Are you looking for family-friendly Advent devotions and activities to help you keep Christ at the center of your celebrations this year?
You want to help your kids focus on Christ this Christmas season. You don’t want to get so wrapped up in all the parties, events and Christmas shopping, that you forget to slow down and focus on the reason we give gifts in the first place.
So, how can we intentionally focus on Christ throughout the month of December?
Well, I have a solution for you: Advent.
Do you celebrate advent?
I was recently interviewed by Catherine Segars on the podcast Christian Parent, Crazy World. We talked about the history and meaning of advent, family-friendly Advent devotions, and some great ideas and resources to help your family celebrate.
What is the history of Advent?
The term “advent” means “arrival.” It’s a celebration that takes place during the four weeks leading up to Christmas, in anticipation of the coming of Christ. It’s a time to focus on the prophecies about Christ leading up to his birth, but also a time to look forward to his second coming.
In the fourth century, Advent was a time of fasting in preparation for baptism. However, by the 6th century, it focused more on the celebration of the coming of Christ and took place in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Now, Advent is celebrated on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The dates change every year, depending on what day of the week Christmas falls. Each Sunday focuses on a different quality of God: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Why celebrate Advent?
For many families, “advent” has become synonymous with “counting down the days until Christmas.” In our family, we definitely have a lot of fun traditions to count down 25 days until Christmas, but when we celebrate advent, we’re being more intentional about our celebrations and the focus of our hearts.
When we celebrate advent, we are more intentional about teaching our kids about the significance of Christmas. Specifically, that it’s not just a sweet story about a baby in a manger, but that it’s the culmination of all of God’s promises throughout the Old Testament – the promise to send a Redeemer to crush the head of the serpent and restore our relationship with God. Keep reading for some of my favorite family-friendly Advent devotions.
Family Christmas Countdown Activities
Many Christmas countdown activities are just for fun, and don’t necessarily focus on the spiritual aspect of Advent. Nothing wrong with that! In our family, we have used anything from simple number counters, to opening small boxes or bags filled with candy, to fun crafts or activities.
One of my favorite Christmas countdown activities is to wrap up 25 Christmas books for the kids to open, one a day until Christmas. I typically wrap up the same books every year, with maybe adding one or two new ones to the mix.
Faith-filled Advent Activities
In addition to fun Christmas count-downs, we make sure to include faith-filled activities in our December celebrations.
Each Sunday of advent represents a different aspect of Christ’s coming: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Each Sunday, we light a new candle. One candle on the first Sunday, two candles on the second Sunday, three on the third, and four on the fourth. We light an additional fifth candle on Christmas Day, representing Christ.
Traditionally, advent candles come in purple, pink, and white. Personally, I don’t think purple and pink go nicely with the rest of my Christmas decor. Haha. So I’ve decided to just use white candles for our Advent celebration.
Week 1: Hope – light a purple candle (purple symbolizes repentance)
- Jesus is the hope of the world – he is the fulfillment of all the prophecies in the Old Testament
- This candle is sometimes called “the prophet’s candle.”
Week 2: Peace – light two purple candles
- Jesus brings peace to our hearts.
- This candle is sometimes called “the Bethlehem candle.”
Week 3: Joy – light two purple and one pink candle
- The coming of Jesus is reason for joy and celebration.
- This candle is sometimes called “the shepherd’s candle.”
- Pink represents “joy.”
Week 4: Love – Light two purple, one pink, and a third purple candle
- Reflect on God’s love for us when he sent Jesus.
- This candle is sometimes called “the angel’s candle” – the angels brought a message of good news: the Savior had been born.
Christmas Day: Light all four candles plus the final white candle,
- The fifth candle is called the “Christ Candle.”
- White represents the purity of Christ.
The Jesse Tree
One of my favorite resources for Advent is the Jesse Tree. There are so many different versions and variations of the Jesse Tree, and you can find lots of free printable resources in a quick Google search.
