SummaryMary Ellen Barrett shares her family’s traditions, crafts, and recipes through the season of Advent with books and activities for saint and feast days too!
The Seton staff asked that I expand on the original Advent Calendar article with more ideas and items for family activities. I’m not sure they knew how much I would gather for you but here goes!
They wanted to give you, not only ideas for Advent activities but also an easy way to locate some of the items I mention and which Seton carries in their bookstore and time enough for you to get them for Advent. It makes for a much more peaceful and enjoyable season if we can prep a little ahead of time.
You may remember me saying in the earlier article that making the handcrafted Advent Calendar is a great way to keep your children in the spirit of Advent and prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. It also helps your younger kids count down the days which moderates their expectations and keeps the excitement of the season at a manageable level.
And making the Advent Activities Calendar is so simple too. A large piece of poster board, a package of library pockets, a glue stick, stickers, and a marker are all that is needed.
Back to the Seton staff request, I put together pointers for you on getting started, observances that have become family traditions, some favorite simple recipes for the kids to help with, and special read-a-loud and other books. There’s also Advent crafts that our family has found to be rewarding without breaking the bank or mom’s patience.
There’s a lot here, so I’ve organized it into four parts.
Part One gives you a foundation for your Advent Activities Calendar. This is a link to the original article about our family’s calendar. You’ll want to customize your calendar for your family but these ideas will get your creative juices flowing.
To give you a guide, I’ve picked fourteen of the days of Advent, listing what the Barrett’s have done over the years on them. Remember, it’s important to not stress out. This is not a to-do list, just ideas to provide some structure.
Part Two, Other Observances, includes the St. Andrew Novena, a wonderful way to begin Advent and carry us through our Advent journey. We’ll also learn about Ember Days, three days of abstinence and penance in thanksgiving to God for the gifts of nature along with activities for you to consider.
You’ll also find a number of crafts, mostly for small children, including making spoon saints and an Advent Prayer Chain. To fill in your calendar, there are over two dozen non-liturgical activities to enjoy with family and friends. What about visiting that local shrine or historical site that you’ve meant to do forever?
Part Three has three recipes that have places of honor on the Advent Calendar. Speculaas Cookies are associated with St. Nicholas Day, Biscochitos or Mexican Christmas cookies, with St. Juan Diego or Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Lussekatter or St. Lucy Buns. We cherish the memories of our kids making and serving these easy-to-prepare treats. I think you will too.
Part Four is a list of many armloads of Advent themed books that our family has read and loved and I highly recommend it. There are a few special Christmas books at the end of the list too. Keep in mind I’ve been homeschooling a long time so my collection is large, but we still use the library for many of these titles. Put your requests in early!
Your Advent Activities Calendar
Part One – Getting Started
First Sunday of Advent
- Set up the Advent wreaths.
- Set up the crib with a basket of hay beside for sacrifices and good deeds.
- Set up the Jesse Tree (jewelry tree, small artificial tree).
- Pull out the Advent reading basket.
- Prepare a special family dinner and enjoy it by candlelight.
December 3rd – St. Francis Xavier
- Watch the CCC Video St. Francis and the Samurai’s Lost Treasure with the family.
- Make origami stars to hang in the window.
- Make sushi for dinner.
- Prepare teriyaki for dinner.
December 4th – St. Barbara (begin a novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe)
- Make graham cracker houses (patroness of architects).
- Barbara’s Branch – bring a flowering branch inside to put in a vase (cut an x in the bottom); it should flower by Christmas. Use the blooms to decorate the manger.
- Read the Miracle of St. Nicholas.
- Write letters to the child Jesus in heaven and leave for St. Nick to deliver.
- Put out shoes for the feast of St. Nicholas.
- Bake speculaas cookies.
December 6th – St. Nicholas
- Watch the CCC Video Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa.
- Deliver the speculaas cookies to neighbors.
- Read The Baker’s Dozen, A Saint Nicholas Tale (young kids).
- Read St. Nicholas by Demi (older kids).
- Make St. Nick ornament https://www.stnicholascenter.org/how-to-celebrate/resources/crafts/felt/ornament.
- Color a St. Nick picture.
December 8th – Feast of the Immaculate Conception
- Go to Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
- Make Blueberry Muffins for breakfast.
- Read Mary, Mother of Jesus by Tomie DePaola.
