What we’re doing this Advent: 6 households share their plans and traditions

Wow. I asked around to see what people are planning for Advent this year, and look what I got!

Lego! Candles! Chocolate coins in shoes!

I have spent the evening wrangling a non-sleeping baby (very smiley and cheeky, playing with toys on the bed beside me and blowing raspberries non-stop for half an hour) and pulling these contributions together. I have been hugely inspired by hearing how people nourish their spirituality together as a household during Advent, and I hope you will be too.

What six very different households are doing for Advent - get inspired! | Sacraparental.com


There are so many great Advent ideas here. Making bath crystals for the grandparents! Unwrapping a different picture book each night of Advent! Walking an Advent spiral with candles! I am super impressed at the range, and the thoughtfulness that has gone into developing these family traditions.

Enjoy these windows into other people’s worlds, and please leave a comment with your own plans, or the things you like most from these ones.

For my resources lists, do also check out:

Hm, I’m getting a bit predictable with all those numbers, eh? Must try harder 🙂

As we go to press (so to speak) Advent is still a month away (it begins on Sunday 29 November this year [or 2 December 2018]) so you have plenty of time to ponder.

I suggest you either grab a pen and paper while you read this, or open up a new document or do whatever works for you to take notes, because this stuff here is gold.

Angela’s household

Angela Gordon: I’m a stay-at-home mum to Eloise and Dan. I blog about our adventures over at Tots in Tawhero so I get to think about things other than pondering what the names of the other Octonauts might be after spending the weekend answering to ‘Quasi’ (my daughter is no longer calling me Mummy, the Octonauts are way more exciting). I’m married to Donald, who’s an IT geek and Minister-in-training.

Last Christmas I had a reflux baby on my hands so it kind of snuck up on me, but this Christmas I would like to prepare my tots (almost 3 and 16 months) for this special time of year.

We have Dutch heritage, so we celebrate St Nicholas’ Day on Dec 6, and will put some chocolate coins in my children’s shoes in remembrance. We have a couple of books on St Nicholas (I must say I have found it hard to find any with toddler-appropriate language) which we read well in advance.

I plan to use this resource to do some quick advent calendar crafts each day with my eldest, while her brother naps over lunchtime (he’ll only want to eat everything…).

We want to focus on giving to others, so we will be looking for little things to make as gifts for grandparents, and I will get my almost-three year old to choose a present for a little girl in need that we can wrap and give to Birthright.

Roanna’s household

Roanna Baldwin: We are a Kiwi family of five living in the North-East of Thailand. We are working alongside the local Thai Christian churches, doing social development and micro-enterprise and building relationships.

Portable North Pole offers a free service where you can get an email from Santa, with the kids’ photos included in the movie. Our kids get that Santa isn’t real but still enjoy seeing him and the fact that he says their name is pretty fun. So for our fourth year running I will organise this to get emailed in December.

I have been interested in the Jesse tree for a number of years, and this year seems perfect to do it. We are making salt dough decorations, inspired by this post from In Lieu of Preschool. I am hoping it will be a fun Saturday activity to do with the boys over the coming October and November weekends. We will then work our way through the Jesse Tree idea itself in December.

Roanna's first salt dough ornaments for Advent and Christmas! | Sacraparental.com salt-dough-ornaments


We have Advent bags each year. In the past I have put in little $2 shop toys, then one year I got a small Lego set for each boy. We broke the pages of instructions down to eight days, photocopied the pages (the idea being it would take a few days to figure out what they were building) and gave them the pieces for those days. It was a bit of work – mostly my husband figured it out – but it gave them a toy they would enjoy instead of junky plastic.

Last year being a bit unorganised with only landing in Thailand about 11 days before Advent started, I gave them things to do each day, like putting up the tree, decorating it, making cookies. This year I’m still figuring it out a little. I think it will be a mix of activities and little bits and pieces. I’m going to print out cards to get laminated so that I can use them over the years to come. A side note: I miss having lights on houses to go visit or other Christmas time community activities.