If you’re not familiar with the Jesse Tree concept, it comes from the Bible passage found in Isaiah 11:1, which says, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”
Jesse was the father of King David, and Jesus was a descendant of King David.
Isaiah 11:2 continues to describe this branch and says: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”
The branch in this passage is referring to Jesus, who would come from the family of Jesse.
A Jesse tree is a fun, visual way of preparing our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s birth. Each day leading up to Christmas focuses on one of the people in Jesus’ family tree… beginning back in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, then tracing God’s plan of redemption through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, … all the way up to Jesus’ birth.
You may wonder… why start way back in Genesis? Isn’t this supposed to be a Christmas activity? Well, Advent is all about anticipating the arrival of the Messiah. All throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were looking forward with anticipation to the arrival of their Rescuer.
In order to understand the reason Jesus came to earth in the first place, we need to start back in Genesis, with the very first sin of Adam and Eve. If it weren’t for that sin, if it weren’t for the fact that our relationship with God has been broken from the very beginning, we wouldn’t need a Savior and God would not have needed to send Jesus in the first place.
When we understand that God’s people waited and hoped for the Messiah to come for thousands of years, the birth of Jesus really is good news.
Family-Friendly Advent Devotions
Here are a few of my favorite family-friendly Advent devotions:
(This post contains affiliate links).
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
This beautifully illustrated book follows the tradition of the Jesse Tree. I love how the author traces the promise of the Messiah throughout the Bible, beginning all the way back in Genesis.
Each daily reading includes a Scripture passage, a Bible story, a few short discussion questions, and suggestions for practical, family activities to help you connect the story with real life.
The wording is a bit “flowery,” in typical Ann Voskamp style, and when my kids were younger it was more difficult for them to follow along. We sometimes would just read the Bible passage for the day, and then I would summarize the devotional story for my kids. I would recommend this book for elementary kids, ages 7-12.
Ann Voskamp has provided printable, full-color ornaments that can be downloaded from her website! The 3″ round ones fit perfectly on a wide-mouth mason jar lid. A few years ago I printed the ornaments, glued them to mason jar lids, and hung them in our living room.
There are also printable coloring pages available on her website that go along with each of the daily readings.
** Age recommendation: 7-12 years
** This book does not specifically focus on the four aspects of advent.
The Action Bible Christmas – Published by David C Cook
I love every book in the Action Bible series, so I was excited to see they had recently published a Christmas book!
This book includes 25 Stories about Jesus’ Arrival, each from the first person perspective of a character in the Christmas narrative. In addition to the traditional characters like Mary, Joseph, shepherds and wisemen, many of the characters are much more obscure! Stories are told from the perspective of the Town of Bethlehem, Jesus’ blanket, the Angel Gabriel, the Manger, the Donkey, and even the Star of Bethlehem.
Each daily reading includes a one-page story, plus a full page illustration in the typical style of the Action Bible, illustrated by Sergio Cariello. If you’re not familiar with the Action Bible publications, (you definitely need to check them out…) the illustrations resemble graphic novels or comic book artwork.
After the short story, there are a few questions to help your child think more deeply about the story.
** Age Recommendation: 4-9 years old
** This book does not specifically focus on the four aspects of advent.
Jotham’s Journey – A Storybook Series for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide
This four-book series includes fictional accounts of the birth of Jesus, each from the perspective of a 10 year old child. Jotham is a shepherd boy, Bartholomew is the son of a fisherman, Tabitha is a young shepherdess, and Ishtar is the son of a magi.
The book titles are: Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage, Tabitha’s Travels, and Ishtar’s Odyssey. (See book descriptions below).
Each story takes the main character through an action packed adventure, before encountering the Christ child. At some point in each book, the main character of the story meets one or more of the main characters in the other books, so that all the stories are intertwined.
The books include 25 chapters, each one building on the one before. Each chapter includes the next part of the adventure, plus a short devotional reading. Last year, I read Ishtar’s Odyssey with my boys and they were captivated by the storytelling and adventure.
