Five Advent activities for children (and adults!)
Jesse trees, reverse Advent calendars and more. Sarah Beresford looks at five ways of making Advent a special time rather than just a rush to Christmas.
Make an Advent Wreath
The Advent Wreath makes a great alternative or accompaniment to the Advent calendar. Depending on how crafty or creative you are you can go to all sorts of lengths to make the wreath. A quick search online will give you lots of ideas.
Basically you need five candles: three purple, one pink and one white. The purple and pink candles match the four corresponding Sundays of Advent and the white marks the start of Christmas.
We've found, as a family, that it is great to gather around our wreath weekly and light the appropriate number of candles and have a short time of prayer together. This has usually taken the form of singing a hymn we like and reading the Gospel story of the day and chatting about it followed by praying for people and saying thank you to God. It usually takes us about 10-15 minutes before we get into the bedtime routine.
Reverse Advent Calendar
Advent calendars are hugely popular, from simple picture ones, to chocolate or Lego ones. The Reverse Advent Calendar idea is that as a family you buy or collect up to 24 items that are suitable to donate to a food bank or similar project. At this time of year selection boxes are a real bonus for families who need to use food banks to treat their children. You can of course donate fewer items according to your budget.
It's fairly simple to find a local project you can support, and taking your children with you to buy the products and to donate to the food bank can help make it real for them.
The Jesse Tree
I'm sure some of you are familiar with the Jesse Tree. A tree, or branches in your home with a symbol added to the tree each day. The symbols represent different Bible stories from the old to the New Testament. Again a quick online search will give you lots of ideas.
Advent is a season of repentance centred on turning back to God. As John the Baptist says, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near’ (Matt 4:17). Advent focuses us on coming closer to Jesus in his incarnation and preparing for his return in glory.
If possible go as a family to Confession. Many parishes put on Advent reconciliation services that can make it easier to attend.
If you have children yet to make their first Confession you might want to create your own reconciliation prayer time. Spend some time with each person writing or drawing on a piece of paper something they want to say sorry to God about.
As a symbol of God's mercy and that the sins have been forgiven, burn the pieces of paper. A garden fire is great for this and you can all wrap up warm and enjoy the flames. This is a time for rejoicing, maybe with a hot chocolate and some marshmallows.
It’s a really good idea for children (and grown-ups) to sort through toys, books and games that are no longer needed to give to charity shops so that families can then buy good gifts at a lower price and support the charity you donate to.
Having cleansed our souls with reconciliation we can materially cleanse by giving things away to others who might need them more than us.
- Sarah Beresford and her husband David are the Directors of the Catholic Bible School. Their mission is to help people find God in the words of the Bible and grow in an ever-deeper relationship with Jesus. For more information visit www.catholic-bible-school.org