We call the four weeks before Christmas the season of Advent, a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus. The following activities are provided so that you and your family can live Advent and Christmas to the fullest.
Advent wreath: The Advent wreath, which has German origins, is probably the most recognized Advent custom. It is a wreath made of evergreens that are bound to a circle of wire. The wreath holds four equally spaced candles, the three purple candles are lit on the first (Hope), second (Love) and fourth Sundays and the pink candle for the joyful third Sunday in Advent.
The empty manger: Each child may have their own individual manger, or there may be one manger for the whole family. The idea is that when acts of service, sacrifice, or kindness are done in honour of Baby Jesus as a birthday present, the child receives a piece of straw to put into the manger. Then, on Christmas morning, Baby Jesus is placed in the manger. Encourage your children to make Jesus ‘bed’ as comfortable as possible through their good deeds.
The Jesse Tree: The Jesse tree tells about Jesus’ ancestry through symbols and relates Scripture to history, progressing from creation to the birth of Christ. The tree can be made on a poster board with the symbols glued on, or on an actual tree.
St. Nicholas Day: The feast of St. Nicholas is on Dec. 6th. It is a highlight of the Advent season. Each child puts out a shoe the night before St. Nicholas Day in the hope that the kind bishop with his staff and bag of gifts will pay a visit. The current Santa Claus is modelled after St. Nicholas, but commercialism has tarnished the true story. Many families give gifts on both Dec. 6 and Christmas. Read about St. Nicholas in your favourite saints book.
The Christ candle: Any large white candle can be used for the Christ candle. The idea is to decorate it with symbols for Christ. Use old Christmas cards, sequins, holly, etc. The candle can be lit on Christmas Eve to show that the Light of the World has arrived. Then continue to light the Christ candle throughout the year at Sunday dinner to remind your family of our waiting for Christ, as well as celebrating His birth and Resurrection.
The Mary candle: Some families have the custom of decorating the Christ candle with a blue veil on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On this great feast, others place a candle with a blue ribbon before a statue or picture of the Our Lady, whose yes to God enabled Jesus’ birth. The candle is lit during meal times to serve as a special reminder of Mary’ eager expectation of the Light of the World. It can also serve as a reminder to each family member to keep their own light of grace burning as a preparation for Jesus’ coming.
The Nativity scene: This is the event in which the entire family shares setting up the Christmas manger. Mary and Joseph should be far off traveling and their approach to Bethlehem can be adjusted daily. Older children can make life-size Nativity models, carve them, cut them out from cardboard, or set up pre-made figurines. The creative ideas are without limit. Make sure to place the Nativity scene where many can admire the children’s efforts.
Blessing of the tree: More and more frequently families are blessing their Christmas trees. There are many different stories that attempt to explain why we use a tree at Christmas. The fir tree is the wood of peace, the sign of an endless life with its evergreen branches. It points to heaven.