Three Reasons I Love Advent

by | Dec 1, 2013 | Advent, Catholic Living, December, December, Link Up, Liturgical Year | 35 comments

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our family’s advent philosophy, but now that advent is actually upon us, I wanted to share a little more about our three favorite advent family traditions.
1. Little People Nativity

We have many nativity sets. We’ve got a big outdoor one, we’ve got a fancy mantel one, we’ve got a tiny tabletop one. And my mom is kind of obsessed with them. She’s got dozens, from all over the world. I love them all, but my all time favorite is the Little People Nativity
that takes over our living room from December 1st through January 6th.
It’s big. We’ve got the stable, plus all the add on sets, like the Wisemen and the Shepherds and the Drummer Boy. Plus we added King Herod’s castle to the mix because you really can’t act out the whole story without it (although it’s a bit of a stretch to work the dragon in effectively).
I love it because it really makes the story of Jesus’ birth come alive for my kids. I can watch them act it out over and over again talking to themselves and/or arguing details with each other. For our other sets, we don’t put out the baby Jesus until Christmas Eve, but for the kids’ set we let them have Jesus right away. The story isn’t as fun without him.
All of our other nativity sets are decorations, but the Little People one is the one that really means something to our family. If you don’t already have one in your home I can’t recommend it enough. 
2. Straw for Baby Jesus

We have had such good luck with our Lenten sacrifice beans that we wanted something similar to help the kids focus their intentions during advent. So, we started doing straw for Baby Jesus.
I’ve since seen many other versions, but it’s a pretty simple concept. When kids make sacrifices or exhibit especially good behavior, they get to put a piece of straw into Baby Jesus’ manger. If they are good enough, then the Baby Jesus has a nice soft bed to lay in on Christmas Eve.
We have a really great little wooden manger my dad built for us, but a wooden crate or a doll cradle, or even a shoebox would work. We use cut up pieces of yarn, but real straw would work also. The first couple of years, we just used one of Betty’s baby dolls, but now we have this Baby Jesus.
During the day, I will reward kids for good behavior or listening right away or helping someone else by letting them put in a piece of straw. Then, at evening prayers, they can also award each other pieces of straw if someone has done something nice for them, and they can put in their own pieces if they can come up with specific personal sacrifices they have made.
Then, after we’ve finished all our decorating and preparations on Christmas Eve, the last thing we do before we go to bed is to put the Baby Jesus in his (hopefully) nice soft crib. We sing Silent Night and Away in a Manger and then the kids go to sleep. 
It’s lovely!
3. Christmas Novena

I am a supporter of Jesse Trees, (and even have posts where I help you make your own) but we don’t do one. We don’t do one because I really, really love our Christmas Novena, and it’s just too much to attempt both. 
Here’s what we do:
I found the text here at Catholic Culture, and printed it into booklets. The novena should rightly be celebrated from the 16th to the 24th, but since we wait until Christmas Eve to get our tree, we shift it one day and do the novena from the 15th to the 23rd. That also allows our friends who have joined us over the years to do their own family celebrations on Christmas Eve.
The coolest part of it for us has been inviting people we know (or sometimes don’t know yet) from other countries or parts of the country to join us and share with us how Christmas is celebrated all over the world.
We’ve have had some VERY memorable visits, especially the priest from Africa who told the kids about the big Christmas Eve cattle slaughter, and how the little boys who were charged with bringing the raw meat home to their houses had to bring sticks with them to keep the wild dogs at bay. . . . Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
We do Santa Claus at our house, but I think that having an awareness of other cultural traditions has helped with keeping our focus on the Baby Jesus, which is the one thing every country’s celebration shares.
Many of the families have been friends of ours already, but we also have just gone up to people at the parish who seem to have foreign accents and invited them. It’s been a great way to meet other members of our parish. 
It’s not a requirement, but sometimes they bring us yummy international foods to try. Which brings me to the subject of treats. We don’t eats Christmas treats during advent, in keeping with our attempt to maintain it as a season of waiting and preparation. But the Christmas Novena allows us to ease up the rules slowly. We’ll usually have a small snack and a treat type drink like egg nog or hot chocolate or apple cider, and over the last couple of days we’ve even been known to have cookies.
The Novena itself really is beautiful, it incorporates ancient prayers like the O Antiphons, and beautiful timeless songs like O Come, O Come Emmanuel. It really makes me feel connected to the timelessness of our Church.
We didn’t feel like we could manage both the Jesse Tree and the Christmas Novena, so we just do the Novena. If you’re not ready to start your Jesse Tree tonight, maybe the Christmas Novena would work for your family. 

