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Anticipating Christmas With Children: Keep it Simple

The season of Advent offers many spiritual traditions for growing families. Here’s how to nurture children’s faith (and divert their natural focus on Santa) without overwhelming them — or yourself.

There’s nothing quite like experiencing the excitement and anticipation of Christmas through the eyes of a child.

Sadly, the anticipation of Christ’s birth is often overshadowed by materialistic countdowns that focus on gifts, ignoring the reason for the holiday completely. It can be particularly difficult for children in our modern culture to joyfully anticipate Christ’s birth, and equally difficult for parents to know how to shift the focus of Advent from presents to the birth of our savior. 

Through years of trial and error, our family has found that simple, faith-focused activities and prayers done together as a family can guide children’s anticipation of Christmas and help nourish their spiritual development. 

We must be careful, however, not to try to do too many things in an effort to make something special, which can result in nothing feeling special. 

This happened to me several years ago, when I added a new Advent calendar that told the story of a lamb traveling to the scene of the nativity to our family’s activities on top of  several other traditions, including a different daily Advent calendar we’d used for years and daily readings from an Advent book for kids. 

Trying to check off every single box every day was too much, and my children were more frustrated by the things we “needed to do” than by the simple joy of observing another day until Christ’s birth. 

Since then, we have reined in the Advent activities in our home, sticking with the tried-and-true felt, wall-style Advent calendar we’ve had since our oldest child was born, even though each year some figure needs its Velcro hot-glued back on. 

Most families can find or make the supplies for an Advent wreath, and lighting the candles each night at dinner is a great place to start if you are new to celebrating Advent traditions in your family. 

Depending on the ages of your children, there are lots of different ways to observe Advent and Christmas at home, from Advent calendars to daily devotionals to doing a service project every week. 

An Advent calendar that allows young children to add figures, open small doors, or hear a bit of the Christmas story is great for children who can look forward to such an activity each day. 

Older children may enjoy reading aloud the “O Antiphons” or putting together a family Jesse tree. 

No matter how you celebrate Advent with your family, don’t forget that simply talking about Christ’s coming with your children is all you really need to be doing.

After all, you are building people of faith, and that’s the most important job of all.