Advent is the period on the church calendar marking the 4 weeks before Christmas. It is a season of hope, expectation, looking back to the first Christmas and forward to Jesus’ coming again. (Click here for Part 1 or here for Part 2 of this series)

As a family, we’ve chosen 3 advent traditions to help us slow down and focus our attention on Jesus in the build up to Christmas.

Advent Wreath

On the first Sunday in advent we light the first candle on our wreath and gather round the table for a special breakfast and the first Bible reading of advent. All that week we light the same candle at meal times and read the day’s passage. On the 2nd Sunday (and all that week) we light two candles. On the 3rd we light 3. And so on. Our children love the candles and happily tell you that the wreath stands for Christ’s victory and the candles remind us that He is the light of the world. As our candles glow brighter and brighter each week, our hope and expectation build as we look forward to Christmas.


In the 3 years that we’ve been using an advent wreath, I have learnt to be realistic:

  • The readings can be simplified for younger children who do not understand all the OT prophesy (instead of following a traditional list of readings, read mainly from the gospels)
  • Be patient – we’re looking long term not short term here and our prayer is that after year upon year of repetition, our children will forget the failures and remember the overall theme and emphasis and look to Jesus at Christmas time and beyond.
  • One challenge at this time of year is to even have regular family meal times. There are just so many things happening to interfere with this. So we try to make sure that the 4 Sundays definitely happen and then get as many of the other days in as possible. If you know you’re out for supper, try to read the Bible together another time that day.

Advent Calendars

Our younger two children are too small to understand much from the Jesse tree or even the readings we do around the wreath. So for them we’ve gone back to the old-faithful, the advent calendar, to re-enforce the story of Jesus’ birth. Advent calendars are great for younger children as they experience the count down to Jesus’ birthday!

This year I’ve seen beautiful Christian calendars at some Christian bookstores, for example Christian Book Discounters. We made our own simple one using clip-art.  It’s not smart, but the littlies are having lots of fun with it. Each day in December they take a picture from a calendar with pockets (you can make your own using sealed envelopes) and slowly build up the manger scene.

Each day we read the Christmas story from Luke 2 (slightly adapted) up to the point where that day’s picture is added, until on Christmas Day baby Jesus is finally added to the waiting manger. The children are enjoying re-arranging the scene on a daily basis – not great for the endurance of the pictures, but it’s good to see them interacting with the story and thinking about it as they play.


Jesse tree (or Advent tree)

This is traditionally a barren branch symbolizing that Christ came from the root of Jesse, ie the line of David. This advent tradition reminds us that the story of Christmas actually began before the creation of the world. God knew from the very beginning that He would send His only Son into the world, to be born in Bethlehem and later to die for our sins. The Bible tells the wonderful story of how God prepared the way for the coming of the Christ-child and how the OT is filled with prophecy, promising the coming of the Messiah.

With the Jesse tree, each day  the children place on the tree a picture or ornament reminding us of one part of the story of the Bible, a prophecy about Jesus or something from the nativity. Then there’s a scripture passage and a memory verse to go with the ornament. (All this information is available online)

I find barren branches hard to find in December in  SA, so we simply use a small Christmas tree.  I guess the advantage of that is you get a Christmas tree decorated with meaningful Biblical ornaments. Not a bad thing!

A Jesse tree does not have to be complicated. You can download pictures form the internet, laminate them and hang one up a day (or simply stick them onto a hand-drawn branch). Some families get their children to draw or make the ornament for the day. I find the weeks before Christmas too busy for this! It’s easier for me to have it all prepared in advance.

The great strength of the Jesse tree is that is places the story of Christmas in the context of the story of the Bible and takes children all the way from creation, through the fall and many of the big OT stories, right to the manger in Bethlehem where God’s Son, our saviour, is born.

These, then, are three tools you can use at advent time to help you and your family focus on scripture and on the Christ of Christmas. Our personal hope is that by spending this time in preparation, even the busyness of Christmas Day itself will not be able to take away from us what we have gained as we meditate on Jesus. Certainly in these weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s a joy to see our children playing, crafting and talking about the Christmas story and not focusing on gifts or Father Christmas. May that continue to be true!


Recommended Reading

Treasuring God in Your Traditions (Noel Piper)

Disciplines of a Godly Family (Kent and Barbara Hughes)




Written by Sue Duke