my booklist of our most beloved Christmas stories.
The Advent wreath reminds us how Christ’s coming was light entering the darkness. My children love the pageantry of lighting the candles every evening. You can learn more about the rich history and symbolism of the Advent wreath here.
Traditionally, the Advent wreath has three violet candles and one pink candle, but four white candles can be used too. Many families keep their wreath in the middle of their dining table. A devotional booklet can also be used with daily scripture and prayer.
An alternative option is making a paper craft wreath. I love this printable wreath from the blog Look to Him and Be Radiant, because you can hide the paper flames and lift them up on the appropriate week.
Advent calendars are a great way for a child to countdown the days until Christmas and can be found easily in the weeks before Christmas. Look for one that shares a piece of the Nativity story each day. We don’t personally own this, but I know my children would go nuts over this fabric Nativity calendar with pockets.
I saved the Jesse Tree for last because it is the most involved of the traditions on my list, but it incorporates daily scripture into our Advent and connects Jesus’s birth to all of salvation history. My children look forward to putting the ornaments on the tree each day. Because my children are younger, we will often read and look at the daily scripture in their picture bible. My favorite picture bible for little ones (ages 3-6) is: Maite Roche’s The Beautiful Story of the Bible.
You will need a small tabletop tree, Jesse Tree ornaments, and a family bible and/or children’s picture bible. Each ornament has a symbol which corresponds with a biblical moment in salvation history. My ornaments are made of paper and string using this tutorial from Catholic All Year. You can also purchase handmade Jesse Tree ornament sets on Etsy.
Celebrating December’s Feast Days
We also celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th and the feast of St. Lucy on December 13th with special prayers, food, and activities.
For the feast of St. Nicholas, our children sleep in their Christmas pajamas and we fill their stockings with a candy cane, orange, chocolate coins, and a small gift. We spend the day learning about the great life of Saint Nicholas and how we can imitate his holiness and generosity. Free coloring pages, activities, crafts, and recipes can be found at: stnicholascenter.org.
On the feast of St. Lucy, we eat lussekatter (Swedish saffron buns) or a wreath-shaped pastry for breakfast and Swedish meatballs for dinner. My eldest daughter dresses up like St. Lucy and her younger sisters dress as her attendants. We sing the “Santa Lucia” song and read a book about the life and martyrdom of St. Lucy called Lucia: Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel!
I hope I was able to inspire new, meaningful Advent traditions for your family! Please leave me a comment below sharing your family’s favorite Advent tradition.
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There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand, Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand Than the square stones of Rome.
For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.
A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.