Celebrate the Season: Truly Catholic Advent and Christmas Activities

by Jennifer Marie Lawrence

Help students explore the deeper meaning of Advent and the Christmas season with fun activities.

Advent is a season full of impatient kids who want nothing more than presents and a break from schoolwork.
Celebrating the true reason for the season is not always at the top of students’ minds. As Catholics, we must focus on the importance of Advent itself, rather than regarding the time as just the weeks for shopping before the big day of Christmas. So how do you get your students into a more spiritual frame of mind during this time of year? It is a challenge, but here are a few ideas for activities that are fun and educational, and explain and embody the true importance of Advent and Christmas.

Create an Advent TreeThe Israelites had to wait a long time for God to send them a redeemer. Advent is meant to symbolize the time they waited. We should take this waiting time and prepare our souls for the coming of Jesus. So instead of jumping into decorating a Christmas tree, first make your classroom tree an Advent tree. Purple is the color of Advent and is meant to symbolize that Advent is a time for prayer and penance. Sacrifices and good works which are done at this time help to prepare us for the coming of Christ. So cover the Christmas tree in purple during Advent and emphasize that Advent is a time for preparing for the coming of our King!

1. Cover the tree in purple: The students can make ornaments with purple paper, ribbon, beads, tissue paper, etc. Perhaps each child can make a purple ornament at home and bring it to school to add to the tree. Try to keep the tree purple until a day or two before Christmas break.
2. PREPARE in bold: Add large letters that say PREPARE to make the tree more dramatic. This will help the children remember the meaning of the  purple.
3. Add pink the Monday after Gaudete Sunday: The rose candle on an Advent wreath is meant to bring rejoicing because the time of preparation is more than halfway over. Add that joy to the Advent tree, too, by having students create and add some pink items to the tree.
4. Jesse tree: The Jesse tree readings and ornaments are about preparation, too. So if you incorporate the Jesse tree ornaments into your daily routine, you might want to add those ornaments to the purple Advent tree.
5. Advent saints: Create ornaments which include images of the saints whose feast days fall during Advent. Read about each saint on his or her feast day and then have one of the students add the saint’s ornament to the purple Advent tree.

If you don’t have room in your classroom for a tree, consider making a paper tree on your bulletin board.

Wise Men ADVENTures

This is one idea that makes kids want to come to school each day during Advent! During the Advent season through the feast of the Epiphany, your kids will enjoy having three little friends in the classroom. The three kings—Balthazar, Melchior, and Caspar—will be searching the room for the infant Jesus. They may get into a few messes and odd spots, but they are just innocently searching for the King of Kings.

1. Acquire toy figures of the three wise men. There are several brand-name toy companies that sell toy nativities; choose the set you like best. Wise
men figures with poseable arms and legs work best, but any set will do.
You will use the three wise men during Advent and up to the feast of the Epiphany, but don’t set up the nativity until a day or two before Christmas break.
2. Introduce the idea to the students. On the Monday after the start of Advent, read the Bible story about the three wise men to the class. “…Where is the newborn king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to adore him…” After reading the story, explain that although they had the star to guide them, the kings didn’t know exactly where the infant Jesus was. They still had to search high and low in the little town of Bethlehem. Then introduce the three toy wise men to the kids. Explain that the classroom is going to symbolize the little town of Bethlehem and the wise men are going to be searching the room each night for the infant Jesus during Advent and until the Epiphany. Explain that they will only be able to recognize the infant Jesus which belongs to the same toy set. (Then you can feel free to have other nativity sets out before Christmas and you don’t need to fear any confusion for the kids and the moving
wise men.)
3. Each night the wise men search. Move the wise men figures each evening after the students have left for the day. Have fun with this! Be creative! The wise men can search in boxes of class room supplies, in cabinets, on ceiling lights, and in any unusual spot. They can search for clues to help them in books, on maps, and on the computer. Feel free to get them in a “situation” that they need to work out of. Have one “fall” in a jar and the other two “gathering” supplies from the room to help him out. Picture-hanging putty can work well to help position items in their hands when you want them to look like they are doing specific tasks.
4. Each morning the kids search. The kids will joyfully search for the wise men each morning before class begins. Most days the kids will find the wise men in just a few minutes and quickly spread the joy to the rest of the class. Other days they may need to search actively for a while. Try to make the difficulty level vary from day to day. Ceiling light positions are often overlooked, but the wise men are often very easy to spot on the days they are searching in books.
5. Finding the King of Kings. Don’t set up the nativity which accompanies the wise men until a few days before the Christmas break. This makes the teacher’s job a bit easier when setting the wise men up each night. It allows for a freer movement, and the ability to jump around the room. Once the nativity is set up, have the wise men move a little closer to the nativity each day. Depending on the area in which you live you may celebrate the Epiphany on a Sunday or on Jan. 6, so work with however your parish celebrates the day. The evening before the Epiphany, place the wise men with the nativity playset to which they belong.

The end to this well-loved journey will feel almost like a disappointment to the kids. While they will spend every day of Advent cheering on the kings and hoping for the day they find the infant Jesus, they are always sad to know that they won’t be able to search for the wise men each morning.

Celebrate the Advent Saints: St. Nicholas and St. Lucy

Another fun way to stay festive during the Advent season while maintaining a Catholic focus is by celebrating the Advent saints. There are several saints who have feast days which fall during Advent, but the two which have the most Christmas “feel” are St. Nicholas and St. Lucia (aka: St. Lucy).

St. Nicholas Party

St. Nicholas, who is most commonly known as “Old St. Nick” or “Santa Claus,” can be a little tricky to talk about with some age groups, but not impossible. Depending on the age group you are working with, you may choose not to associate the two as being the same person. There are many great Catholic books about St. Nicholas and a few cute cartoons, too. Make it a fun day on Dec. 6th as you celebrate St. Nicholas’ feast day.

After reading a book or watching a video about St. Nicholas, consider these ideas:

1. Use red, white, and yellow paper to make bishops miters.
2. Use paper plates and cotton to make beards.
3. Create a chimney from a cardboard box. Then give the children some coins for a St. Nicholas coin toss.
4. Create paper shoes or socks to put out the night before (on Dec. 5th) so St. Nicholas can fill them with treats for the students to enjoy the next day.
5. Play pin-the-miter-and-bishops-crook on Santa. (This is for groups that won’t get confused or upset about the Santa/St. Nick connection.)

St. Lucia (St. Lucy) Candle-lit Snack

Celebrate St. Lucia with a fun little candle-lit snack! Close the blinds and turn off the lights. Then light the room with electric candles and enjoy eating “St. Lucia Braided Bread” or “St. Lucia Buns” (lussekatter), or even something simpler like a few frosted cinnamon rolls. Read a book about St. Lucia as you enjoy your candle-lit snack.

If you are looking for a little extra fun, allow each student to try to carry a serving tray of play food while wearing a wreath with unlit candles on his or her head. See how they do, and discuss this old Scandinavian tradition.

For some crafty fun, make a St. Lucy’s crown from green paper, and add a few white paper candles with yellow flames.

Be sure to say a prayer or a litany to St. Nicholas and St. Lucy on their feast days as you celebrate.
The Advent Season can be filled with fun, Catholic-inspired activities in your classroom. Keep the focus on Jesus this season and bring the light of the world into your classroom!

Source: Today’s Catholic Teacher, November/December 2014