Advent is a funny season for families. The Catholic Church tells us, “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 524, referencing Revelation 22:17).
As such, we know that it is a season of preparation for Christmas, a time to ready our minds, hearts, and souls for the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas. Here are 10 Advent activities to enjoy with your family as we wait in joyful hope.
Does your family have an Advent wreath? If so, now is the time to get it out and set it up. If not, you can make one easily. Sometimes, parishes hold Advent wreath–making events. If your parish does not, you can purchase a wreath form made of wire or Styrofoam and fill it out with real or artificial evergreen branches.
Don’t have a form? Don’t worry. Gather some evergreen branches and lay them in a circle around the candles. You will need three purple candles and one pink candle, but even that isn’t mandatory. Find white candles and tie purple and pink ribbon around them.
The important thing is to have something that helps your family mark the time through the season of Advent.
Who doesn’t love a surprise? Place each family member’s name in a bowl at dinnertime. Have each person choose one name—making sure it is not their own. That person is their secret buddy for Advent. During the next weeks, everyone should try to perform small, thoughtful tasks for their secret buddy. They might do one of his or her chores. Or leave a note saying what they like most about their buddy—just remind them to disguise their handwriting.
They might even make a small treat or gift. Encourage them to use their imaginations and not get caught!
When it comes to Christmas, parents tend to take a backseat to Santa Claus. Use that to your advantage. Write your children a note from Santa commenting on how their behavior has been or asking them to do something special for someone else. One year, my husband, Mark, and I put a few dollars in the letter with the explicit instructions—from Santa—that they were to spend the money on someone else. It was both interesting and heartwarming to see how the kids decided to use their funds.
Even though the days may be filled with less light, the holiday season means that nights are often brightly lit with Christmas displays. Look around your home for sources of light. Bask in their glow. You might turn off all the lights and sit by the light of your Advent wreath, or take your family on a walk or drive around your neighborhood to look at the light displays.
Go outside and collect pine cones from your yard. If you do not have any in your yard, take a walk around your neighborhood or a local park and gather a bagful. Tie a ribbon or yarn around each pine cone (so you can hang it). Cover the pine cones with peanut butter, then roll them in birdseed. Hang them outside and watch the birds enjoy your treat. Or, simply put some birdseed out for the birds to enjoy.
Bake some Christmas cookies from family recipes, or find some new ones. Invite friends and family to bring their favorite recipes and bake together. Have everyone tell the story of the cookies that he or she is baking. Is it Grandma’s recipe? Is it a favorite from childhood? Let the kids decorate the cookies. When you are done, put together plates of the cookies and deliver them to neighbors, a nursing home, or a hospital. Attach the recipes so recipients know the ingredients (for allergy concerns) and can make some more to share.
Prepare a special family recipe. Invite the kids into the kitchen to help you prepare it. Pull out the good dishes—the ones you only use on special occasions—and use those for the meal. Talk about where those dishes came from and what memories they evoke. Begin to think about what type of meal you will have to celebrate Christmas this year, and what family traditions will be part of that meal.
Form teams and divide up the rooms of your house. Over the course of the next few weeks, have each team decorate different rooms, but try to keep it a secret from the other teams. Use your imagination. During the week before Christmas, take a family tour to see each room’s decorations. Have everyone say what they like best about each room.
Think about making a baby blanket for a local hospital or women’s shelter. You can a try no-sew fleece blankets (directions are on the Internet) or, if you know how, crochet or knit a blanket. Another option is to find a way to bring some comfort to someone in need this Advent, perhaps a friend or neighbor who has lost a loved one, or a sick member of the parish. You can also visit a nursing home to brighten up the day of patients there.
Rather than buy boxed cards from a store, create your own during Advent. Buy a box of blank cards—or make them out of construction paper or plain paper—and have the kids decorate them with crayons, stickers, or other embellishments. That way, each person on your Christmas card list gets a handmade and unique greeting from your family.