The cool breeze, carols over the radio, and the worsening Manila traffic. Yes, we feel it. Christmas season is definitely here. Before we get swept away by the hustle and bustle of December, let us not forget the short, magical season of quiet preparation for Christmas — Advent.
The season of Advent is a four-week preparation in anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Here we share 10 traditions to hopefully inspire your family to enjoy a more meaningful Advent.
1. Jesse Tree
The Jesse Tree is by far one of my favorite Advent activities that I only discovered when I had my daughter. It is an old Advent tradition that takes its name from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” It goes back to Genesis and traces the family tree of Jesus. How interesting is that?
Over the years, this tradition has had many versions and changes in our home, but the idea remains the same – we read a story from the Bible, we discuss or read a devotional, we sing a hymn, and then hang the ornament on our tree. Some guides begin on the first day of Advent, while others start on the first day of December. Catholic Inspired has a free Jesse Tree ornament printable that your children can color. It also includes a list of bible stories and verses to read for each day.
Read-alouds are another staple during Advent. We’ve built quite a number of books over the years, and we know most of the stories by heart, and yet the magic of each tale never fails to delight us as we reread each year.
Mariel unwraps their Christmas books like a present each day, while I list down the titles of our books in slips of paper and put it in a fish bowl. The Energizer Bunny randomly picks our read-alouds for the day. The best part of this activity? It is really super low-prep! The perfect go-to activity for really hectic schedules.
Sneak in reading time during meals, before naps, and as bedtime stories. It can’t get any easier, sweeter, and more memorable than that. If you are looking for Christmas books to add to your library, visit our online children’s bookshop.
3. The Christmas Manger
Here is another low-prep but meaningful Advent Activity. All you need is a manger and straw or strips of paper. Each day, family members get to prepare the manger by laying down a straw for each good deed made during the day. On Christmas Eve, the manger is soft and ready for the Birthday Boy!
4. Advent Saints
Did you know that during this wonderful time of anticipation and preparation for the birth of Jesus, a lot of saints also celebrate their feast days? St. Lucy, St. Nicholas, St. Andrew (and his lovely, lovely novena prayer), and San Juan Diego are just a few of these saints. Let us not forget the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!
Getting to know these holy men and women will also help remind our families behind the true meaning behind this jolly season. Catholic Icing has this wonderful craft download featuring these Advent Saints.
5. Advent wreath
Here’s a beautiful Christmas tradition that most of us know! The Advent Wreath shows a powerful image of how our Lord’s birth brought light into the world. Lighting the candles and reflecting on its meaning weekly also builds the anticipation for Christmas Day.
We made our own Advent Wreath a few years ago, and although it is not perfect, it brings wonderful memories so we continue to put it out every year. We used Holy Heroes’ Advent Adventure guide to make this tradition even more meaningful.
6. Advent calendar
I remember the day I got this Advent Calendar for a song – a few days after Christmas many years ago! It was the best Christmas gift for me. Similar to the Jesse Tree, each mini-book in our Advent Calendar features a bible story or verse that leads up to the birth of Jesus.
There are a lot of printable Advent Calendars online, or you can even make your own! Check out this simple but meaningful 2018 Advent Calendar printable from Loyola Press that includes prompts to help children really prepare for Christmas. They also have a blank template that you can use to make the activities even more significant to your family.
What is Advent without hymns? Check out our playlist for Advent hymns to study and enjoy!
8. Truth in the Tinsel
We appreciated this ready-made Advent plan when our kids were a lot younger and we did not really have time to plan activities. The author, Amanda White, created her own version of the Jesse Tree and Advent Calendar with hands-on learners in mind. Each day, the family will read a Bible Story, make a craft ornament related to the story, and hang the ornament on the tree. Years after we did this, the Energizer Bunny still fondly remembers the fun we had while creating the ornaments. Check out the e-book here. (affiliate link)
9. Advent Morning Time by Pam Barnhill
I was set to simplify our Advent plans last year, until Mariel showed me Pam Barnhill’s Advent Morning Time Plans. I tweaked it a bit to suit our schedule and resources, and came out with a rich Advent feast! It comes with suggestions for literature, poetry, picture study, and music study that made my heart go a-flutter.
10. O Antiphons
Here is one tradition that I’ve been meaning to include in our Advent activities. The O Antiphons, named as such because each phrase begins with “O”, are seven Messianic titles that are sung each night from December 17, a week before Christmas Day. Jennifer Gregory Miller of Family Feast and Feria explains this ancient practice so beautifully here. Michelle Quigley, one of the authors of Mater Amabilis, a Catholic Charlotte Mason curriculum, has a set of O Antiphon coloring ornaments as well as a printable prayer guide here.
Our family Advent traditions, except for a few staples, have changed yearly and my plans are by no means set in stone. The key is to not be pressured to do everything at once. Pick one, two, or three to start — or enrich — your own Advent celebration this year.
The days leading to Christmas can be very busy but it is also a wonderful time to introduce our faith’s lovely traditions and to let our children bask, anticipate, and finally behold the true Joy that Christmas brings – one that goes way beyond the lights, the bustle, and the presents.