Advent Traditions, Creating Meaningful Memories

Christmas is a transformational holiday that appears like magic overnight.  It begins with a million volts of electricity that light up the city streets and extends to the “larger than life” inflatable symbols in parking lots and neighborhood yards.  While the iconic symbols are present everywhere, the magic of Christmas comes from the spirit of its people, who know what happened one silent night in Bethlehem.  

Young children’s viewpoints are still impressionable, and they have many more Christmases to experience before their traditions are defined.  While commercialism is ever-present in our lives, families can instill a meaningful message by emphasizing practices of togetherness and giving, teaching about the season of Advent, and creating homemade gifts. 

Cake and Christmas 

Children as young as three understand the celebratory aspects of a birthday.  It is a natural way to connect the relationship between Jesus’ birth and Christmas.  Too often, parents are asked, “Why do we not have a cake?”   The Wilson family proactively addressed the question when their son was three.  Julie shares, “We started throwing a huge birthday party for Jesus, well before breakfast, on Christmas morning.  We decorate with streamers, party hats, and most importantly, a birthday cake.  We sing “happy birthday” and make it a big deal!  Our daughter and son know the reason why we celebrate.  Jesus is our greatest gift!”  

The Advent Wreath

Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for Jesus’ birth.  Children can actively participate, from lighting the candles on the Advent wreath to better understanding the Nativity, creating an Advent calendar, and listening to their favorite holiday-themed stories.  

Consider engaging in one of the following activities: 

  • Making a Wreath:  While many families celebrate lighting the designated candles in their home, take the time to make a wreath together by collecting and tying together evergreen limbs, representing God’s everlasting love.  Three purple wax (or paper-made) candles and one pink one are placed along the outside foliage, while the fifth, a white candle representing Christ, remains in the center.   Each candle reminds its witnesses to think about, for instance, hope, faith, the shepherds, joy, and to experience anticipation, all leading to Christ.   The season begins on Sunday, November 27th. 
  • The Nativity:  Before setting up the Nativity in your home, use a small basket to represent “hope.” Children can write notes to family members, friends, or others who may be sick or need prayers.  The figurines of the Nativity often become a place children can go for ideas.  Curious questions, conversations, and the telling of stories can lead to teachable moments.    
  • Advent Calendars:  Creativity is the key to designing a countdown calendar from December first to Christmas Day.  While some are made from felt, heavy-duty fabrics or wood, paper folded into small envelopes also works well.  Rather than using a marker for the passing of each day, consider writing thoughtful goals, such as “Hold the door open for someone” or “Call a relative and say, ‘Hello.’” 
  • Teach children about the gifts of generosity. 
  • Holiday-Themed Books:  Picture books with colorful illustrations offer a meaningful representation of the setting, historical figures, struggles, and events in the most famous story.  In addition to reading favorite stories, try including The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado, Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco, and Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Dick Schneider.  

Homemade Gifts 

Secrecy in creating or hand-delivering homemade gifts to neighbors, teachers, a family in need, or someone unknown is an empowering act. In this way, children offer their gifts of time, love, and artistic creativity!  Cards or pictures, for instance, can be made of household materials, such as printer or construction paper, fabric, string, or buttons, along with colored pencils or markers.  Grandparents, too, would be delighted to receive a homemade calendar, an original story with illustrations, or a hand-painted T-shirt or tote!  Julie Wilson shares, “We adopt a family that we bless each Christmas.  Sometimes a family has experienced sickness, unemployment, or the loss of a loved one.  For over a decade, each of us has adopted a child.  Our children take active roles in picking out presents for them.  We wanted our children to recognize the season is about giving, and through giving, to feel the blessing in caring for others.” 

The magic of Christmas surrounds each of us.  While the hustle and bustle of our fast-paced lives tends to force us into overdrive, uniting the family together in moments of celebration and story, lighting symbolic candles, and remembering others can direct the purpose of Christmas toward Jesus. 


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