Baby steps for celebrating Advent: 24 super simple ideas

iStock 000010646996XSmall Baby steps for celebrating Advent: 24 super simple ideasWith 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.

PRAYERS

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.
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ADVENT WREATHS

~ 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.
- Christy

~ 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.
- Jeana

~ 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!
- Sandie

~ 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.
- Jennifer
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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.
- Natalile

~ 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

~ 11 ~

[Each child gets their own manger.] The kids can fill up their own mangers with straw, and they can help fill up each other’s as well. With an “I caught you pleasing Jesus!” to a sibling, they can add straw (or yarn – whatever you have!) to the other’s manger.
- Susan K.

~ 12 ~
Several times during Advent I like to sit down with the [manger set] figures and read a simple version of the Nativity story with the kids, sort of acting it out by holding the various figures when they are mentioned by the text. Again, no stress about trying to do it every day or anything. Just when I first put it up and then when I have the time. Maybe once or twice a week or so.
- Melanie of the Wine-Dark Sea

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OTHER SUGGESTIONS

~ 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. icon smile Baby steps for celebrating Advent: 24 super simple ideas 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.
- Tami

~ 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.
- Denise

~ 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.
- Charlotte

~ 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!
- Lizzie

~ 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.
– Suzanne
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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!

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Enter the Conversation...

30 Responses to “Baby steps for celebrating Advent: 24 super simple ideas”
  1. Katy says:

    Am I the first?!? These are great! I do not have a family but I have a busy life. I am in college and have a hard celebrating Church seasons so these suggestions are great!

  2. Leila says:

    Yay for simple, and yay for Tiffani’s advice! I am the worst at making things fun and pretty. My husband does the decorating. I’ve gotta stop feeling so guilty….right?
    Leila recently posted..If Jesus didnt rise from the dead

    • Tiffani says:

      Yes:) Stop feeling guilty. I have a friend who pretends her lack of decorating talents during Advent is simply “Catholic obedient starkness” during this season of minor fasting;)
      Tiffani recently posted..Ubi Caritas

  3. Thanks for sharing these wonderful ideas! I really like the ones that incorporate more prayer into the season.

  4. Natasha says:

    Thank you so, so much, and I mean everyone who emailed in too. I have 3 small children and marking the season out from all the commercial hoopla can be difficult. We already did a daily telling of the Christmas journey to Bethlehem, and read Jostein Gaarder’s Christmas mystery & so on, but learning about the Jesse tree and being inspired to use a purple tablecloth and napkins adds the potential of other dimensions – and I realised purple tablelinen is another celebration of Flylady too! – you are right with the babysteps, Jen. Keep it simple, and we are less likely to be stressed by it, and the children are more likely to absorb the real messages of Advent.
    Natasha recently posted..Wordless Wednesday- Visit to the Farm

  5. Carlie says:

    Thanks so much! I am going to go hunt up some bells and try the O Come O Come Emmanuel tip, slowly have our creche pieces rotate the dining room corners and I’m going to do a twist on the wrapped book idea and just wrap up our Christmas books we already have and let the boys unveil a new one every day. Such great, homespun ideas! Thanks again!

  6. These are amazing! I also don’t have kids, but I’m fairly busy and also living in a country where New Year’s is the major holiday (and Christmas comes later- Jan 7). It felt very un-Christmassy to me last year, when it was a working day, so much so that I bought a bunch of ornaments and a fake tree on that day before my evening class and then came home to skype with the family. This year, it’s going to feel like a real advent.

    Also, I couldn’t think of things that seemed so different, but in our family we follow Slovenian traditions for St. Nicholas day- I think if I had followed them a bit, and gotten my tree on the 6th of December (he brings it for us) I would have had a much better season. :)
    Nzie (theRosyGardener) recently posted..Seven Prayers for Seven Gifts

  7. Excellent post!! Note: the link in Suggestion 21 is broken.
    Margaret in Minnesota recently posted..And the Credits Roll

  8. Margo says:

    These are all wonderful ideas, especially for those who are mothers and have families of their own. I will certainly be passing this post on to anyone I know who is a mother with children; it will be greatly appreciated!
    Margo recently posted..Demonic Oppression

  9. A Hello from BRASIL,
    Jennifer!

    You did sometHing amazing what is to compile the best answers, so we are able to celebrate in the way that fits to our own family!

