‘Jesus is not a metaphor. He is real. This all happened.’ Tim Keller, in his book ‘Hidden Christmas’, reminds us of truth amidst the sparkle, glitz and consumer-centric hype of Christmas. Amidst the debt, family-breakdown, heartache and strife of Christmas. Advent points to the coming of Jesus to this earth. A gift that had been promised for hundreds of years.
Celebrating advent with our children builds anticipation for Jesus’ birth. It redirects their minds towards the One who makes all things new, the One who they can trust, who doesn’t break his promises, the One who came to heal our broken hearts.
At Grace Church, we’ve been digging around for some ideas and resources to help your family mark Advent in a meaningful way. We hope you can find one or two that will bless your family this season.
Creating Family Traditions
Make a Jesse Tree
A Jesse Tree or Advent Tree is a decorative tree used during Advent to retell the stories of the Bible that lead to Jesus’s birth. It tells the story of God’s salvation plan, starting with creation and continuing through the Old Testament to the birth of Jesus Christ. (The name Jesse represents the genealogy of Jesus – ‘a shoot will come from the stump of Jesse: a branch from his roots will bear fruit.’ Isaiah 11 v 1)
For primary school aged children, The Littlest Watchman Advent Calendar (which goes alongside The Littlest Watchman book by Scott James) comes with a booklet with 25 devotions for December, helping families look through the Bible together in the lead up to Christmas.
Each window in the calendar provides a tear off decoration for your child to put on your Jesse tree – meeting the different people from Jesus family tree along the way. You can buy your copy here.
The Jesus Storybook Bible has a similar resource you can download for free from
Each story points to Jesus as our Saviour, and most stories can be found animated on YouTube and read by David Suchet (best known for his role as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot).
Alternatively, if your child loves craft and making things, they can draw and colour in their own decorations (correlating with one of the resources shown above) out of card or make them out of salt dough. You can be as creative as you like!
Take them to see a Nativity
Pennywell Farm near Exeter:
‘The whole family is caught up in the Christmas magic at Pennywell. Adults are welcome to take part in the Nativity or simply watch the delight and wonder on the children’s faces from the cosy straw bale seating, as the greatest story ever told comes to life.’
Cotley Farm near Whimple, Exeter
FREE ENTRY 10-6pm everyday til 23rd December. A more traditional Christmas experience on a farm run by Christians. Choose a tree, order a turkey, and visit the reindeer lodge, the Nativity area with a donkey and other animals, and the shop filled with locally produced festive goods and decorations.
Visit www.cotleychristmas.co.uk for more information.
Buy a nativity playset
Playmobil have a great range of nativity playsets you can set up year after year. You can also find some beautifully crafted wooden sets online too.
Reverse Advent Calendar
Exeter Foodbank have provided the 2018 advent calendar below. You could make your own one with your children, to help teach them the importance of serving others and to see the bigger picture at Christmas.
Write gifts list for others
Help your children write shopping or gift lists for other people. Whether family members, friends or those in need, it helps you to go big on giving this Season.
Baking for others
‘Bake through the Bible at Christmas’ helps parents to explore the Christmas story with their children whilst cooking! Containing 12 Bible stories, they take the child through the events of the first Christmas.
Why not give away what you’ve made to your friends or neighbours?
Books and Resources
The Meaningful Chocolate Company have produced The Real Advent Calendar (Fairtrade) which comes with a free 24 page Christmas story-activity book. Read here to find out other ‘meaningful’ features of this advent calendar.
‘Diary of a Disciple Luke’s Story’
(8-11 years) Gives an account for the whole of Luke’s gospel, beginning with the Nativity Story. The style is similar to the popular children’s book series, Tom Gates.
The Christmas Promise
(4-7 years) This is a brilliant retelling of the Christmas story about how God keeps his promise to send a new king. You can also buy the accompanying colouring and activity book here and a giant colouring poster here.
A Very Noisy Christmas
This is a heartwarming book to encourage interaction whilst reading the nativity story. Suitable for ages 1-3 years.
Books for adults
Ann Voskamp ‘Unwrapping the Greatest Gift’
Written to engage the whole family (children over 8yrs) during Advent. Based on her book, The Greatest Gift, there are Scriptures to read and activities to apply each theme.
Tim Keller ‘Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ’
Editorial review: ‘In this surprising take on the Christmas story, Tim Keller reveals how, by focussing on the women in Jesus’ birth narratives, a colourful, scandalous and refreshing tale of grace emerges.’
Noel Piper ‘Treasuring God in our Traditions’
This book helps parents, grandparents and other family members pass along the treasure of God to future generations through everyday routines and celebration of key holidays. When family traditions are rooted in the Bible, the next generations will see who the greatest treasure is…
Music and Film
The Star Movie – a playful animation with a great soundtrack (Mariah Carey, Kirk Franklin, Pentatonix, Casting Crowns), retelling the nativity story through the eyes of the animals. Buy on Amazon for £9.99.
The Jesus Storybook Bible on YouTube – divided into three parts, two of which can be found below. Watch the following short videos to help your children see the nativity in the context of God’s big rescue plan.
Part 1: ‘He’s here!’
Part 2: ‘Light of the Whole World’
Someday at Christmas, Samuel Ljungblahd, Ole Borud
Prepare Him Room, Sovereign Grace
Behold A Christmas Collection, Lauren Daigle
Christmas: The Peace Project, Hillsong
These Christmas Lights, Matt Redman
We hope this helps your family to mark Advent in a meaningful way. Whatever way you choose, be conscious of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Even basic dressing up clothes (think dressing gown, tea towel and rope for a shepherd’s headdress) or four simple candles in an Advent Wreath can help children consider the Christmas story more meaningfully. Find out what your child loves, think about how your family celebrates occasions…
Have fun creating your own family traditions and enjoy finding ways to evoke a sense of celebration waiting for Christmas Day!