Religious Education and Social Justice

Preparing for the Season of Advent

The season of Advent began last  Sunday, 29th November. The word Advent comes from the Latin word 'adventus', which means a coming, approach, or arrival. In the Church, it refers to the period encompassing the four Sundays prior to Christmas. It is a time of penance, of turning away from sin and hopeful, joyous preparation for the coming of the Savior.


This is what makes Advent special for Christians: the recognition that Christmas is not just “the birthday of Jesus,” but a celebration of his coming into our world today, here and now.


How does he come into the world today? Jesus is “born”—becomes physically tangible—through the celebration of the sacraments. It is by eating the Eucharist, washing in the waters of Baptism, being anointed with the oil of Confirmation and so on, that Jesus’ friends become part of the living Body of Christ (the Church) in the world today. For Catholics, then, every celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments is like a little Christmas.


During Advent, Christians prepare for this here-and-now coming of Christ by remembering the long years during which Israel waited for the coming of the Messiah and by looking forward to the final coming of Christ at the end of time. You will hear both themes reflected in the Church’s readings during Advent.


Here are some practical ways that you can prepare to fully celebrate Advent with your children. Remember, you don’t have to do it all—just choose a few practices to focus on with your family.


1. Get or make an Advent wreath


The Advent wreath is one of the most familiar and beloved symbols of Advent. Children love lighting the candles, one each week, as a way of counting down the time until Christmas. Darkening the room and praying by candlelight is also a good way to signal to children that we are entering a very special time.

Advent wreath
Advent wreath

Advent wreaths usually consist of four candles, three violet and one rose, set in a circular wreath (usually made of evergreen branches). One candle is lit for each Sunday of Advent, with the rose candle being lit on the third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice”). The violet (or purple) candles represent the penance and sacrifice we undertake to help us prepare for the Lord’s coming at Christmas; the rose candle represents the rejoicing of the faithful at the mid-point of Advent. You can purchase Advent wreaths or you might find it more fun to make your own.


2. Set up a nativity scene

Displaying a nativity scene (or manger set) in your home during Advent is a great way to remind everyone about the true meaning of Christmas: the Creator of the universe entering into creation in order to save it. Here are a few ideas for ways to use your nativity scene:

  • Setting up the manger is a great activity during Advent. When you set it up, don’t put out the baby Jesus; save that to do on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.
  • You can also wait to put out the wise men. When you do put them out (perhaps on the third Sunday of Advent), consider placing them someplace far away from the manger, moving them a little bit closer every day until they “arrive” on the Feast of the Epiphany.
  • Another custom is to cut up small snips of paper to be “hay” for the baby Jesus; place the hay in a little bowl near the manger. Every time your younger children do a good deed, they can place a piece of the hay in the baby Jesus’ bed to get it ready for his arrival.
  • Use the manger set to tell the Christmas story to little children as the story unfolds in the Sunday and weekday readings throughout Advent. For example, hold the Mary and angel figure as you paraphrase the reading about the Annunciation.

3. Make a Jesse tree

Jesse Tree
Jesse Tree

Another Christmas-tree alternative during Advent  is to make a Jesse Tree, which is a tree decorated with ornaments based on symbols of Old Testament events preparing for the coming of Christ. It might include an ark or rainbow to depict Noah and the flood, for instance, and a ladder to represent Jacob’s ladder.


4. Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar
Advent Calendar

A simple way to create an Advent calendar that builds on your Advent Tree is to make a decorative paper chain: every day, children can add a single link to the chain. Decorate the links with a Jesse Tree symbol or write a phrase from the day’s Scripture readings on it…the possibilities are endless.


May God bless us all and keep us safe this Advent season.


Jane Wilkinson

Religious Education Leader