This post contains affiliate links.
With four little ones who are easily distracted by the bombardment of toy ads (which I try to weed out as soon as they hit our doorstep) and pictures of Santa everywhere this time of year, it’s become more and more important to me to help our family refocus on the important things during the holidays. And a big part of that for us is taking time for Advent, a time of anticipation. Back in the day people used to fast from meat and sweets during the days leading up to Christmas, so that it truly was a feast and celebration of the coming of Christ.
The Christmas season looks a little different at the Maker Mama house. Turned off by the hustle and bustle of it all (and all the focus on shopping), I’ve spent the last few years slowing our Christmas down. One of the best ways I’ve found is by doing activities together as a family that keep our focus on the real reason we celebrate Christmas as Catholics. We decorate slowly, not lighting our tree until Christmas Eve, and hanging our trimmings up gradually. We also celebrate St. Nicholas Day instead of Santa Claus. We bake a birthday cake to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. They may be little things, but they’re different enough that they hold our attention.
Not to say that these are somehow the “correct” ways to celebrate the season, but it’s important to me to help our kids see beyond the shiny lights and wish lists. So I thought I’d share some of our favorite Advent traditions and a few new ones I’ve discovered to help us all breathe more deeply during this special time of year.
Here’s my top-ten list:
1. Straw for the Manger (pictured above)
A friend of mine and mother of six grown sons shared this idea with me years ago. And this is an especially great activity for little ones. We place an empty basket in a prominent space along with another container of straw (or yarn). Every time I see one of the kids doing something nice for their siblings, or going above an beyond as a helper at home, I give them a piece of straw to place in the manger. The idea is that it will be full and soft for the baby Jesus by the time Christmas comes. It’s just a way to visualize our loving actions and takes the focus away from being good for Santa.
2. Truth in the Tinsel
We’ve been using the Truth in the Tinsel eBook
for a few years now, and we still love it. It’s a daily Advent devotional and craft that goes beneath the surface of the Christmas story. Each day focuses around a symbol of the story and has the Scripture verses, discussion ideas, and a step-by-step craft for each symbol. There’s a full materials list at the front of the book so you can get everything ready ahead of time.
We’ve saved our original ornaments (that’s them up there) and use the printable ornaments
for the kids to color each day–which is perfect if you have a big crew like mine or don’t have the time for a craft each day.
The eBook is super-affordable and can be used year after year.
A great free resource, Made by Joel’s printable nativity is perfect for little hands and big imaginations. (You should browse around his site for a while, it’s incredible.)
We light our Advent wreath at dinner every night. We dim the lights and eat by candlelight, and the room is brighter each week as we light a new candle. I love the simplicity of this wooden bead wreath.
This is a new tradition I plan on starting this year. We’ve always had a collection of Christmas books I bring out, and I love the idea of wrapping them up to open each day. The thrift store is a great resource for Christmas books, and if you live in San Antonio, check out Central Library’s Book Cellar (kids books at no more than 50 cents? Yes please!).
I must have been living under a rug or something, but I just discovered Ann Voskamp’s site and my heart feels so full after reading through some of her posts. Need a spiritual lift? You should definitely stop by. And this idea for growing grass seeds during Advent to prepare your manger? Talk about anticipation!
Another idea to bring your family closer together is a daily family reflection. It’s a great alternative to the bucket-list style calendar, and will certainly make for some great conversations with you and your kids.
I’ve never actually done a Jesse Tree devotion for Advent, but I’ve always heard great things about it and I love these handmade ornaments (made with microwavable salt dough!). A little more involved, but this would be great for older kids to try their hand at.
And as a St. Nicholas Day lover, I can’t get over the cuteness of this ornament–and it’s super easy to make. Put your stockings out early for St. Nick and share the story of the real Santa with your kids on his feast day, December 6th.
And last but not least, a nativity set is one of my favorite Christmas decorations. Ours isn’t as elaborate (or as cute) as this one, but this would be a great slow Christmas craft to work on as a family throughout Advent.
Hope these activities inspire you to bring more meaning to your Christmas celebrations–and don’t try to do them all, either. That would defeat the whole slowing-down thing.
How about you? What are your favorite ways to observe Advent and celebrate Christmas? I’d love to hear your ideas and traditions!
P.S. If you like the projects shared in this post, please click over and pin from the original sources!