Update: in the comments, Julia asked if I would include a link to the booklet I made of the prayers and readings for the Christmas Novena. So . . . here it is! If you are able to print double sided, it should print out as a booklet that you can fold in half and staple along the edge. If you don’t have that capability, just print it out, cut all the pages in half, put them in the right order, and staple them together.

There are many other things I love about Advent, including reading books as a family (here are some of our favorites), an advent wreath, and really celebrating the feasts that fall during advent. And the fact that we do things differently than “everyone” really just serves to reinforce our own family culture — so I love that too.

If you’d like to keep track of ALL the feasts of the Catholic liturgical year, I’ve created a wall calendar to help you do it!

It features the all the feasts and fasts of the Universal Calendar and then some, illustrated with images featuring the traditional Catholic monthly devotions. It’s an easy visual way to bring liturgical living into your home. You can keep track of the feasts and fasts and seasons of the Catholic year, and be reminded to focus your prayer on a different aspect of our faith each month.

January:The Holy Name of Jesus 
February: The Holy Family 
March: St. Joseph 
April: The Blessed Sacrament 
May: Mary 
June: The Sacred Heart of Jesus 
July: The Precious Blood 
August Immaculate Heart of Mary 
September: The Seven Sorrows of Mary 
October: The Holy Rosary 
November: The Poor Souls in Purgatory 
December: The Immaculate Conception 

As the Church year begins with December, so does this calendar. You get December 2017 through December 2018, thirteen months. Available for purchase here. Thanks!

Check for coupon codes from the publisher here.

Also available as a pdf download here.


Thanks to my friend Michaela at California to Korea (and back again) for hosting the Three Reasons I Love Advent linkup. If you love advent, head on over there to check it out!


  1. Amelia@One Catholic Mama

    Oh…I had forgotten about the Christmas Novena. We do that too…and it really is meaningful and beautfiul.

    We've never invited anyone else over for it though…that is a great idea and a wonderful way to meet some new families in the parish. I might just get brave enough to try that. Maybe.

  2. Jenny

    I did not know that Fisher Price made Nativity Sets…want!!!

  3. Kate

    I love the comment about Africa. I live in South Africa. This year, we are travelling across South Africa to our new home on Christmas eve, and we have had to pick our route carefully to avoid the rather dangerous beaten up cattle carrying vehicles carrying the cattle used for those Christmas traditions you talk of! It is funny how normal a story like that sounds to me, where as hearing stories of Black Friday and the stampedes sounds unimaginable!
    (Sorry, I deleted my comment above because it published before I was finished.)

    • Kendra

      My boys have wanted to attend a cattle slaughter ever since. He made it sound very important! And I'd take that over Black Friday shopping (I think).

      I love how international this blogging thing is! Happy moving.

  4. Sarah

    Oh where did you get your baby Jesus? I am starting that tradition this year with my.children but have not yet found a.non-creepy.looking little Jesus!

    • Kendra

      My mom got it for us at a little religious goods shop, but I found the same one on Amazon, I edited the post above to include a link to it.

  5. Micaela Darr

    The typos in that were just embarrassing enough to make me delete it and start over.

    We have a veeeeeeeerrrrrry basic FP nativity set, but after reading this, I think we're going to have to add on. A dragon?! Awesome! (As an aside, I heard Gabriel lining up the wise men this morning and whispering something about lining up for battle. Seems like he may need a little Advent catechesis.)

    I love the idea of the straw and the Christmas novena, too. This year we are going to add in the O Antiphons, and next year I think we'll try the actual novena.

    Thanks for linking up. (And. I can't wait to meet Lulu! Squeeee!)

  6. Cristina

    I really like the idea of letting the kids award each other pieces of hay for the manger, I think we will definitely add that to our evenings this year 🙂

  7. Anonymous

    We have the basic set too. I had no idea there were add-ons! We have the corresponding Advent calendar and there are lots of extra characters, but I figured it was just to make 25 things to take out. 😉

  8. Hafsa

    I am planning on doing the straw for good behavior as well this year but I wasn't sure what to use since I can't just buy straw from our grocery store so thanks for the idea to use cut up pieces of yarn and a shoebox!

    This is our first year doing a Jesse tree (my SIL) gifted us with handmade ornaments from Etsy and them being so young I'm not sure they have the attention span for a novena, we're still working on the family rosary 🙂

  9. Charlotte Braddock

    I like the Fisher Price Nativity. I started buying my children and God children 1 nativity piece each year. Thus when they are grown up they have a complete set for their family.

  10. Mitz

    I like the Straw for Baby Jesus activity. It's a wonderful idea to get kids to participate in Advent. Thank you so much for sharing!

  11. Birgit Jones

    We have two Nativity sets at our house. One nice one (Fontanini) for the mantle – baby Jesus is placed by one of the children on Christmas Eve – and a Play School one for play. This balances nicely with the need for formality and play.