** Age recommendation: 6-12 years
** These books do focus on the four Sundays of Advent… and include a section discussing the significance and history of Advent.
Below is short blurb about each of the books, as described on the author’s website:
A ten-year-old shepherd boy gets mad at his father and runs away from home. Getting back again can be deadly, but along the way he learns the story of the Messiah and ends up in Bethlehem.
Separated from his family when Roman soldiers ransack the town, Bartholomew soon finds himself sold into slavery. Here he must reconcile his belief in Jehovah with the cruelty of men.
Always one for adventures beyond what a girl is supposed to enjoy, Tabitha goes with her father to rescue a boy named Jotham. She finds herself lost and alone when Romans arrest her father.
Perfectly happy with the pampered and spoiled life he lives as a Prince of Persia, Ishtar doesn’t realize all that will change when he sees a strange star. Suddenly he’s on a rough and smelly caravan led by his father, the Chief Magi of the Sheik.
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Asheritah Ciuciu
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus is a wonderful way to focus on who Jesus is and what he means to us. The book includes four weeks of advent devotionals – a celebration reading for each Sunday of Advent, and then 5 days each week that focus on one of the names of Jesus used in the Bible.
Each day includes one name of Jesus, a scripture passage, a short devotional reading, a challenge and a prayer.
Asheritah also wrote a children’s version – Unwrapping the Names of Jesus for Kids – which includes illustrated stories from the perspective of a young girl in Bethlehem. This book only includes 9 names for Jesus, so it can’t be used in the same way as the Advent devotional, but this children’s edition would be great for younger kids.
** This book focuses on the four Sunday Advent celebrations and candle lighting.
** Age Recommendation: Preteens, teens, adults
Names of Jesus Printable Cards
I’ve created a set of printable 4×5 cards to go along with the book Unwrapping the Names of Jesus. You can download a set of printable cards HERE. These cards can be used with the book, or can be used separately.
Remarkable Advent by Shauna Lettelier
Remarkable Advent is part narrative and part advent devotional. There are 25 chapters, one for each day leading up to Christmas.
While this book is written for adults, you could definitely read the story together as a family, especially if you have kids ages 8 and up.
I love the way Shauna makes the Scriptures come alive in her storytelling, by taking us into the hearts and minds of biblical characters. Through the eyes of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, you’ll experience firsthand the events leading up to the birth of Christ.
Blurb from Back Cover:
What if we peered through history’s frosted window and felt astonished by Jesus’ birth once again? In Remarkable Advent, Shauna Letellier drapes the fabric of imagination over the framework of Scripture, bringing the Christmas story to life through twenty-five devotional readings.
Each devotional includes:
- A daily plan for Advent Scripture reading.
- Captivating storytelling that will engage the whole family.
- Relevant reflections that connect Jesus’ birth to your extraordinary place in his family.
- Guided prayer to help you focus on the wonder of Christ.
**Not specifically an Advent devotional… doesn’t focus on the four Sundays of Advent
** Age Recommendation: Preteens, teens, adults
Books Make Great Christmas Gifts!
Are you looking for books to give as Christmas gifts? Here are a few recommendations for you.
Rise of the Enemy – A Dragon Slayer Bible Story
Rise of the Enemy, Book One in the Dragon Slayer Bible Series, is a devotional book for boys, ages 8-12. It’s not a Christmas devotional, but it would make a great Christmas gift!
Rise of the Enemy teaches boys to put on the armor of God and to stand firm against the attacks of the evil dragon. Through action-packed stories, inspiring Scripture, and challenging devotional readings, boys will be trained to defend themselves against the lies of the enemy, and learn to trust in Jesus, the Dragon Slayer.
While this isn’t a Christmas story, per-se, it does set the stage for the significance of Jesus’ birth. God sent Jesus to destroy the evil dragon and to restore our relationship with God.
Learn more at www.DragonSlayerBible.com
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