Helping Children Celebrate Advent
In the Christian church calendar, the time leading up to Christmas is called Advent, a Latin word meaning “coming.” Christians mark the four Sundays in Advent as a way to prepare hearts for the coming of Jesus. Children can begin to understand the meaning and beauty of Advent with simple activities, stories and songs.
The Advent Wreath
The mainstay of Advent is the Advent wreath. It is usually circular with three purple candles and one pink candle. The first purple candle – the Prophet’s Candle – will be lit on Dec. 2 this year, followed by the purple Bethlehem Candle, the pink Shepherd’s Candle and the purple Angel Candle. Purple is a liturgical color used to signify a time of prayer. Pink or rose is the liturgical color for joy.
You can purchase an Advent wreath or make your own. Flameless candles will be safest if you have very young children. A simple Advent wreath can be made with cardboard tubes, colored paper, and yellow paper “flames.” Read a devotion, Bible verse, or inspirational story as part of your weekly celebration. Your church library can provide suggestions based on the ages of your children.
The Story of Christmas
Since young children are visual, hands-on learners, help them learn the Christmas story with nativity pieces they can manipulate. You can make an advent sensory box by filling a shallow plastic box with raffia or shredded brown paper. Make the people from slotted clothespins with round tops, colored felt and glue. Add farm animals your child already has, a box for the manger, an angel and a star. Now your young child can move the pieces and tell the story over and over.
Make or invest in a simple, child-friendly nativity scene to display in your home. Children can move Mary and Joseph closer to the stable each Sunday in Advent. Leave the manger empty, but provide strips of paper “straw.” For each good deed done during the weeks of Advent, children can put a piece of “straw” in the manger to prepare for the birth of Jesus.
Mark the Days
Paper chains are easy to make and can be a fun way to count down the days to Christmas. Cut out the correct number of chains and let the kids glue or staple them together. You can intersperse three purple and one pink slip of paper to represent the Sundays of Advent and place them in the proper sequence on your paper chain.
Music to Prepare
You can find Advent playlists online to add to your phone. The songs can be traditional songs of preparation like “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” or “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” or they can be contemporary songs celebrating The Coming.
Books Help Tell the Story
There are many beautiful books that tell the Christmas story for children. Your church library may be able to recommend some. A few of my favorites include:
- Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate
- Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown
- Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones
- On This Special Night by Simon Mendez
Other Games and Activities
Cookie baking will be at the top of the fun activity list for many kids. Bake and decorate simple star cookies to represent the Christmas Star that guided the Shepherds and Wise Men to the manger.
You can use old Scrabble tiles, or print some simple paper-letter tiles. Use them to spell out words relating to Advent, Bible verses, or song titles. Mix them up in plastic bags and see if the kids can unscramble them.
Giving Advent Meaning for Children
An Advent calendar gives a visual reminder of the days remaining until Christmas and things that children of all ages can do each day to share the meaning of the season. Advent calendars are available in paper format or you may be able to find one to download online. As you mark off each day, help children think of things they can do to spread the joy of the season: I will work hard today and do my best, I will try to be more thoughtful of others, I will do a kind act for someone, I will donate books or toys to needy families, I will eat more of what is good for me and less of what is not. The list is endless.
Because the story of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus is so relatable for young children, it is a great place to start your child’s faith learning and spiritual journey.
We wish you a blessed Advent Season!