    Great Job!

    So I wish a Wonderful Advento’s Celebration to All American and Brazilian Families around the World!! And to the families of other nations too!!

    BE WELL! BE GOOD!
    ~Ana Paula~A Católica recently posted..Você já teve um 1º amor Tive vários!

  10. Jen, I just posted my “No-Panic Advent” series:
    http://karenedmisten.blogspot.com/2010/11/advent-is-less-than-two-weeks-away.html

    Hope it can inspire someone to pluck just a couple of ideas and start slowly.
    Karen Edmisten recently posted..Advent is Less Than Two Weeks Away – Plenty of Time to Not Panic

  11. Mark S. says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for these. I make my life too complicated and I wanted to start the new church year with a theme of simplify and center. These suggestions are so great!

  12. Denise says:

    There were so many awesome ideas – I’ve gleaned several that I hope to try out (in a non-overwhelming way *g*). Thanks so much for your two posts on this subject!

  13. Tiffani says:

    Very nice tips:) I, alas, learned long ago that I am not a creature of too many of the pretty or crafting habits. My family always does a more demonstrative physical version of Advent: We go to daily Mass and turn off the TV. We read a lot together, and our family prayers naturally get lengthened a bit. Though I hate to admit it – I am terribly, terribly neglectful of the Advent wreath. I just point to the one in Mass and say to the kids, “That’s how that empty pile of branches and unlit candles is supposed to look on our table.”

    They learn the meaning and purpose of this beautiful pre-Christmas season even if my talents seriously lack in the area of hymn-singing and candle lighting. If it is not in front of a statue or icon, I forget about it. Even Advent wreaths have this fate with me.

    Mea culpa. Sort of…
    Tiffani recently posted..Ubi Caritas

  14. whimsy says:

    We spread our Christmas decorating throughout the Advent season.

    One week we’ll mail cards and put up the Nativity set.
    One week we’ll put up non-tree lights.
    One week we’ll do some baking.
    One week we’ll make ornaments.
    Christmas Eve we put up the tree.

    Just a little at a time, to build up to Christmas. One year I tried the “Christmas Explosion at Thanksgiving” home decor and by Christmas I was just sick of it.

  15. elizabethk says:

    Thank you, Jennifer for compiling these – and for everyone’s ideas! I am going with the wrap the books to open and read, and the idea of writing peoples names on cards and then praying for them. I think we’ll take that one step further and mail them the card to let them know they are in our prayers and thoughts. God Bless you all and to all a good night…er, I mean — thanks! :D

  16. Christina says:

    Thanks for the compilation! I absolutely love Charlotte’s advice to wrap up all the Christmas books and unwrap one each evening to read. I may just start this instill this one as a family tradition!
    Christina recently posted..If only…

  17. Thank you, last year I really dropped the ball on Advent, however this year I am going to attempt to do better. I buy new candles for the Advent wreath and have the prayer from the Magnificant. I also have two Advent Calendars, one for each child. We are going to incorporate it with our circle time in the morning. Thanks to suggestion # 17, now I want to order the Advent Book!
    Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith recently posted..WW- Mommy- I Got A Great Idea!

  18. Oh my goodness, wonderful ideas. As a cradle Catholic I grew up with the chocolate advent calendar being the extent of my advent traditions. We’ve sucessfully intergrated the advent wreath and now I think I will go wrap up a bunch of Christmas stories…This one sounds like a winner!!!!

  19. Christine says:

    Something similar to an Advent calendar that we have done for years and love is the Advent Book. (www.theadventbook.com) The hardbound book is tied with a ribbon and each page has a full page door to open and inside the doors are pieces of the Luke Christmas story. The best part about the book is the beautiful paintings on every page. It is a work of art. The kids love snuggling on the couch and taking turns each night opening to doors and the older ones read the scripture. We combine this with our advent wreath and Christmas carols and prayer. It is so memorable every year!

