With over 100 comments to my post about Advent, you really came through with some wonderful ideas about taking “baby steps” into Advent! As always, I read every single comment, and I thought it might be helpful to others if I posted some examples of all the great ideas everyone shared.
For my fellow easily-overwhelmed people, let me emphasize that the idea is that you’d just choose one or two of these. I only included tons of options since different things work for different people.
Many people referred to saying daily prayers during Advent. If, like me, you’re not sure where to start with that, here’s a great list of simple daily Advent prayers.
~ 1 ~
If you do nothing else: Advent Wreath. It is the universal symbol of Advent. The kids will see it at church every week. Is is the Big Countdown. You’re probably sitting down for dinner together anyway, so lighting candles at the table is one tiny step that will make the whole month feel special even if you do literally nothing else, not even prayers.
~ 2 ~
Use your Advent wreath as a centerpiece (assuming your kids won’t climb on the table and destroy it.) Every night at dinner, instead of saying your usual prayer before meals, light the candle and say an advent prayer. Simple!
– Loni of Simply Everything
~ 3 ~
We have a daily Advent wreath devotion, and the plan is that each night we light the candle for that week, have the kids tell us what that candle represents, read the scripture for that night and sing songs. We accept in advance, however, that there will be nights that we don’t get to it — and that’s okay. If we aim for every night it’s bound to happen at least several nights that week, so the kids get some exposure.
~ 4 ~
Our only Advent tradition is our Advent wreath. Our only rule is that we have to eat dinner at a clean table with a lit Advent wreath every night.
– GeekLady of Tales of a Geek
~ 5 ~
Sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel before dinner. If an Advent wreath is too much, light some candles. Turn out the lights…Print out 4 verses of the song. Sing one verse for a whole week, the next verse the next week, etc. Ring bells for the refrain! My mom had little jingle bells that we held really quietly until the refrain — then we belted out “REJOICE! REJOICE!” and rang our bells for all we were worth. Of all the things my parents did to celebrate Advent, this is the one that sticks the most.
– Maia of Flowers Round the Cross
~ 6 ~
We do an advent wreath and each person gets a turn to lead us in prayer and light candles, starting with the youngest. Those too young to read have help, of course, and those who can’t be trusted with fire have mom or dad hold their hand with a long fireplace match.
– Mike of What Does Mike Think?
~ 7 ~
We place the wreath on the table at the beginning of Advent and the children light the appropriate number of candles as the weeks go by. We turn out all of the other lights so that you really get a feel for the Light is coming!
~ 8 ~
I have found many devotional books to use with the Advent wreath – which we light before we say Grace at dinner. But none of the books really have WOWED us — so this year we are doing a saint each night. I have a very simple First Book of Saints [here’s an example] — one page per saint with a nice picture — and we’re going to take turns each night picking and reading the story of one saint.
MANGERS / NATIVITY SETS
~ 9 ~
We have a Nativity set that we set out on one side of the room. On the other side we set out the Holy Family. Each Sunday of Advent we move them a little closer to the creche (they circle the room) and talk about the journey Mary and Joseph took.
~ 10 ~
We have a simple wooden manger my father-in-law made for us years ago. It goes with an inexpensive baby doll. We cut up strips of yellow construction paper and the kids put a piece into the manger when they do a good deed. Baby Jesus arrives on Christmas Eve to a nice cushy manger.
– Love2learn Mom
– Melanie of the Wine-Dark Sea
~ 13 ~
Advent calendar – We get a chocolate one every year, but if you do this, each child will have to have their own, otherwise much tension will ensue. We also have a wood one. Even those paper ones are great. The kids love seeing what’s behind the window each day.
– Tiffany of Life of a Catholic Librarian
~ 14 ~
We also had an Advent calendar with little ornaments for each day — and we’d take out an ornament each day and put it on a mini tree.
– Liesl of The Spiritual Workout
~ 15 ~
Each year we put out a stocking for Jesus at the beginning of Advent. Throughout the season, whenever anyone makes a small sacrifice or does a good deed (complimenting a sibling, making a bed without being asked, etc.) we write down what they did on a scrap of paper, and put it in the stocking. Here’s the best part: we then save the stocking until the beginning of the next Advent, then open it and read all the great things everyone did last year. It inspires us to think of what we did the year before, and encourages us to have another great Advent!