  12. Mrs D Bliss

    This children's nativity set is fantastic; it's a form of meditative prayer isn't it? Imagine what God reveals through it!

  13. Kris

    We have the Little People nativity also, and even my bigger kids still love it! My SIL and I "gave" it to each other one year for Christmas. I had no idea they had add-on sets – looking for that now online!

  14. Chelsey Hall

    Ok, Iove these ideas. I've seen that Little People Nativity and would love to get one! Maybe for next year!! Also, the Christmas Novena is beautiful. We do a Jesse Tree, but it doesn't take us but a few minutes, so I really think we could incorporate both, or do one in the morning and one in the evening. Do you do an Advent Wreath? If so how do you incorporate it? Thanks for these!

    • Kendra

      Yes, we do the Advent Wreath as part of grace before dinner. Advent calendars are in the morning, and the Christmas Novena is part of evening prayers, along with straw for Baby Jesus.

  15. Cyndi Marlow

    Your family has some wonderful faith-filled practices. Thanks for sharing all of them. I too love that nativity set…I don't have little ones anymore….Maybe I should start collecting for hopeful future grandkids Cyndi (

  16. Julia

    I love this novena! Any chance you'd be willing to share the file you created (if you have it) to make it into a booklet?

    • Kendra

      Hmmm . . . Probably so. I planned to, but it's going to take reformatting it and converting them to PDF. So I wanted to see if anyone was interested in it before I did it. Check back in a day or two and hopefully I'll have it done.

    • Kendra

      Done! The link is up there in the update. Hope it helps.

  17. Anonymous

    I love your straw for Baby Jesus! What a wonderful way to prepare your children's hearts for Christ's coming! Beautiful! 🙂

  18. Matthew B. Rose

    When I was younger, my family would get piece of straw from the manger at church after Christmas Eve Mass. We would put the straw in the manger scene in our house.

    Your tradition is lovely too! Thank you for sharing.

    God bless!

  19. Anonymous

    Oooh I have never heard of the Christmas Novena.
    Great post.
    I love hearing about everyone's traditions.

  20. noreen

    Hi Kendra, my son is older so we are joining in our Church's Christmas Novena and each night it's hosed by a different group in our parish so, some nights it will be bilingual (Spanish, Taglog or Polish) with the customs from their heritage. I love to participate in how other cultures prepare for Jesus during Advent. I think you've been fortunate to have a similar experience with your guests. You inspire me to seek out new people in my church and I will do so during our hospitality hour following our novena. We do it from Dec 16th to Dec 23rd and it will keep us busy,… in the best kind of way!

    I like your straw for Jesus activity because of course, your children want baby Jesus to be comfortable! What a great motivator 🙂 May God bless you and your family during Advent.

  21. Tracy

    We have the very basic FP Nativity set and I had no idea there were so many other pieces that could be added. That's great! We put yellow yarn in a basket during Advent and would love to put a "real" baby Jesus on my wish list since we usually just use one of my girl's baby dolls 🙂 I hope to incorporate the Christmas Novena into our Advent traditions sometime! Thanks for sharing! Happy Advent!

  22. Nathan

    You've inspired my wife to want to add pieces to our FP Nativity set. I hope to add the Christmas Novena once my children are older.

  23. Jennifer Marie

    Hi Kendra!
    I never heard of the Christmas Novena! Very nice! I'll have to print this out for our family! Thank you so much!
    God Bless!

  24. Christine

    Wow – I didn't realize the Little People Nativity set had so many possible components! Herod's castle?! We just have the most basic one…but perhaps I should look for some add-ons.

    I think I'll print out this novena to add to my liturgical binder for a day when at least one of the kids can read. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Lauren

    Very lovely! I love advent and I love these traditions you've started! that little people nativity looks adorable. when I have little people of my own I may need to get something like that for them 🙂

  26. Laura O in AK

    Years ago, we did the straws for Jesus. I might need to start that back up as the youngest (at 4) is old enough to participate and maybe it'll help the teens to think more about helping than complaining.

  27. Tina Santiago-Rodriguez

    I have been drooling over The Little People Nativity Set for three years now, ever since I first saw it! Unfortunately, it's always a bit out of my price range, including shipping costs to the Philippines! 🙂 I'm praying we can finally get one next year! We were supposed to do the crib for Baby Jesus this year again but weren't able to start it in time. Thanks for sharing about the Christmas Novena; it's a bit similar to our Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi, a Filipino/Spanish tradition that has people going to Mass for 9 days, from the 16th till the 25th. Or if it's evening mass, 15th to 24th. 🙂 God bless you and yours!

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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