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Thanksgiving comes late this year, and Advent follows only three days after- that doesn’t give us a lot of time to prepare! Since we’re going to be visiting family the week of Thanksgiving, I’m rushing to figure out what I need to all get out and prepared for our Advent traditions before we leave. Advent is probably one of my favorite times of year, and I love many of the traditions that come with it. It’s slightly ironic that I’m preparing for our time of preparation, since that’s what Advent is- a time of preparation for Jesus’ birth – But here we are!
Since having kids, it has been really fun to start figuring out which traditions we want to carry on from our childhood and which new ones we want to start in our own little family. I just started reading Kendra Tierney’s The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life, and it’s inspiring me to start creating more traditions throughout the year. Since the Catholic liturgical year starts with Advent, what better time to start being intentional about living liturgically and incorporating these fun traditions in our everyday life.
Something that Kendra Tierney’s book has me really thinking about is making the distinction between Advent and Christmas. In true liturgical living, Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas and then Christmas is Christmas day through the Epiphany (when the three kings came!) traditionally on January 6. Secular culture has it switched up with Christmas being celebrated completely in Advent and then it goes dark as soon as Christmas day is over. I am still figuring out how to immerse ourselves fully in the Christmas spirit at the same time as recognizing Advent, and I’m sure it’ll be a process throughout the years.
As it is, I’m sitting down and thinking about which Advent traditions I want to continue from past years or start new with our kiddos this year. I’m sharing four of the activities that I know we’re going to do this year for sure, but I’m sure I’ll end up adding some throughout the season. Advent is such a fun time for crafts, baking, and doing all of the things, but I’m not always great at planning ahead for those. The activities I’ve settled on are easy ones to do with little kids and don’t require too much energy from me on a day to day basis throughout the season.
1) Advent Calendar
Growing up, we had an Advent Calendar that formed the Nativity scene throughout December, and I loved it. So as soon as I had a child for Christmas, I went out and bought one too (the one pictured above is the one we have!) It was so fun to take turns with my brothers each day, putting up a different character each day to form the Nativity scene. Then each year, we’d write a note to ourselves so that we knew who got to go first the next year (Oh sweet, type A, little Holly). Last year, I started Nora putting a character up each morning. I don’t think she really understood what was going on (she was just a little younger than two), but she still thought it was fun! I’m excited to see if she gets more into it this year and if we can get Charlie to put up any.
This tradition is pretty simple and also acts as a fun decoration to keep up throughout the Christmas season. I love the anticipation it fosters as we get closer and closer to putting up the Holy Family and Baby Jesus. While it does feel a little silly to put the shepherds and wise men up before Baby Jesus even arrives, at the end it is fun to talk about each person’s role in the nativity story.
2) 25 Books of Christmas
I shared the details about this in my last post, but I wanted to address it again here since it is a big part of what we do in the Advent season leading up the Christmas. Each day of the 25 days leading up to Christmas, we have a wrapped Christmas book that one of the kids gets to open and that we read together as a family. Some of them are religious, some of them aren’t, but all of them get our hearts and minds in the spirit of excitement for Christmas’s coming. I love having the opportunity to share the Christmas spirit with our family through books, especially since our kiddos are big fans of reading!
By the time Christmas rolled around last year, Nora was able to find and name Mary, Jesus, Joseph, and the angels pretty easily, so I counted that as a win! Reading is a great way to introduce the ideas of the Nativity, as well as Santa, presents, snowmen, and so much more that aren’t necessarily parts of our everyday life. By the time that Christmas comes we have 25(+) Christmas books to pick from and read to keep the Christmas spirit alive through the true end of Christmas!
3) Advent Wreath
While we’ve had our Advent wreath on the table the past couple of years, we didn’t really ever do anything with it. We’d light the candles the couple of days a week that we’d remember, but that’s about it. This year, I’m hoping to incorporate these Advent Prayers from Dynamic Catholic into lighting our candles each night before dinner. Since we try to pray before our meals anyway, it’ll just be another short step before we get dinner started. Maybe if we’re feeling brave, we’ll even let Nora light the candles every so often!
We made our Advent wreath at a family night at our church when we were living in Michigan a couple years ago. It was a slightly funny time because we went with a not even one year old among all of these other little families with kiddos making their wreaths. It ended up being a fun night, and we came away with a wreath for our family. I bought some new candles from Hobby Lobby last year, but they didn’t sit well in the candle holders (which probably contributed to us not using it as much as I would have liked). This year I’m thinking about finding some colored votives to use instead- plus these’ll probably be better to use with small kiddos. There are a couple links below here if you still need to get your candles (or your wreath!) like me!
4) Traveling Nativity
This is a fun activity that I’ve seen all over Facebook and Instagram lately, and one that I’m thinking about starting with our family this year. When you take out the Nativity sets at the beginning of Advent, you set them up with just the animals, trees, shepherds outside, etc, holding back Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and the three wise men. That first day, you place Mary and Joseph at the beginning of their travels somewhere else in the house and each day they travel closer to the rest of the Nativity Set. On Christmas, they arrive at the stable and then Jesus is born and placed in the manger. Then, on Christmas, the three wise men start their own journey through the house closer and closer to the stable until they reach it on the Epiphany.
I think this is such a fun way to act out the Nativity story. I’ve seen some people do it in a similar way to Elf on the Shelf , where they move the people at night and then the kids have to look around to see where they traveled on their journey. Right now, we just have Nora’s play Nativity set that she got from St. Nick last year. I’m deciding if we’ll do this with her set or if I should just go ahead and get us an adult set to do it with so that she can play with her Nativity set together all season long. Luckily, I still have a few weeks to decide!
This may seem like a lot, but all of it really amounts to maybe 15 extra minutes of activities a day, and it leads our hearts to focus on the anticipation of Jesus’s birth. Advent is a joyful season leading to the beauty and fun that is Christmas. I am so excited to be able to share these joys with our children and start these Advent traditions early so that they can be a part of their childhood memories someday.
I’d love to hear what Advent traditions you have in your family. How do you prepare for Christmas and for Jesus? Do you decorate the day after Thanksgiving, do it slowly throughout Advent, or decorate the whole house Christmas Eve? As we think about these things for our family, I’d love to hear what yours does! Share with us in the comments below or let me know on Facebook or Instagram. Happy preparations!