- Bake Cinnamon bread (Our Lady who gave forth a sweet smell like cinnamon and aromatic balm).
- Create Our Lady’s Parfaits (layered blue jello and whipped cream in clear glasses).
- CCC video Bernadette Princess of Lourdes with the family.
- Make a cupcake rosary (invite friends to share, ask them to wear blue and white).
- Listen to the Glory Stories St. Bernadette.
- Watch The Song of Bernadette.
December 9th – St. Juan Diego
- Make a tilma out of a brown paper bag.
- Watch the video about the Basilica https://youtu.be/Ds7nD_QNeKA.
- Read Our Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie DePaola.
- Make tacos for dinner.
- Watch the CCC Video Juan Diego: Messenger of Guadalupe with the family.
- In honor of the Patroness of the Unborn, shop for a baby gift and deliver it to your local pregnancy center.
- Set up an Our Lady of Guadalupe statue. Light a candle and pray for the unborn.
- Listen to the Glory Stories of St. Juan Diego.
December 10th – Our Lady Queen of the Angels (historic)
- Make paper plate angels.
- Make angel sugar cookies/angel food cake with blueberry sauce.
- Watch the CCC Video My Secret Friend: A Guardian Angel Story.
December 12th – Our Lady of Guadalupe
- Make Mexican hot chocolate.
- Put roses near a statue of Our Lady.
- Make tissue paper roses.
- Make Mexican Christmas cookies serve with hot cocoa.
- Invite friends for a pinata party, begin with a Hail Mary in Spanish.
- Listen to the Glory Stories of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
December 13th – St. Lucy
- All meals to be eaten by candlelight.
- White nightgowns for the youngest girl, a wreath on her head serving coffee and cake for breakfast.
- Plant wheat seed or wheatgrass seed in a small pot with soil and water and tend. It should sprout by Christmas. Use it as a centerpiece. This symbolizes the Bread of Life to come.
- Read Hanna’s Christmas by Melissa Peterson.
- Read Lucia Child of Light by Florence Ekstrand.
- Read Lucia Morning in Sweden by Ewa Rydaker.
- Bake Lussekatter (Lucia buns).
- Make star ornaments for the tree.
December 16th – (Begin novena to the Holy Infant Jesus)
- Las Posadas begins, read The Night of Las Posadas by Tomie DePaola.
- Use the children’s Nativity set to walk Mary and Joseph around the house looking for a place to stay.
- Set up the Nativity set.
December 17th – (O Antiphons begin, end December 23)
- O Sapientia (Wisdom).
- Make O Antiphons ornaments https://michelequigley.com/blog/the-jesse-tree/.
- Place the appropriate ornament on the tree each day while reciting.
December 22nd – (Traditional Day of penance and fasting)
- Go to confession.
- Have a simple soup supper.
December 24rd – The Vigil of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
- After midnight enthrone the Infant Jesus in the bed of hay made by sacrifices and good deeds.
- Light the Christ Candle in the Advent wreath.
- Light candles around the Nativity set.
- Read Luke 2:10-14.
- Look at the night sky, imagine what it was like that night when the angels appeared to the shepherds and heaven and nature sang..
- Watch The Little Drummer Boy.
Part Two – Adding Other Observances
St. Andrew Novena begins on November 30th and is said fifteen times a day until Christmas Day. Pray five times at breakfast, five at lunch and five at dinner.
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment at which the Son of God was born of a most pure Virgin at a stable at midnight in Bethlehem in the piercing cold.
At that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, to hear my prayers and grant my desires.
(Mention your intentions here)
Through Jesus Christ and His most Blessed Mother.
Chapter Books to consider for family read-aloud
Jotham’s Journey, by Arnold Ytreeide (intense for young children).
Destination Bethlehem, by Sharon R. Altman.
All Creation Waits, by Gail Boss (fits in with nature themes and Ember Days).
December 18, 20, 21.
These days are meant to be a time of abstinence and penance in thanksgiving to God for the gift of his creation. We are also meant to pray for the restraint to use His gifts wisely and with concern.
The fasts, known also as “four-season fasts” are a continuation of the practice of quarterly fasting in the Old Testament. Traditionally in the Ember Days, we thank God for the gifts of nature and the natural world.
