Advent and Christmas Traditions with Small Children


Every year, I determine that I want to make Advent less of a Christmas preparation and more of a Christmas ANTICIPATION. I want Christ to be the center of Christmas for our family.  Each year, we try to add another dimension to our Christmas plans that focus the attention on HIM.

Serving Others

The best way to be like Jesus is to serve others.   We get started early by filling boxes for Operation Christmas Child.   We do one for each of our children, both the ones we get to play with and the ones playing with God.   This year we filled 4 for children ages 2-4.  My daughter loved the whole process.   She helped pick out items for the children at the stores this fall and she LOVED packing the boxes.  In fact, I didn’t help her pack them until we had to play a little Tetris to fit the dolls in.   While pick up for this ended yesterday, you can still put it on your radar for next year.

Another way to serve with small children is to purchase toys for Toys for Tots.  Again, this is something that we prepare for all year long.  In fact, July is the summer toy clearance at many big box stores and we stocked up for the last two years and kept forgetting to drop them off.  Our pile is enormous now.   You could also hit the after Christmas toy clearance if you have room to store them for that long.   My oldest has been pointing out toys all year that we could buy for children who won’t get toys for Christmas.

One that we haven’t yet tried that’s been on my list (and honestly, probably won’t get to until next year) is the good deeds manger for Jesus.   My daughter (at 4.5) could probably make a pretty good stab at this one, but I think she will get it MUCH more next year.   Basically, you make a manger out of a shoebox or something and every time you do a good deed you add a piece of hay.  The goal is to make a nice soft bed for the baby Jesus when he arrives at Chistmas.  This post at Shower of Roses explains the Manger very well and provides links to resources as well.

Jesse Tree

Holy Heroes Jesse Tree DVD

The first year we did this, I bought those flat round wooden Christmas ornament cut outs and actually drew a picture that corresponded to each figure in the Jesse Tree.  Some turned out better than I anticipated.   Others…well, not so much.   But then I purchased the Holy Heroes Jesse Tree DVD.   Many of the videos were the same as the Advent Adventure but the DVD includes a PDF of the ornaments for the tree.  I promptly printed these out, colored them in, and used Mod-Podge to put them over my elementary mini-paintings.

Feast Days

In addition to serving others and crafting, we relieve a little of the pressure to celebrate prematurely all month long, by picking a few feasts to celebrate.   We have decided to do the whole St. Nicholas thing and so we leave out carrots for his horses and fill the stockings that eve and then have a fancy breakfast and dinner on 12/6.   We also have a fancy dinner on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (12/8) – everything is white (turkey, potatoes, cauliflower & rolls or pasta alfredo) except we have gingerbread (cake) for dessert.   Usually before Mass which is usually at 7pm.  One of the parishes in our town is called Immaculate Conception and there is usually a small parish festival that weekend that we participate in as well.

Truth in the Tinsel

While not a specifically Catholic book, Truth in the Tinsel is a series of Christ based projects based on the people and places involved in Christmas for small children.  Each day has a bible passage to read, a little project to make (all with materials you probably already have if there are kids in the house), a little bit to talk about and something more you can do associated with each story.   There are enough projects for each day in December leading up to Christmas but she has made it super easy for busy moms – you don’t have to do them all.   She includes several alternate schedules so that you could do several different tracks of 1-2 times a week and she also created a printable ornament set this year for days when the craft just wasn’t happening.

Delay “Christmas”

Just because the stores are playing Christmas music on Black Friday and have the trees out on Halloween doesn’t mean my house is like that, too.  We try to go slow.   First we put away the fall decorations and bring out the plain old winter ones (Advent colors, snow, etc).    Then we get out the Advent wreath and Jesse Tree supplies.   Usually the tree is put up the 2nd or 3rd weekend in December and I try not to decorate it with ornaments until the 3rd Sunday of Advent (besides the Jesse Tree ornaments).   Around that time, the nativity comes out (minus Jesus & the 3 wise men).  It’s not easy but we REALLY try to stretch it out.

How do you incorporate more anticipatory kinds of activities into your Christmas?

Copyright 2012 Jen Steed


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  1. Sarah Reinhard on

    Our parish has a Giving Tree, and our kids get ornaments off of it and we buy those items. We also have adopted a family in the area in the past (we buy presents for the children of the family and donate for the parents to get a gift card through community group that organizes it).

    Thanks for these great ideas!

  2. I get a little hesitant about Operation Christmas Child. For one thing it’s used as an evangelization tool, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the organization’s home page specifies that it’s an evangelical organization. And I’m not big into supporting converting children into general evangelical Christians, I’m more into supporting children getting the fullness of the Gospel through the Church.

    Maybe donating to Catholic Relief Services would be a better option. You have the ability to donate to a project for example desks for classrooms in the Sudan which is similar to Operation Christmas Child without the need to pack a box.

    But that’s just my opinion…

  3. Jen @ Happy Little Homemaker on


    I tend to share the same concerns. I think, however, that the concreteness of actually physically packing the box for a child who won’t get one really brings the point home. An angel tree at church or sponsoring a family or Toys for Tots are all alternatives, but I like that the OCC boxes lead my children into thinking of things we take for granted like soap, toothbrushes AND toys. While I agree with you 100% that I’d rather them have the fullness of the Gospel, there are only so many Catholics in so many places. I think that them knowing Jesus is much better than not knowing him at all. Like with many things, I think that God blesses our efforts.

    Thanks so much for the comment!

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