Advent calendars are a fun way for children to count down the days until Christmas. The Sunday School Crafts website has a simple Baby Jesus Advent Calendar for little ones with a circle to color each day. You can use 25 Random Acts of Kindness: A Christmas Countdown to create an Advent calendar by filling in an act of kindness for each day in December using a calendar template. You can also cut the acts of kindness into strips and put them in a jar or basket; the children pick one each day of Advent.
The Kodak website offers an Advent calendar template of a house with windows and doors that open. You can put a picture behind each door or a suggested activity, such as the random acts of kindness. The Activities for Kids website has downloadable pages to make an Advent calendar paper chain that tells the Christmas story with verses from the Bible.
Advent wreaths and candles
One of the most well-known symbols of Advent is the Advent wreath, usually made of evergreen branches in a circle, which symbolizes eternal life and God’s everlasting love. The candles can symbolize different things but often stand for hope, peace, joy, and love.
There are four candles lit on each of the four Sundays in Advent; three or four of them are purple, the color of royalty. The candle for the Third Sunday of Advent is often rose or pink for Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. A fifth candle, the Christ candle, is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. This candle is white and represents Jesus, the light of the world coming to banish the darkness.
Making Advent wreaths for the children to bring home, along with instructions and a simple litany, is a wonderful way to help families celebrate their faith at home. Or you might want to host an intergenerational event after Sunday worship and let each family make their own Advent wreath together. There are many websites with instructions on making Advent wreaths, including the Feels Like Home blog and the Building Faith website.
Wreaths can be made with fresh greens or artificial ones. You can find wreath bases, some already with candle holders, in craft stores or online. Autom sells a variety of wreath bases and candles, including flameless Advent votive candles.
Discipleship Ministries has a page called 2016 Advent Home Worship which has an Advent Worship Service for Families with suggested prayers, hymns, and discussion questions to use when lighting the Advent wreath candles.
Church year and colors of Advent
The church year begins on the first Sunday in Advent and it’s a good time to teach children about the church year and the colors that go with it. The Reformed Worship website has an article with ideas for teaching children about the church year in worship, Christian Education classes, and at home. The United Church of Christ website has an article called “Liturgical Colors and the seasons of the church year.” The Sunday School Kids website has instructions and a downloadable pattern for making a church year wheel.
The Jesse tree is named for the father of King David, an ancestor of Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father. In Isaiah 11:1, we read what is considered by some a prophecy of Jesus’ birth: “A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; a branch will sprout from his roots.”
Jesse trees can be an actual Christmas tree, a large branch, or a tree made of fabric or paper. Jesse trees can be used as an Advent calendar, with a different ornament being added to the tree each day. The decorations represent the stories of people in Jesus’ family tree. For example, an ark and rainbow represent the story of Noah and a crown stands for King David.
The website of the Reformed Church in America has instructions on making a Jesse tree along with patterns for ornaments. It also has Jesse tree devotions, family devotions to use with the Jesse tree, an intergenerational event based on the Jesse tree, and a list of additional Jesse tree resources.
On the Building Faith website, you’ll find an article written about a church which had their children study a different Old Testament story for several weeks; they also made a Jesse tree ornament for each story. They then had the children put on an Advent skit based on the Jesse tree. The script is available to download free from the website.