Last week, we got a toy catalog in the mail from Amazon. It was just like the ads we used to get from Toys R Us, only this one was thicker and glossier. Inside the front cover, there was a card you could tear out labeled “My Holiday Wish List.” I smuggled it into our recycling bin before my boys could lay their eyes on it.
How can we point our children to Jesus this Christmas in the face of our consumerist culture?
One of the best ways I’ve found is to celebrate the season of Advent.
Advent is a time within the liturgical church calendar set aside to celebrate Jesus’ birth, and to anticipate his coming again. Scripture readings on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas day center around hope, peace, joy, and love.
I didn’t celebrate Advent in this sense when I was growing up. Instead we had counted down to Christmas day with chocolate calendars, a beloved childhood tradition to be sure.
But now, as a mom to two young boys, I want to seize the opportunity that this season affords and use the natural anticipation of counting down to Christmas as a way to teach my kids more about Jesus.
If you’re looking for engaging ways to celebrate Advent with children, read on for some great suggestions!
Seven hands-on ways to celebrate Advent with kids:
The Giving Manger
The Giving Manger is a way to bring the focus back to giving and kindness during the Christmas season. Every individual and family act of kindness or service results in more hay added to the manger. On Christmas day, baby Jesus is placed in the manger! This tradition is perfect even for toddlers!
The Shepherd on the Search
Shepherd on the Search is a bit of a twist on Elf on the Shelf: every day you hide the shepherd in a new location for your kids to find. Ideally, he starts out very far away from your nativity scene and travels closer and closer to baby Jesus as Christmas day approaches. This comes with a beautiful book that the plush shepherd and nativity display box really bring to life!
A Jesse Tree is a way to tell the story of the Bible from creation to the Christmas story. There is a short Bible story or passage of scripture every day of Advent with a corresponding ornament. Each ornament on the tree symbolizes the story of a person in Jesus’ family tree.
There are many ways you can start a Jesse Tree tradition. Some people use a separate miniature Christmas tree for this but you don’t have to! Some people make each ornament by hand, some people buy a set, and some people print out a paper ornament that the kids can color (and how cute is this sticker version for toddlers??). There is an official book with all the readings, but a FREE resource that has both the readings and the printable ornaments is this Jesse Tree Guide from The Gospel Centered Family!
Truth in the Tinsel
Truth in the Tinsel is an e-book that leads you through each day of Advent with a passage of scripture and a corresponding ornament craft. It’s a wonderful hands-on experience for younger kids, but it does take a bit of preparation beforehand with the craft supplies. You can take a peek at the ornament crafts here. Fortunately, there are printable ornaments you can order instead, and a ton of free supplements to go along with this Advent activity!
Reusable advent calendars like the ones I use (pictured above) give you lots of flexibility. I usually put two little candies in each stocking – one for each of my boys – and then something else. One year it was a Christmas themed activity (I love this printable set that comes with ready made cards AND blank ones!). This year, I want to include these adorable kid-friendly Bible verses.
There are a number of lovely reusable advent calendars similar to the one I use, if you search on etsy or even Amazon. I love this canvas one, and this fabric stocking one, and this wooden house with drawers featuring the nativity scene!
Interactive Nativity Scene
My sister gave me this fabric nativity scene and calendar when my boys were very small and it’s perfect for little hands! Each of the pieces are backed with velcro and start out in the numbered pockets. For every day of advent, your child places the piece on the nativity scene until the picture is complete on Christmas Day (I always save baby Jesus for day number 24!)
Advent Family Devotions
You’ll need three purple candles, one pink candle and one white candle – tall ones, tea candles, it doesn’t really matter! (You can even make your own!) You can arrange them in a circle with some garland or purchase a ready made one like this one or this one.
Each Sunday of Advent, light the candle and talk about what it means. Print out this excellent family Advent devotional for kids ages 3 through 5th grade and read the verse and say the prayer. I LOVE that they have optional discussion questions, songs, and activities!
The Christmas season is ripe with ways we can talk to our kids about Jesus. And in a consumerist culture that would have us believe it’s all about giving and getting gifts, Advent reminds us of the Greatest Gift already given to us!
I hope you’ve found an idea here that will work for you and your family! And if you like what you see here, I hope you’ll share this post with friends, and consider signing up below to get The Scoop, my twice a month newsletter filled with resources to help you on your journey of faith and motherhood!