Wrapping paper is cheap here so I think for the first time ever that we have done the read-a-Christmas-picture-book-each-night thing (we usually just pull the books out of a sack) the boys can actually unwrap a book each night. So I will look at getting a couple new books to add to the pile so that we can read each night. This will mostly be for our youngest. For the older two there is a new book out from a favourite author so we might get a new longer book to read over December.

Every year I give the boys a Christmas decoration so that they will have a small collection of special christmas decorations to take with them when they move out of home.

On Christmas Eve the kids get to open one present. This contains a movie and a new set of summer pyjamas each. Then we watch a movie together that night before they head to bed in their new pjs.

Laurenne’s Household

Laurenne is a vegan mother that lives in Derbyshire, England with her husband and 3 (unschooled) small children. Whilst not identifying as religious, Laurenne has a ‘my religion is kindness’ mindset, and wants to show their children as much as possible about the values of love, compassion and charity and the customs and beliefs of others. She blogs at Laurenne Hopkins.

We are planning on having a slip of paper in each pocket of their advent calendar, with a different activity or task for each day. They’ll range from simple fun things like watching a Christmas film, or doing some Christmas baking or crafts, to learning more about the history of Christmas (why do we put the star on a Christmas tree? Find out and make a star picture) and learning about Christmas traditions in other countries. 

We also thought it was a great way to bring in some charitable acts, so we’ll be including things like making up a donation to our local foodbank, making a card or gift for someone they choose, and donating old toys to charity.

I originally saw the idea on this post, and there are some wonderful other ideas on there that I’ll be putting in, along with some of our own.


Jessica’s household

Jessica Murray is a mother of five, trying to figure out how to make radical changes in the world somewhere between the kitchen sink and the book corner.

You’ve heard of those Christians who only turn up to church for Christmas and Easter, well I’m more of a lent and advent Christian!

I love the daily rhythms we can create for our family at these times. I try to dig deep and bring some order within the chaos of our large family so we can work together to build our family’s spiritual identity.

Nativity scene from the Common Prayer book, credit Rick Beerhorst

Nativity scene, Rick Beerhorst, from the Common Prayer book

The main theme of advent for us besides the anticipation is remembering that the message behind Jesus being born in a stinky stable reminds is that God shows up in the most forsaken parts of the world.

In the past we have made an advent wreath decorated with stuff from nature and add the four candles that we light each Sunday in advent. I am currently putting together a book/journal of all our favourite Christmas stories and legends which will also include a list of all the best books we’ve had out of the library in previous years. This book will be a great resource and time saver for all our future Decembers!

This year we’re going to try creating an advent garden using stories from The Light in the Lantern by Georg Dreissig. These stories are about Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and you build up your garden scenery each day. For example in the story The Rocky Road to Bethlehem, an angel changes jagged rocks into smooth rocks that shine with many colours. So you add shiny stones or gems to your advent garden.

Our friends at the Catholic Worker farm host an advent spiral event in their rustic barn. It’s such a beautiful visual experience. Usually pine branches or other greenery is laid on the floor to create a spiral. In the center of the spiral is a lit candle. The room is darkened (or it is nighttime if held outdoors) and each child takes a turn to walk the spiral holding an unlit candle.

As the child reaches the center, she lights her candle from the center candle and then retraces her steps out of the spiral. The child brings forth the Light as she walks outward and chooses a place along the spiral to set her lit candle. As child after child has a turn and more and more lit candles grace the spiral, the room becomes increasingly filled with light. Often a quiet song is sung while the candles are being lit or a story is read. Warning: Do not wear long floaty pants while walking around an advent spiral!

In taking time to stop and acknowledge advent in special ways, I’m hoping that my kids won’t so easily be caught up in the consumerist craziness that Christmas has become.