Activities to consider:
- Make bird feeders with pinecones and either peanut butter or honey. Spread the sticky stuff on a pinecone and dip it in birdseed or sunflower seeds. Tie some twine in a loop around the cone and hang them in your bushes and trees.
- Hollow out oranges and fill the “shells” with birdseed. Punch three holes evenly spaced around and string twine through, tying at the top. Hang.
- String popcorn around the trees for the squirrels and birds.
- Buy a special treat for your pet.
- Take a nature walk and observe how different the world is in winter. Have the kids sketch what they see.
- Feed the ducks at the park.
- Find a living nativity to visit.
- Read St. Francis Celebrates Christmas by Mary Caswell Walsh.
Crafts (mostly for small children)
- Make spoon saints – Use wooden ice cream spoons from the craft store and draw faces on them with markers. Then decorate to resemble saints.
- Advent Prayer Chain – Cut white construction paper into three strips lengthwise. Cut one strip of pink, one of yellow or gold, and 20 of purple. Write a prayer intention on each strip. Loop the strips together in a paper chain, purple for weekdays, pink for Gaudete Sunday, and gold for Christmas day. Each day tear off a loop and pray for the intention.
- Make star ornaments with twigs or popsicle sticks. Paint and decorate.
- Make tissue paper roses or poinsettias
- Decorate paper Christmas trees with pom-poms, glitter, paint, etc. Mail to family far away
- Glue scraps of purple tissue paper to three votive holders and pink to another. Put battery-powered tea. lights in each and set on some greenery. It’s the young child’s Advent wreath.
- Paint a peg doll Nativity scene.
- Make pretty tags with the poem below, attach to candy canes, and give out to friends.
- Post the poem wherever candy canes are hung.
On tree or wall or door,
May they carry with them The bright blessing of God.
May all who shall taste them
Experience the joy of God
Upon their tongues and in their hearts.
Attach candy canes and give out to friends.
Non-liturgical activities to fill in
- Set out a Christmas themed puzzle for the whole family to put together.
- See a local production of The Nutcracker.
- Watch one Christmas movie per week (It’s A Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn, A Christmas Story), have popcorn and hot cocoa.
- Make Christmas greeting cards and mail them to armed forces serving overseas, your local police precinct, or firehouse. Thank them for their service.
- Gather some friends and practice a few Christmas hymns and secular songs.
- Visit a local nursing home and sing in the hallways (call first).
- Read Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol together as a family.
- Read/memorize the poem T’was the Night Before Christmas.
- Watch some Bass and Rankin Christmas specials (Rudolf, Nestor the Long-Eared Donkey, etc.).
- Collect all of the greeting cards you receive and put them in a basket. Throughout the year, as a family, pray for all of the senders.
- Babysit for young families so the parents can get out to shop and prepare.
- Attend a parish Christmas concert or Nativity play.
- Build Christmas scenes with Legos or blocks.
- Visit a local shrine or historic site.
- Make paper chains to hang around the house. Make a few for friends and relatives.
- On Christmas Eve, deliver a basket of muffins and jams to neighbors for their Christmas morning.
- Watch Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas (Tasha Tudor).
- Add mulling spices to apple cider and serve warm.
- Paint peg doll angels. Make wings from paper doilies.
- Celebrate the winter solstice on December 21 by setting a small tree in your backyard and adding bird-friendly treats.
- Watch What Time The Sun Sets.
- Have a solstice bonfire.
- Decorate sugar cookies.
- Take a ride around town to see the Christmas lights.
- Visit Santa Claus.
- Plant amaryllis bulbs.
- Take a trip to a local nursery to pick out some poinsettias.
- Have an egg nog tasting. Pick your favorite.
- Make a dried fruit garland. Dry apples, oranges, grapefruit in a low (200F) oven for 6-8 hours. String on twine and drape around the windows.
Part Three – Recipes
Mix in order:
- 1 cup shortening
- 2 cups white sugar
- 4 eggs whole
- ¾ tsp.salt
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 4 cups flour
- 4 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. allspice
- 2 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 tsp. ginger
- 2 tsp. cloves
Turn out onto a floured board. Knead in about one cup additional flour or as much as you need until dough is no longer sticky and is easy to handle.
Put into a plastic bag and refrigerate until chilled and stiff. Then you are ready to roll out and cut the cookies. Cut off a manageable piece and keep the rest cool until you are ready for more.