  20. Javier (JCA) says:

    The patron saint of Spain, like USA, is the Immaculate Conception, whose feast day is December 8. In Spain is customary in those days to start preparing and sending Christmas cards. I don’t know why she is in USA, but if you want to know why is the patroness saint of Spain and the Spanish infantry corps, you can read this.

    By the way, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate a “Vigil for All Nascent Human Life” on November 27, (Advent’s beginning eve), as informs CFAM. Not limited to just Catholics, the pope has also requested that “all Diocesan Bishops (and their equivalent) of every particular church preside in analogous celebrations involving the faithful in their respective parishes, religious communities, associations and movements.” Have someone reported to you of this event in your diocese? In mine, not at all. Here you can see the Vatican’s document (in spanish).

    Ah! Here is discussed reactions to a very good Advent UK ad: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/marys-ultrasound-draws-fire
    Javier (JCA) recently posted..Vigilia de oración por toda vida humana naciente

  21. MamaTod says:

    For my own reading: “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson. I read it aloud to whomever will listen (my youngest is 13) or I read it to myself if no one else is around. There is a movie version, not quite as good. It’s very funny, but sobering as well. It takes about an hour to read aloud.

    Also, “The Modern Magi” by Carol Lynn Pearson. Everywhere we walk is Holy Land if we walk to please our Savior. I need reminding.

    If you get a chance and your kids are old enough, go caroling for older relatives, or the lady in church who is always doing for others, as well as shut-ins. Just 2 or 3 stops is plenty. One year we took cookies to a lady undergoing chemo and she said “OH! I’ve done this before but never had anyone sing for me!” That was her last Christmas with us.

  22. thereserita says:

    Here’s some solid Advent Advice from a Jesuit to his parishioners:
    http://www.zealforyourhouseconsumesme.com/2010/11/can-we-wait-with-joseph-and-mary-by-fr.html

  23. Christine says:

    Loved reading all your tips! Some ladies out there are pretty crafty. I wish I had your knowledge when I was raising my daughter 30 years ago.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take the commercial side out of Christmas? I love Advent & the beautiful traditions of our faith – it just breaks my heart to look around and see folks only seeing the $$$ side of it.

    Peace to everyone!
    Christine recently posted..Pet Peeves – Round 1

  24. Nice summary, Jen! I think good advice is to spread things out- then it’s not over so quickly!

    My thoughts for personal preparation for Christmas ‘holiness’- http://remnantofremnant.blogspot.com/2010/11/psalm-31-philips-fast-advent.html
    priest’s wife recently posted..This Life is NOT a Dress Rehearsal

  25. Jen,
    I totally thought of something better! I know, 100 comments already, and mine was even published in the 24…but the two things I know I’ll be doing this year for both me and the kids I shared with my readers here: http://www.kitchenstewardship.com/2010/11/22/looking-ahead-prep-for-advent-and-christmas-trappings/

    You would LOVE the Advent Storybook if you’re not already familiar with it. May God bless all your efforts and make this Advent feel like a grand SUCCESS! :) Katie

  26. Jill says:

    I admire you homeschooling. Not only for the fact that homeschool must be anything but easy, even for ONE child, but when you have lots of little ones, I can imagine it is a real challenge! I would love to homeschool my crew (5 kids ages 2-10) but I let the fear of my own disorganization and the elevated noise levels (especially when the kids KNOW I’m trying to concentrate on something else!) get in my way. I’m lucky to have a good educational system to send the kids to, but there’s nothing like teaching your own child and perhaps keeping their innocence at home a little longer. We all know the world we live in is anything but “Christ-like”. Good for you!!!

  27. Jill says:

    Oops! I meant to post that on your Quick-Takes!!

  28. Crucifix says:

    Thanks for your wonderful advice and tips. This makes it easier to teach the Catholic way to children. I really appreciate this blog.

  29. Jenny says:

    I LOVE numbers 5 and 15. This is a great compilation, thanks Jen!
    Jenny recently posted..What I Wore Sunday