Advent Activities for Families and Kids Updated for 2016

I love getting ready for the Advent season and am already planning our activities and decorations for the season so thought you might like to do so too.

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Think Outside the Box

In some ways I am a traditionalist when it comes to Advent celebrations. I love to set up our Advent wreath and decorate the Christmas tree. However I also like to get creative during the season and love to encourage others to do the same.

Thalia on Sacraparental has put together a wonderfully creative resource list in her post What We’re Doing This Advent: Six Families Share Their Plans

Colouring Books are all the rage at the moment and there are plenty of them around for Christmas. Mandy Groce at Ministry to Children has created an excellent Advent Colouring Book for Kids that can be downloaded for free.

I love these templates that Sybil MacBeth of Praying in Colour has made available for what she calls a count up, not a count down to Christmas.

Here is a creative Advent prayer walk idea which Jodie Thomae will post during Advent this year – what she calls an ADVENTure walk.

Create an Advent Wreath

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The most traditional project to prepare us for the new liturgical year is to create or acquire and advent wreath. An Advent wreath typically consists of greenery with four candles, three purple and one pink. Each candle has a specific meaning:

Candle one (purple) represents hope. It is often called the prophets’ candle.

Candle two (purple) represents peace. It is often called the angels’ candle.

Candle three (pink) represents joy. It is often called the shepherds’ candle.

Candle four (purple) represents love. It is often called the Bethlehem candle.

Many advent wreaths also include a Christ candle in the middle of the wreath.

To celebrate with an Advent wreath, you light a candle on each Sunday of Advent. The first Sunday, you light candle one; the second Sunday you light candles one and two, etc. You can often find readings to go along with the candle lightings on the internet or at Christian bookstores. Or find a Christmas book that represents the theme of the week and read it with your children.

There are lots of ways to make Advent wreaths. It is a fun craft to do with kids and adults alike and may establish a new family tradition for you.

Here are a few that I find useful:

Here is a link to a fairly traditional Advent wreath. It does require an electric drill, fine tooth saw and wire cutters so obviously not something to let your kids do on their own.

We can also make wreaths to hang on our doors or windows.

This short video How to make an Advent wreath uses old coat hangers.

And here is a simple eco-friendly wreath

Or perhaps a junk wheel wreath with mason jar tealight.

And I love this one for making an Advent wreath with children’s hand prints. One of my friends used her own and her husbands handprints for the wreath and gave it to her grandkids prints as an Advent gift. 

Go bird friendly with your Advent wreath and Advent decorations. We tried this a couple of  years ago. The gelatine suggested in most of these goes moldy if you leave it inside too long, however we planned to try it again with lard which should be more durable and also nutritious for the birds but have not yet managed to do that. 

Create an Advent or Winter Spiral

Advent spiral

This is not a long standing Advent tradition but is associated with Waldorf schools in the United States. It has similarities to walking the labyrinth and I think is a wonderful tradition to consider establishing for your family.

This site has great instructions for making an Advent spiral complete with Mary on a donkey with dough.

Sparkle stories has another rather more ambitious outdoor winter spiral.

Mountain Hearth has the most ambitious of all – a beautiful Advent walk that as they say really sets the mood for a different sort of holiday season filled with more stillness, reverence, contemplation and beauty amongst the prevalent hustle and bustle of shopping, parties, and general busy-ness that surrounds us in November and December.

I love this Advent spiral design from Holland.

And this very creative and relatively simple homemade Advent spiral – A new way to mark time 

Create an Advent Garden

This is an idea that I came up with a couple of years ago when I was feeling a little bored by the traditional Advent wreath which we had used for the last 20 years. I am a keen gardener and decided to create my own mini garden specifically for Advent.

I filmed this short video to explain my process and the reasoning behind it. This was a very meaningful and fun way to celebrate the season. It has become an important Advent activity for me. This year I will replenish the garden again, choose a word to focus on each week and move it to my office desk as a way to pause and meditate during the day. 

I continue to work on this concept and find new inspiration each year. My 2015 is the one I am most satisfied with.Advent garden

Make Your Own Advent Calendar

Advent calendars always seem to represent the more commercial side of Christmas to me with cheap chocolates, wooden toys and glittery paper being the predominant images. However this is a wonderful tradition and there are many ways in which we can make it meaningful for our families

I love the suggestion from the post Celebrating Advent with Children, to make an Advent calendar with matchboxes, placing slips of paper in each one with different activities to do each day.

Another possibility is this recycle bin Advent calendar.  – what a great way to introduce kids to the season and to the need to be more responsible. The combination of inward reflection and outward caring is wonderful.

Countdown Christmas Traditions– also has a fun kid friendly Advent calendar.  As you click on each day of Advent you read about traditions in different countries of the world.

