Simple & Meaningful Advent Traditions

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.



Christmas Books

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.




Advent Wreath

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 Calendar

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.



Jesse Tree

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 adore 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:



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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How am I to sing your praise?


“Picture-Books in Winter” by Robert Louis Stevenson


Summer fading, winter comes

Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,

Window robins, winter rooks,

And the picture story-books.


Water now is turned to stone

Nurse and I can walk upon;

Still we find the flowing brooks

In the picture story-books.


All the pretty things put by,

Wait upon the children’s eye,

Sheep and shepherds,

trees and crooks,

In the picture story-books.


We may see how all things are,

Seas and cities, near and far,

And the flying fairies’ looks,

In the picture story-books.


How am I to sing your praise,

Happy chimney-corner days,

Sitting safe in nursery nooks,

Reading picture story-books?



I was unfamiliar with Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry until I saw the title A Child’s Garden of Verses on John Senior’s nursery booklist. Since then I have become extremely fond of Stevenson’s poetry and will always recommend A Child’s Garden of Verses if asked what poetry book to first invest in for a child’s library (apart from an excellent Mother Goose collection). Stevenson’s poems delightfully and wisely capture the joy, curiosity, and imagination of children. A Child’s Garden of Verses is also the book I reach for when looking for poems for my young children to memorize.

The full text of A Child’s Garden of Verses is available at If you are looking for a printed edition, I recommend A Child’s Garden of Verses illustrated by Tasha Tudor. Her illustrative style is a perfect match to Stevenson’s poetry.


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A Poem for Advent


“The House of Christmas” by G.K. Chesterton


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.


Found in The Home Book of Verse – Volume 1 by Burton Egbert Stevenson, on


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October & November Additions

The majority of my time for Beloved Bookshelf is spent on researching, checking out, and reviewing books. As I wrote in my introductory post, these lists are far from finished and I am excited to continue to share the treasures I am discovering. In order to keep you aware of which books are being added, I will share a post each month cataloging the newest additions along with providing short descriptions and cover photos. 


New Beloved Books:

Going to Sleep on the Farm by Wendy Cheyette Lewison

“How does a cow go to sleep–tell me how?” A spectacular book for toddlers. Great for fostering curiosity. My two-year-old is still asking me questions in the cadence I read the book in.

The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Twenty-Third Psalm illustrated by Tasha Tudor 

An illustrated page is given to each line of Psalm 23 in this book by the incomparable Tasha Tudor. A wonderful book for a child to reflect on the meaning of the Psalm’s words. Also recommended: Give Us This Day: The Lord’s Prayer illustrated by Tasha Tudor

Big Blue Whale by Nicola Davies

Engaging science book about the patterns and habits of one of the greatest creatures of the sea, the blue whale.

Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Poetry and Color by Mary O’Neill

My excitement about this book of poems was what prompted me to finally sit down and write this post. Many memorable lines from even our first read, such as:

“Think of what starlight and lamplight would lack, / diamonds and fireflies, if they couldn’t lean against Black”

“Yellow’s sweet corn, ripe oats, / hummingbirds’ little throats / Summer squash and Chinese silk / the cream on top of Jersey milk”

Favorite Poems Old and New by Helen Ferris

A timeless collection of poems for children. It’s the one I reach for the most to read aloud from.

“If your children think they don’t like poetry, expose them to this collection . . . and I defy them to resist its magic.” – from Kirkus Reviews

The Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry by Louis Untermeyer, illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund

This heavily illustrated collection is unlike anything I’ve seen before. Untermeyer’s selections are excellent and Anglund’s illustrations are spectacular.

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti (chapter book) [be aware: one image not suitable for young children]

The famous story of the puppet who becomes a real boy. I cannot recommend Innocenti’s illustrations enough. They are magnificent and so Italian.

Happy Little Family by Rebecca Claudill (chapter book)

Charming story about a family of children who grow up in the hills of Kentucky.  “But I do the same things every day,” said Chris. I feed the horse, and plow, and cut stovewood. Some days I go fishing. Some days I go to play with Andy Watterson. The same things happen every day. I use my head the same way every day. I don’t see any chance to prove that I am either brave or wise.” Chris couldn’t understand Father at all. “Some days are different,” said Father. “Some day when you don’t expect it, a chance to prove you are brave and wise will be standing right in front of you.”

Miss Suzy by Miriam Young 

Endearing story about a box of toy soldiers coming to a friendly squirrel’s aid when some not-so-friendly squirrels push her out of her home. Illustrated by the talented Arnold Lobel.

Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, illustrated by Susan Jeffers

A section of Longfellow’s epic poem about the Onondaga chief Hiawatha, illustrated by Susan Jeffers. Jeffers had a great love for this poem since childhood and her incredible illustrations show it.

More beloved fairy tales to read: Toads and Diamonds by Charles Perrault and The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen

You can find these tales in the collected works of their authors. I am also currently reviewing and comparing several picture book versions of The Wild Swans for my fairy tales booklist.


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