Today I want to share with you the ways we observe Advent with our small children. I have also added suggestions for how these traditions can be adapted if finding, preparing, or affording materials is burdensome.
Simple & Meaningful Advent Traditions
Playing with the Manger Scene
Playing with the figurines of the manger scene is especially impactful for young children because it helps them understand who are all of the persons involved in the Christmas story. I will catch my children acting out the Christmas story quietly with the figurines, especially after we read the Nativity story in their Christmas books. I recommend acquiring 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: Wooden Nativity Scene from WoodenYaSay on Etsy (pictured below, handmade, buttery soft); Melissa & Doug Classic Wooden Christmas Nativity Set (inexpensive option); Ostheimer Nativity Set (handmade from Germany, heirloom quality)
Filling the Manger with Straw
This is my favorite tradition because I think it brings the spirit of Christmas into our home. Children are encouraged to perform acts of kindness, service, and generosity. 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 on Christmas. Late on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, the infant Jesus is placed 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 can use! 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 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.
I also recommend this wonderfully curated booklist from the blog Shower of Roses: Feasts & Seasons :: Advent & Christmas Collection.
The Advent wreath is a lovely way to incorporate daily prayer into Advent and it reminds us how Christ’s coming is 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.
Another option is making a paper craft wreath. I especially like 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 to countdown the days until Christmas and can be found at most stores. 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.
This 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.
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.
My children look forward to putting the ornaments on the tree every 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.
Celebrating 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!
Please leave me a comment below sharing your family’s favorite Advent tradition.
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