Jasmine’s household

Jasmine Crawford Tell lives in Thailand with her husband and three adorable daughters. When she’s not homeschooling, serving as a doula, or sleeping, she serves in disability ministry with her husband through a Thai church and Thai NGO, The Wheelchair Project, hosting respite events and distributing mobility aids throughout Thailand. You can also read about their recent adoption journey here.

My mom had my brother make the Ann Voskamp Lent/Advent candle holder for all her married kids. We use that, moving Mary on the donkey and the candle each day.

I also string up tiny numbered gift bags from Ikea and we do those each day, just with tiny treats. I’m thinking of making a fabric one with pockets that can be hung on the wall because the bags are too tiny once you’ve got THREE kids, haha! We try to not just do sweets either, but little baubles.

We’ve done the 25 wrapped books too, although I’m not sure if that’s quite purely Advent.

We also celebrate Saint Nicholas, quite hardcore. So that’s not quite Advent, but I do feel it helps point the kids toward Christ, which is the point of Advent, right?


Suse’s household

Suse and her whanau are Kiwi-English hybrids currently living and working in a private boarding school in Dorset. As well as being quasi parents to 80+ rambunctious, hilarious and delightful teenage girls they are actual parents to 4 year old Noah the Brave and 7 month old Fern the Smiler.

If we are lucky enough to be in NZ for advent then BEACH.

If we are lucky enough to be in the UK then wintery wellie bootie, snuggly-scarfie, nose-tingly walks, preferably with mud or snow…or muddy snow.

Talking about JC: the nativity story really struck a chord with Noah last year and I suspect it will take on a new level this advent…(especially if he latches on to the ‘baddies’ within it…sigh).

The beautiful thing is that (I think) he is really grasping that he can have a personal friendship with God which seems to be a very present, tangible thing for him right now. I’m excited to talk more with him about ‘what happened’ to Jesus when he was a liitle bit like Baby Fern’s age and what that all means for us now. Thalia’s candle idea has REALLY helped in breaking down the enormity of those inferences.


Getting all crafty up in here: last year we made bath crystals for teachers, family, colleagues and friends. We love us some Pinterest at this time of year!

Getting all cheesey up in here: because the Northern Hemisphere does it SO well! We get to as many Christmas Steam Train rides, Bath Christmas markets, village fairs, pantomimes and shouty carol sing-alongs as we can possibly manage to fit in. As much as possible we like to do these things with our extended family and friends (they should totally be given a bullet point all of their own but I’m going to take the liberty of taking that as a given)!

The Father Christmas thing has just sort of happened and we are not letting it bother us or define the advent period. Santa is sometimes mentioned and Noah’s grandparents like to buy presents ‘from FC’ but other than that…no biggie. I know this may take some management in years to come however. Gulp.

I noticed last year that Noah was much keener on Christmas than his birthday. I love that he really buys into sharing in gifts and food. We did the Salvation Army shoebox appeal last year and will certainly do it again this year. It is important to us that Noah has an understanding of how much we have compared to others and that he doesn’t feel guilty in any way but still wholly (and holy) compelled to help those who do not get to celebrate JC’s big day like we can.

Sharing a big chunk of this adventy goodness with the girls. We live and work in a boarding house so have 80 odd ‘big sisters’ with their own weirdly wonderful advent traditions. You know Hogwarts? We basically live there. Because of the nature of our school we are free to let the girls know how ‘real’ Christmas is for us and we can chat about this over mince pies as Noah helps them decorate the massive house Christmas tree.