– My friend Christine (my paraphrasing of a phone call with her)
~ 16 ~
One other thing we did was to make an Advent paper chain. Each day we chose three things to pray for, and wrote one name on each link: someone we didn’t know (a four-year old girl in India), someone we did know (a friend or relative), and some way we’d like to grow (patience, etc). We kept adding to the chain, and by Christmas could ‘wrap our tree in prayer’. Really simple, and okay if you miss a few days here and there.
– Julia of Lotsa Laundry
~ 17 ~
Like you, I have four small children- 6yo, 5yo, 3yo & 8 month old baby. Also- Advent was a TOTAL failure last year!…This year- I bought a GORGEOUS, hardcover, keepsake book- The Advent Book by the Stockman’s. Hardcover book & heavy pages. A different door to open each day with scripture and illustration behind it. Really, really beautiful artwork. Short, simple, EASY! This is just our speed with four little ones in the house.
– Kelly of Three Little Jewells
~ 18 ~
I would also suggest that you add a purple and rose table cloth or runner to your table to further emphasize the liturgical season. Or perhaps napkins, even paper ones that you use on Sundays. This would help in marking the liturgical shifts of the year.
~ 19 ~
A wonderful way to imbue your kids with the spirit of Advent is to flood your reading times with Advent- and Christmas-themed children’s books…In Charlotte Mason-speak, avoid the “twaddle”; stick with books that tell a wonderful story that draws kids in — they’ll remember it so much better than a dry, fact-filled monologue about some Christmas legend or tradition. You can just start with Tomie de Paola if you don’t have his stuff already, although I note some people hate his illustrating style. Here’s also a PDF list to start with from Catholic Mosaic. Scroll to the bottom for December/Christmas.
~ 20 ~
A non-Catholic friend of mine started an Advent tradition years ago that I am finally going to claim for myself, now that my child is 3: She would wrap up 30 kids books about Christmas (some religious, some secular) with plain tissue paper and put them in a basket. Every night before bed, one of her kids would get to unwrap a book and together they would read it as a family. The books would get re-used year after year, and so it was exciting to revisit these books which only came out once a year. In my mind, if you’ve kept your eyes open at rummage sales, you can collect this many books about Christmas easily – the books stimulate discussion and prayer and family time each night.
~ 21 ~
We also pray the Stations of the Nativity, a book we received as a gift one year and we use that during Advent and the Christmas Season during adoration.
– Susan H
~ 22 ~
A really simple tradition I’ve managed for the last couple of years is to get 24 small cards on the first Sunday of advent and write the name of a family/friend/country on each one. We fold them and add them to our advent calendar and pray for their intentions each evening during bedtime prayers. It takes 15 minutes to prepare and you’re sorted for the whole season!
~ 23 ~
Following the FlyLady trick of “home blessing” happening once a week, do the little thing (Advent wreath and short prayer at dinner) every day, and the “home blessing” can be one big thing a week: pick 4 saints for the whole season, maybe, and do a craft for St. Nick’s day, a baking project for St. Lucia, and so on. One cool thing a week. Plan them the day after Thanksgiving when hopefully you’ll have some time on your hands, one page for each week.
– Katie of Kitchen Stewardship
~ 24 ~
When my boys were little…I didn’t try to do anything each DAY of Advent, except maybe a special dinner time prayer; but each Sunday we had a special “Advent Dinner.” I would fix a simple dinner (usually soup and homemade bread…can’t go wrong there, even in a bread machine!) and we would have the dinner by candlelight. I had some story / devotion / short activity and we lit the Sunday’s candle…We still look back fondly on those times and I think it was a good introduction to all of us as to what the waiting of Advent really is. They still talk fondly about those dinners.
A FINAL NOTE
I hope you found these suggestions as helpful as I did! I thought this comment from Tiffani would be a great way to close our list of suggestions:
I have a million children and a very hectic household too…If you are like me – a pretty well disorganized and unmotivated decorator – take heart that you aren’t really supposed to get all crazy during Advent. You’re supposed to prepare the way of the Lord. It’s kind of like a little Lent. Christmas is the big red and green party.
Thanks for the great comments, everyone!