A Journey Through Advent for Families

GUIDE: Advent is an opportunity to encounter Christ, both in his cradle at Bethlehem and on his altar at Mass.

‘The Mass and the Manger’
‘The Mass and the Manger’ (photo: Ascension)

The leaves have turned, a chill is in the air, and the world seems abuzz with anticipation. Advent is upon us! By now, it’s likely that most of our kids have started making their Christmas wish lists, spending hours poring over the pages of the latest toy magazine, highlighter in hand. Perhaps plans are being made for relatives to fly out for a holiday visit. Certainly our days are filled with class parties, baking treats and listening to Christmas carols while fighting the Christmas traffic. 

But there is more to the season of Advent than presents, parties and the warm fuzzies we get around this time each year; much more: Advent is an opportunity to encounter Christ, both in his cradle at Bethlehem and on his altar at Mass. 

My new children’s book, The Mass and the Manger: My First Interactive Christmas Story, explores the beautiful relationship between the first Christmas and the Mass, using inviting illustrations, rhyming text and large fold-out flaps. With the book as a jumping-off point, I invite you and your family to try these four activities (one for each week of Advent) to help guide you through the season, leaving the whole family more prepared to meet Jesus at Mass on Christmas Day. 


Week 1: A Holy Night 

It’s easy to picture the Holy Couple that first Christmas night, journeying through the darkness, filled with hope at the prospect of meeting the Savior. Reminiscent of that first Christmas night, as we begin our Advent journey, darkness arrives early. 

Some night this week, turn the lights down low and light some candles. Using basic craft supplies like black construction paper and colored tissue paper, make some simple stained-glass windows. Encourage your children to be creative and to depict scenes from the first Christmas or from the Mass. Use a flashlight behind them to watch the scenes come to life. As you work, talk with your children about the excitement Mary and Joseph must have felt on their journey to meet Jesus and how we too have the opportunity to meet him in the Eucharist. 


Week 2: A Guiding Light

In Bethlehem, the sky was gloriously lit up by a star. Its brightness was striking, and it drew many to come and encounter the Christ Child. Similarly, Christ, in his golden tabernacle, beckons us at all times with the light of the red tabernacle candle, yearning for us to share our hearts with him. 

One evening this week, take your children to the store to pick out inexpensive birthday cards (or make ones with art supplies from home!) for Jesus. Bringing the blank cards with you, take your children to adoration. As you bask in the glow of his light, spend time filling the cards out, encouraging each family member to share their hearts with Jesus. Smaller children can draw pictures for Jesus if they can’t yet write. After your visit, seal your cards, and tuck them away with the Christmas ornaments. Read on Christmas.


Week 3: A Joyful Celebration

We have reached an apex in Advent: The season is half over! It’s time to celebrate! As The Mass and the Manger reads, 


But, look! It’s time! The angels sing!

And through the night, their voices ring!

The shepherds rush to see.


The server rings his bells now too,

long, loud, and clear, announcing you!

You’re held up now for all to see.


I’m so amazed you’ve come for me!

My heart, it bursts with joy.


This week, make cookies. Depict the Baby Jesus using a gingerbread-shaped cookie cutter, or use a flower or sun-shaped cutter and decorate it as the monstrance, with Jesus in the Eucharist inside. The same Jesus that came to dwell with us that first Christmas comes to visit us at every Mass in the Eucharist.

Encourage your children to make that connection themselves through this creative activity. Once all the cookies are decorated, snuggle on the couch and read my book to the children as they munch on their freshly made snacks. 


Week 4: A Time to Share

When Jesus finally arrived, he changed the world forever. His presence drew kings and shepherds alike. His Real Presence in the Eucharist now is just as life-changing as it was 2,000 years ago, and when we receive him into our souls, it has the power to change us too. 

During this last week in Advent, help your children practice being Christ to others. Together, volunteer at a food pantry, take dessert to an elderly neighbor, or bring a meal to someone in need. 

As you serve others in the name of Jesus, you will find yourselves ever more ready to receive Jesus in the Eucharist on Christmas Day.