For the larger, hand-decorated St. Nicholas cookies, roll the dough to about ¼ inch thickness. Cut out cookie around paper patterns. Place on a greased baking sheet.
Bake at 350º F. until golden brown. These keep forever in tins in the freezer or for two-three weeks on the shelf.
- Biscochitos (Mexican Christmas Cookies)
- 1 cup lard or shortening
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp red wine, brandy or sherry (or sub. orange juice)
- 1 tsp crushed anise seed
- 3 cups flour
- 2 tsp baking powder (optional)
- 1/2 tsp salt (optional)
- 1/2 cup sugar mixed w/ 1 tsp cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350º
Beat lard/shortening until light and fluffy. Mix in the 2/3 cup sugar, then the egg. Beat in 2 tbsp wine/sherry and anise seed. Stir in flour (and salt baking powder if using), adding more wine as needed to form a soft dough. Let stand for 10 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out your dough 1/4 inch thick and cut into shapes as desired (fleur-de-lis is common shape). Dip the top side of each cookie in the cinnamon-sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes or until slightly browned.
Lussekatter (St. Lucy Buns)
- 3/4 stick butter
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tsp. saffron threads, crushed
- 2 packages dry active yeast
- 1 pinch salt
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 eggs, well-beaten
- 7-8 cups flour
- raisins to decorate
Mix flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in a bowl.
Melt the butter. Add milk and cool it to room temp or slightly warmer (about 100º F). Add saffron to the warm milk. It should turn a golden yellow.
Mix it into flour and add the eggs, mix well with a wooden spoon, cover and let the mixture rest for 1 1/2 hour.
Heat oven to 475º. Cover the baking sheet with nonstick spray.
Take the dough from bowl to lightly flour-dusted table, knead some. It will be sticky, use flour sparingly. Cut dough in half, then cut each half into four pieces, then four pieces again.
Work with the dough bits. Shape each bun to a curly “S”. Decorate with raisins. Have them rest under the towel for about fifteen minutes.
Egg wash the buns.
Bake high in the oven for about eight minutes until golden but not brown.
Remove the buns and let them cool under a towel. Then, keep them in a plastic bag or freeze as soon as possible as they dry out quickly. Yields about 30 buns.
Part Four – Books and More Books
Mary, Mother of Jesus, DePaola
Country Angel Christmas, DePaola
The Lady of Guadalupe, DePaola
The Legend of the Poinsettia, DePaola
The Legend of Old Befana, DePaola
Strega Nona’s Christmas, DePaola
The Night of Los Posadas, DePaola
The Legend of Saint Nicholas, Demi
Saint Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins, Forest
The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale, Shepard
Nicholas of Myra: Giver of Many Gifts, Yoffie
The Miracle of St. Nicholas, Whelan
Lucia, Saint of Light, Hyde
Lucia Morning in Sweden, Rydaker
Lucy, A Light for Jesus, Yoffie
The Night Before Christmas, Edited by Spirin
The Night Before Christmas, Edited by Brett
The Story of Holly and Ivy, Godden
The Christmas Baby, Bauer
Home for Christmas, Brett
Gingerbread Baby, Brett
Christmas in the Trenches, McCutheon
The Usborne Advent Nativity Book
The Gift of Christmas, Leeson
Who is Coming to Our House, Slate
The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, Greene
The First Night, Hennessy
Santa and the Christ Child, Bakewell
The Legend of the Candy Cane, Walburg
The Usborne Book of Christmas Poems
The Nativity (pop-up book), Crespi
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, Wojciechowski
Jotham’s Journey, Ytreeide
The Legend of the Christmas Rose, Hooks
Room for a Little One, Waddel
Francis and the Nativity, McCullough
Destination Bethlehem, Altman
Stable in Bethlehem, Hulme
Live Advent at Home, Daily Prayers and Activities for Families, Mathson
The Story of Christmas told from the Gospels, illustrated by Jane R
The Christmas Story, Sabuda
The Christmas Candle, Collins
Letters from Father Christmas, Tolkien
The Story of Christmas, French
Hanna’s Christmas, Peterson
The Shortest Day, Pfeffer
Angela and the Baby Jesus, McCourt
We Three Kings, Spirin
The Last Straw, Thury
Twelve Days of Christmas, Long
The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Story Behind the Song, Haidle
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