Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, and it’s a time to reflect and prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Family participation in Advent crafts offers parents an opportunity to teach and celebrate their faith with their children. The craft items may be made very simply or very elaborately. The meaning behind them, says Katie Dawson, Director of Parish Faith at the Diocese of Orange, is to “enter into a discussion of our faith, in a way that makes it both fun and beautiful.”
Gathering the family to make an Advent wreath is a popular activity. Made with traditional evergreens, it should be adorned with three purple candles and one pink one. The purple candles are reminders of the penitential aspects of the season, and the “pink represents our faith and joy in the Christ child,” says Dawson. Younger children also may enjoy creating a homemade wreath with craft sticks and twine, yarn or even soft, pre-cut pipe cleaners.
Children of all ages may learn a history lesson while making and decorating a Jesse tree. A simple strategy is to make the tree out of green felt. Ornaments can be made with red velvet, buttons, or by gluing on macaroni noodles. Each ornament symbolizes one of Jesus’ ancestral families. Starting on Dec. 1, a child puts one ornament on the tree each day, culminating with all 25 families represented on Christmas day. The daily activity keeps families focused on Christ, and it has become a cherished tradition for many.
Nativity scenes are at the heart of most Catholic homes during the season. They may be purchased or crafted from wood blocks, downloadable picture postcards, felt or even puzzles. Place the Nativity scene on hay purchased from local craft stores for a realistic portrayal of Jesus in a manger. To involve children in the journey that Mary and Joseph experienced, the animals and angels can be strategically placed far away from the manger, with the infant Jesus hidden from view until Christmas Day. Each day, children can take turns moving the pieces a little bit closer to the manger until the moment Jesus is born, and the scene revels in all its glory.
Family studies about Advent saints, such as Saint Nicholas, spark wonderful conversations about compassion and charitable giving. This saint, who gave away all his worldly possessions to the poor, walked the earth caring for those in need. Coloring books about his good deeds and the miracles he performed can be downloaded online. Young children can create a scrapbook with the photos chronicling his good deeds. Decorate the scrapbook with stickers, beads, crosses and even a family photo of the child doing a good deed.
A classic Advent tradition involves children putting their shoes out on the front steps to be filled with chocolate coins by Saint Nicholas. Baking cookies together in the shape of the saint while discussing his acts of charity can help children stay focused on serving others.
Most Catholic churches offer penance services during Advent. Attending together as a family is a most beautiful way to prepare for the coming of our Savior.