Angela’s Household

I’m Angela, Mum of four children and a minister’s wife, so I am sure that you can imagine what our lives can be like around Christmas.  I also work part time for our church in ministry and our daughter has her birthday on Christmas Eve, just to add to the excitement!
As a Christian and Mum I wanted to emphasise the real meaning of Christmas and avoid too much focus on the chocolate and commercialism, but I also wanted to make things fun, joyous and to help build that lovely anticipation of Christmas, while not getting too stressed out with the whole thing and losing the joy myself.  So for the last couple of years I have made my own advent calendar.
hHome-made Advent calendars and hundreds of other Advent ideas from around the world! | Sacraparental.com

Angela’s home-made Advent calendar

We start from the 1st of December and throughout the month we have a different activity to do every day that is related to Christmas or in line with the wider themes of Christianity as well.  To keep it as low stress as possible (because I really don’t need more of that leading up to Christmas) I plan in advance to make sure that what we have planned will fit into the day that we have… on busy days we might simply read a bible passage, on days with a bit more time then we might do a craft activity.  We have a mix of the bible story passages, Christmas-themed craft activities, fun things and acts of love and service. The best thing about doing it for our own lives is that I can include things like attending a carol service, a tidy up of bedrooms, being part of a Christmas play that is happening anyway, so onto the calendar it goes!
Our activity list includes:
Put up the Christmas tree (usually on the 1st December)
Help pack food parcels
Make some Christmas decorations
Make a nativity scene
Get a real strawberry ice cream
Declutter rooms (that one got a bit of a moan las year but they did it)
Watch a Christmas Movie
Do some Christmas baking (we have a wide interpretation of Christmas, one year we had Yoda and storm trooper cookies lol)
Give Christmas biscuits to people who are on their own at Christmas
Make presents for teachers
Wrap presents (the kids wrap their grandparents presents)
Choose a gift for someone else (either a sibling or one year we did Oxfam Unwrapped)
Read a Christmas Story (a non-bible Christmas story)
Have a picnic by the beach.
Listen to Christmas music.
Making food parcels to donate and hundreds of other Advent ideas from around the world! | Sacraparental.com

Making up food parcels to donate.

The bible stories I take from several sources, mainly the Lion Bible for Toddler and Preschoolers and the Jesus Storybook and I divide the passages up so I can get as many sections as I can and intersperse these through the month.  This year I will probably also include the passages from a CEV bible or similar for the older kids to read as well.
Our final day is the 24th and as that is my daughter’s birthday we always take most of the day to celebrate with her.  Although she normally chooses to have a birthday party earlier before school gets out, it’s important for us to make sure her day is about her and that’s when she receives her family presents.  However, we also do a intergenerational Christmas Eve service in the early evening so that has become a much anticipated part of the day.  Our final act on Christmas Eve is to get a new pair of PJ’s read a story and leave some treats out for Santa.
Home-made Christmas cookies and hundreds of other Advent ideas from around the world! | Sacraparental.com

Christmas cookies… and why yes there are dog bones and animal shapes!

I wouldn’t say that I’ve perfected the stress-free Christmas yet and of course adding any else to our busy lives does mean a bit of juggling but I am hoping that my children are learning more about the spirit of Christmas and the foundation of faith and service through something fun and meaningful.  The best thing too is that some of these activities have become more regular.  This year we’ve done more food parcel packing at church and my daughter even got up in church to ask for more donations based on what she had noticed while we did it and other families have joined us as well.
May the anticipation of hope, joy, peace and love at Advent stay with us through the coming year.

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Please feel free to keep in touch with Sacraparental throughout Advent by following Sacraparental on Facebook (daily extras), signing up for email updates (the box at the top right) and/or following me on Pinterest (the Advent board will be particularly relevant just now!) and/or Twitter. You can also help fund future writing here by supporting me through Patreon.

And please leave your ideas and feedback in the comments below.

For more Advent and Christmas posts, check out:

76 Ideas to Get Ready for Advent

47 Christmas Gifts that can Change the World

10 Christmas Picture Books (that actually feature Jesus)

Why Father Christmas doesn’t Visit our House

Give local gifts this Christmas [Guest]

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1 comment on “What we’re doing this Advent: 6 households share their plans and traditions”

  1. Pingback: Advent Activities for Families and Kids Updated for 2016 – Godspace

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