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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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O come, O come Emmanuel!

 

Please leave me a comment below sharing your family’s favorite Advent tradition.

 

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A Poem for Advent

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“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 Gutenberg.org

 

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Christmas Booklist

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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. 

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Christmas Picture Books

Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins, illustrated by Nicholas Sidjakov

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The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale by Aaron Shepard

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Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck

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The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

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The Christmas Story Golden Books

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The Dolls’ Christmas by Tasha Tudor

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The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Berger

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The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

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The Nativity by Ruth Sanderson

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Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell

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The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie dePaola

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The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

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Books About Christmas Hymns

Good King Wenceslas by John Mason Neale, illustrated by Christopher Manson

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The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats

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Stephen’s Feast by Jean Richardson

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The Twelve Days of Christmas by Gennady Spirin

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Christmas Poetry

 A Wreath of Christmas Legends by Phyllis McGinley, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

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~ ADDITIONS! ~

The Christmas Story illustrated by Gennady Spirin

The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden, illustrated by Barbara Cooney


What are your family’s favorite Christmas books? Please share in the comments below.

You may also like . . . the Winter & Snow Booklist.

 

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