CAFOD: Just One world in the U.K. has some great Advent liturgies available as well as a downloadable Advent calendar for kids.

Susan Forshey put together this helpful Advent calendar Forty Days of Joy and Love which is a great concept to use for your Advent calendar without investing in funky toys or more unnecessary chocolates.

And here is a really fun one to explore – The Hubble Telescope Advent calendar

Catholic Mom has downloadable instructions for an Advent chain which has some similarities to an Advent calendar, but is especially designed to encourage kids to think beyond themselves at Christmas.

A couple of years ago MSA Board member Jill Aylard Young put together a similar kit called Advent in A Jar which is downloadable for free from the MSA site.  

Explore Christmas traditions and recipes from around the world with your family

Advent Open house

If you wanting to establish new traditions to enjoy with your family or friends, read through these descriptions of traditions from around the world and discuss the possibility of adapting some of these as part of your own celebration during the Advent and Christmas season.    

Buzzfeed life has a wonderful array of recipes associated with the Advent and Christmas season in many different parts of the world.  Just reading through some of these has my mouth watering. Choose a few to make with your kids and create some special prayers for the countries the traditions come from at the same time.

I love to experiment with new recipes from different parts of the world especially for our Advent Open house.

Set up a nativity set.

Sandra Lako Nativity

This is always a fun activity that tends to grow even more important as we age. Set it up with the manger empty and the wise men at the other end of the room or house. Throughout the Advent and Christmas season the wise men move closer to the manager and of course on Christmas morning the Christ child appears in the manger.

One of my friends has a rich collection of nativity sets from around the world which she sets up in different parts of the house to remind her that the story of Jesus is powerful in every culture. World Nativity has an amazing set of images of nativity sets from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. YonderStar is another site that sells Nativity sets, many of them fair trade. They also contribute 10% of their profits to Nature Conservancy and Food for the Poor.

One creative twist on the traditional nativity set is to give each family member an empty manger on the first Sunday of Advent.  A small cereal box covered with bright paper will do as well. At bedtime, the children draw straws for each kind deed performed in honor of baby Jesus as his birthday surprise. The straws are placed in the child’s manger or box daily. It is amazing how much love a child can put into Advent when she or he is preparing for his redeemer’s coming in grace. 

On Christmas, each child finds an infant in his manger, placed on a small table or a chair beside his or her bed. Usually it is a tiny doll, beautifully dressed. This custom fills the child with a longing in Advent, and provides an image of the redeemer as the first happy glance in the morning and the last impression at night during the entire Christmas season.

Make a Jesse Tree

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The Jesse Tree represents the family tree, or genealogy of Jesus Christ . It tells the story of God’s salvation plan , beginning with creation and continuing through the Old Testament, to the coming of the Messiah. The name comes from Isaiah 11:1, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” (NASB)

Each day of Advent a homemade ornament is added to the Jesse Tree, a small tree made of evergreen branches. These symbolic ornaments can each represent a prophecy foretelling of Christ. Other variations include creating ornaments that represent the ancestors in the lineage of Christ, or using the various monogram symbols of Christianity as handmade ornaments. Before a symbol is hung on the branch, a Bible passage or a story from a story Bible is read.

My Jesse Tree: The Ultimate Guide has a good explanation and lots of ideas on how to make a Jesse tree.

Here is a pattern for making a Jesse tree Advent calendar and another for making a more traditional Jesse tree. The Reformed Church of America has a good set of Jesse tree Advent devotionals

Last year at MSA we created a New Gift and New Resources for You the Advent Season which you might also like to check out.

sunAs a free gift to you all, a small way to say thank you for your prayers, support and encouragement, we offer our new Advent/Christmas colouring book, Colour Your Way Through Advent and Christmas. Colouring pages are based on the O Antiphon images drawn for us last year by Danielle Poland for our popular devotional A Journey Toward Home: Soul Travel from Advent to Lent. Additional Christmas images were created by our new volunteer Shelby Selvidge.

Please visit our MSA webstore and browse our Advent/Christmas resources:

This is part of a series on Christmas/Advent resources. There is a free download available created in 2014 with all the links for that year or follow these links for resource posts that have been updated in 2016.

Getting Ready for Advent/Christmas Worship Resources for 2015

Advent Activities for Families and Kids for 2015

Advent Candle Light Liturgy

Join Our Advent Photo Challenge

Celebrate With Simplicity This Christmas

Preparing for a Blue Christmas – New Ideas for 2015

Helping Kids Give Back This Christmas

Choosing Your Scripture Readings for the Coming Year

Advent/Christmas Music from a Rich Array of Traditions

What On Earth Are The O Antiphons

Lean Towards the Light this Christmas