By Allison Gingras
Waiting can be a challenge for any child, especially with the added excitement of Christmas time. The 25+ days of Advent can be an excellent opportunity to offer children lots of practice with the virtue of patience and provide parents many chances to teach how this season strengthens our Catholic faith.
Advent begins the liturgical year of the Church. A fun way to introduce this to children as a Catholic new year! It is a time to get our hearts and our homes ready. This season, which the world often confuses with Christmas, is actually a time for preparing for the coming of Christ. We celebrate not only his first coming as an infant in Bethlehem but also keep in mind his eventual second coming. For most families with young children, the focus of Advent remains on the blessings of the Nativity: Jesus’ birth to the Blessed Mother in Bethlehem.
Here are some fun family activities to help teach little ones about why this time of waiting is necessary and how this special season grows our friendship with Jesus.
- Want a daily family activity? The first option to consider is the ever-popular countdown paper chain, one loop per day with a special message written inside each one. You can include a daily Scripture verse that relates to either the prophecy of Jesus’ birth found in the Book of Isaiah or his birth in Luke’s Gospel.
- Try filling a jar with family Advent activities, such as learn O Come, Emmanuel on the piano, bake donkey cookies (like the one who carried Mary to Bethlehem), or curl up with a good Advent-themed book, and pick one to accomplish per day.
- An Advent calendar provides children a fantastic visual for counting down the days until Christmas. However, instead of counting down with chocolates, consider creating a more meaningful calendar. Place the Advent calendar in a central, visible location to ease adding checking in or choosing activities from it into your family’s daily routine.
- Are you children eager to open gifts? Wrap an Advent/Christmas-themed book to be opened one a day until Christmas. No need to buy 25+ new books: Simply mix ones your child already owns with new ones such as The Story of Saint Nicholas (perfect for December 6th!), The Christmas Pageant that Almost Wasn’t, and Let’s Learn About Advent.
- Who doesn’t love a movie night? You can add it as an activity to your Advent calendar or plan it separately as a special family activity. Finding movies featuring Advent lessons can be difficult, so all the more reason to be excited about Brother Francis’ new release, Jesus is Coming: The Blessings of Advent and Christmas. Children will love the variety of ways Jesus’ birth is a blessing, and there are many beneficial things, especially with regards to our faith, we can do while waiting.
- How about going old school by making time to color with your children? Parents sometimes overlook coloring books, but they are more than just a way to keep children occupied. Good coloring books are not only educational but also fantastic as a conversation starter with your child. Sit side by side, share a book, color the pages, and then use the pictures and text as talking points about the season. Brother Francis has many perfect options for this joyful season, such as Holy Night The King is Born, The First Christmas, and The Story of Saint Nicholas.
- Have a visual learner? Set up your nativity, place the shepherds in “a field,” the wise men across the room, and keep the manger empty until Christmas. Want to use this time to teach about how we can prepare our hearts through sacrifice and good deeds? Get a little straw (or cut up construction paper), leave it where your child can take a piece, and put it in the manger every time they do something nice for another person or spends time in prayer.
Advent can be a beautiful time for families to dive deeper into their faith because it’s never too early or late to start. As we begin the new liturgical year, the Catholic new year, enjoy this wonderful season of anticipation with your little ones!