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"7 ways to observe Advent with children" by Amanda Woodiel (CatholicMom.com) Image credit: Pixabay.com (2014), CC0 Public Domain[/caption] Perhaps you too have had the experience of preparing for Christmas, only to realize that amongst the candy-making, the letter-writing, the present-purchasing, the tree-trimming, and more, you never got around to spiritual preparation, even though you really meant to this year. If you would like to add a more reflective or penitential note to your family's Advent observance, check out the seven ideas below to get you started. Choose one (or two), gather what you will need, and start a new family tradition!

Jesse tree

The idea: Recall salvation history. Use ornaments decorated with symbols to represent the events and stories leading up to the birth of Jesus and hang them on a tree of some kind (the tree is so named after Jesse, father of King David -- see Isaiah 11:1). What you will need:   
  • You can order a kit. Check out Etsy for some beautiful ones.
  • You can do it yourself ... you need something to be the tree, something to make ornaments, and a Bible or knowledge of Bible stories. I use a book that has reproducible ornaments. Each year I photocopy one set of ornaments for each child. I cut out a large Christmas tree shape from wrapping paper and tape it on the wall. Each day (when all goes well), the kids color their ornaments while I read to them the passage from the Bible corresponding to the symbol they are coloring. They then cut out their ornaments and tape them on the tree.
  • The tree can also be a bare branch set into a mason jar full of stones or sand, and the ornaments can be hung on it with loops of ribbon.

Advent stockings: good works

The idea: The family does a spiritual or corporal work of mercy (or other charitable act) each day of Advent. For example, we might give away a piece of clothing; pray for an end to abortion; pray for our priests; call someone who might be lonely, and so on. You need:
  • Slips of paper listing the good works you will do (see the end of this post for ideas).
  • Something to put them in. I have mini-stockings with numbers on them, which we hang up. Every evening I put a slip of paper in the next day’s stocking, choosing the activity based on what can fit into our family calendar. But you could easily do the same with numbered envelopes or, if you are really adventurous, just put them all in a mason jar and see what you pull out!

Making soft Baby Jesus’ Bed

The idea: Family members make sacrifices and do good acts throughout Advent. For each one, they lay a piece of straw or hay in an empty manger, trying to get the bed as soft as possible before Baby Jesus will be born on Christmas morning. You need:
  • Raffia, hay, straw, grass, or strips of yellow construction paper.
  • Some sort of manger.
  • Baby Jesus statue.
  • I bought one similar to this for our family.

Advent wreath

The idea: Four candles represent the four Sundays of Advent. Three are purple to represent penance; the fourth is pink for Gaudete Sunday (the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Gaudete means “joy,” and the priest will wear rose-colored vestments). On the first Sunday of Advent, light the purple candle that is diagonal from the pink one. Say a prayer of longing for Our Savior. Every evening light this candle, accompanied by a prayer, and each successive Sunday light an additional candle. You need:
  • An Advent wreath/candle holder
  • Candles

Salvation history candle

The idea: Similar to a Jesse tree but for the artistic. You will draw on a large candle (about 2 feet tall) the scenes from salvation history, starting with Adam and Eve at the top and Baby Jesus at the bottom. You will burn the candle throughout Advent. You need:
  • A church-style large candle, 51% beeswax, about 2’ tall. Can be found at stjudeshop.com
  • Drawing implements

Planned read-alouds

The idea: Read Advent and Nativity books during Advent: either one story per day in a book of collected Advent stories or separate books. You need:
  • A book with a collection of 22-28 Advent stories (here is the one we have); or
  • 22-28 picture books that are Advent-related, about saints whose feast day falls in Advent, or about salvation history. If you choose this option, you might want to wrap them in wrapping paper and number them, opening up one on each day.

Piece-by-piece nativity set

The idea: Rather than give a little piece of candy in an Advent calendar, each day brings another object or person to add to the nativity scene, starting with the stable/cave and ending with Baby Jesus. You need:
  • You can buy a set online that has the requisite number of pieces; or
  • You can make one yourself out of felt, bringing out one piece each day; or
  • Your children make their own paper nativity set, coloring a piece every day using free printables online.


Here is a list of good works you might use for your family's Advent stockings.
  • Do something nice for someone in secret today.
  • Look around your room. Is there anything you can give away to the poor?
  • Do an extra chore today.
  • Try hard to be cheerful in everything you do today.
  • Draw a picture of the nativity.
  • Read about a saint today.
  • Pray for your priest today. Could you offer up a sacrifice for the Church today?
  • Pray for an end to abortion today and give away something to moms in need.
  • Pray for the deceased today. Could you make a sacrifice for the souls in purgatory?
  • Pray for persecuted Christians today and learn about a country where they do not have freedom of religion.
  • Pray for people who do not know Jesus. Is there something you could do extra as an offering for them?
  • Pray for your family today. What can you do to help your family be more like the Holy Family?
  • Pray a Rosary today.
  • Pray the Chaplet of Divine mercy.
  • Do an examination of conscience tonight, and if possible, schedule Confession sometime soon.
  • Take a meal to someone in need.
  • Make a card to send to someone who lives far away.
  • Call or invite someone over who might be lonely.
  • Read the Nativity story from the Bible.
  • Make ornaments to send to the nursing home.
  • Do something for someone else that you normally don’t want to do (such as offer to play a game you know he likes).
  • Eat all of your food with a good attitude (even if you don’t like it) and be grateful you have it.
  • Sing a song to baby Jesus or make up a poem for Him.
  • Act out the nativity or part of the salvation story or do a puppet show.
  • Give money to the poor. You may do an extra chore and give away any money you earn.
  • Bake something and give away half.
  • Write or draw a thank-you card for someone.
  • Make a gift for your priest or staff at your parish church.
  • Give away food to the food pantry.
  • Give away a piece of warm clothing.
  • Work on memorizing a Bible verse.
  • Go to morning Mass.
  • Give up something you like to do or eat today and offer it up as a prayer for someone in need.
  • Wrap up something you have and give it to someone.

Read our other Advent articles.

Copyright 2018 Amanda Woodiel