We spent many years trying to preserve Advent, but we always ended up with a problem: by the time we were ready to start celebrating, everyone else was tossing their Christmas trees to the curb!
It made for a depressing season.
A few years ago, we set out to solve this problem. It took some trial and error, but we now preserve Advent and important cultural traditions — all while staying sane.
Simple Advent Decorating Traditions
Decorating was the first thing we tackled. Instead of decorating the day after Thanksgiving, or waiting until Christmas Eve, we decided to assign one type of decorating to each week of Advent.
Each week sees more sparkle as we get closer to the 25th. I don’t remember what inspired this idea, and we don’t do it perfectly, but we truly love it!
We try to get our Christmas tree during the first week. Then, when we set up the tree, we also set up our nativity set and the greenery that surrounds it.
The wise men are nestled among the branches to represent that they’re lost and seeking and we hide Baby Jesus. He appears on Christmas morning when the youngest child places Him in the manger.
We also set up our Advent wreath, and if I have a wreath for the door, I’ll hang that.
On week two, we put the lights up on the tree. This is when the kids are allowed to turn on the lights in the nativity greenery.
In reality, these two stages usually happen over the course of weeks one and two. Sometimes we don’t make it to the tree farm during the first week of Advent, and other times we do but we don’t get the tree set up for a few days.
For week three, we add the beaded garland to the tree. Then, on the last week of Advent, we decorate the tree and hang stockings.
This simple advent progression keeps our hearts focused on preparation while staying connected with the cultural traditions we grew up with.
Each year, I draw a small scene on our chalkboard. Sometimes it’s an advent wreath or the town of Bethlehem, other years it’s a plain evergreen wreath.
My goal is to make something simple yet beautiful, reminding us of peaceful preparation and the joy that is coming.
Music & Stories for Advent
Music was a big hurdle for us as we figured out our Advent traditions. We eventually decided on a compromise: during Advent we listen to Advent hymns and secular Christmas music (Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland), but we wait to listen to Christmas hymns and songs that refer to Christ being born.
I have to admit I feel a little guilty about this solution! I actually enjoy Advent hymns more than Christmas ones because they’re just. so. beautiful.
Many Advent playlists still include Christmas hymns, so I ended up making my own list. You can listen to my list here on Apple Music.
If you’re not on Apple Music, here are some of our favorites so you can find them on your favorite music service.
Please note these are simply the versions we found and liked on Apple; I can’t vouch for anything else on these albums or by these artists.
Favorite Advent Hymns
- Savior of the Nations – Holy City Hymns
- O Come Divine Messiah – Journeysongs Third Edition, Vol. 8
- Of the Father’s Love Begotten – The Cathedral Singers
- The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came – St. Michael’s Singers
- On Jordan’s Bank – Journeysongs Third Edition, Vol. 8
- People Look East – St. Michael’s Singers
- Veni, Veni Emmanuel – Mannheim Steamroller
- Creator of the Stars of Night – Journeysongs Third Edition, Vol. 8
- Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence – Benedictines of Mary
Favorite Secular Songs for Advent
- Soundtrack from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer
- Frosty the Snowman – Original
- Jingle Bells – Mannheim Steamroller
- Sleigh Ride – Amy Grant version
- Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms
- Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
- Winter Wonderland – Bing Crosby
- I’m Getting Nothing for Christmas – The Peter Pan Singers
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Bing Crosby
- Thanksgiving Theme from Charlie Brown’s Christmas
- Theme from the Nutcracker – Tchaikovsky
- Silver Bells – Bing Crosby
We don’t really have any Advent read-alouds, but Cinnamon Bear is one of our most-loved traditions.
When my husband was growing up, a local radio station would replay a 1937 radio series called Cinnamon Bear. It’s a series of 26 episodes that aired almost every Advent during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.
When my husband decided to play it for the kids, he went back to the original format, playing one episode each night during Advent.
The story focuses on two children who are trying to find the missing star from their Christmas tree. They meet a stuffed bear who can talk (with an Irish accent, no less!) and go on a series of adventures to recover the star from the Crazy Quilt Dragon.
The kids look forward to this story every year! You can access all the Cinnamon Bear episodes here on Internet Archive.
Homeschooling during Advent
Most of the year, our homeschool prayer focuses on being faithful followers of Christ:
Grant us, O Lord, minds to know you, hearts to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and the hope of finally embracing you.St. Thomas Aquinas
But during Advent, we switch to a prayer of expectation and praise, praying Luke 1:46-55 (The Magnificat):
My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…
We also add the free Advent Adventure series from Holy Heroes (Catholic). The younger kids really enjoy these streaming videos that tell the story of Salvation History from Genesis to the Gospels. They also have special videos for Advent feast days.
We usually just watch the videos, but this free series also includes coloring pages and activity sheets for various ages.
When the budget allows, we get their History of Salvation activity books so we don’t have to print everything. The kids love working on these in their free time.
What About the Jesse Tree?
Here’s the thing: I love the idea of the Jesse Tree. It’s incredibly important for children to understand how God worked throughout history to prepare for the coming of His Son.
But I also cringe when I see the million and one ideas for making the ornaments — and how moms end up being stressed out by the Jesse Tree.
The stories are the most important part of this tradition, so don’t let the ornaments get in your way. If you don’t have the time or supplies to make them, don’t worry about it.
Focus on the stories.
We have ornaments, but they’re just printed on regular paper, colored by the kids, with a piece of yarn through the top. I got the printable for free from Holy Heroes.
But again, we focus on the stories. The Advent Adventure videos include the Jesse Tree stories, so we listen to those, put up the ornaments if/when we remember, and call it good.
The Most Important Thing
There’s been a huge movement to restore Advent over the past twenty years; but over that time, it’s become yet another reason for us moms to scroll through Pinterest and Instagram, trying to make it perfect.
That’s not what Advent is about.
It’s about preparation.
It’s about childlike anticipation.
It’s about the simplicity of a poor carpenter and his wife preparing for a child.
If you can do nothing but read the Scriptures aloud to your children, you will have preserved Advent.
God will take it from there.