Preparing for Advent and Christmas

Earlier this week, I gathered at a friend’s home with a group of ladies from my community to listen to our friend Margaret share her family’s Advent traditions.  I think this was my third time listening to Margaret give her Advent talk, and while the content doesn’t vary much from year to year, I still find listening to her speak to be the most invaluable way to get excited about Advent.  I’ve never met someone with more enthusiasm and contagious joy.  I always walk away feeling encouraged, and I daresay, ready!  I headed home that night in happy anticipation of the upcoming season, so ready to share it with my family again this year.

One piece of advice that Margaret always gives is to try to add no more than one new thing each year.  I don’t know about you, but if I try to add too many things, I end up doing far less and feeling like a failure.  I would also add that some years, you may only be able to do the bare minimum, subtracting traditions rather than adding them!  Last December, we had a new baby in our family, and we didn’t do as many things during Advent as we had in years past.  We still celebrated a very beautiful Advent and Christmas.  Of course I don’t know yet how this year’s Advent will go.  That new baby is a new walker now and he is keeping me busy, along with his brothers and sisters.

I do know that I will most likely spend some time clearing in the coming week: clearing surfaces and spaces, and clearing our schedule, as that seems to be the best way I know of preparing myself for Advent.

I try to gather some of our own Advent traditions here for you each year, and I would love it if you would share some of yours in the comments!

-We usually gather fresh greenery from the woods around our home to create an Advent wreath on the first day of Advent.  In year’s past I have ordered Advent candles here, though I came across another really nice option last week in this shop.

-Each year we choose a book or two that are meant to be read daily beginning on the first day of Advent, through Christmas day.  This year, my friend Ann sent me her beautiful new book centered on the tradition of the Jesse Tree, called Unwrapping the Greatest Gift:  A Family Celebration of Christmas, and I plan to read that to my children each day.  We have enjoyed celebrating the tradition of the Jesse Tree in recent years, and I am looking forward to sharing Ann’s heart with my family.  I received another beautiful gift this week, a Mary and Joseph Journey to Bethlehem set from Sue Dow, and we will use these gorgeous handmade figures, along with our Advent spiral, to count the days to Christmas.  I ordered our Advent spiral here, years ago.  I bought brass candle holders and beeswax candles to go with it.

-I will gradually bring out our children’s Advent and Christmas books beginning on the first day of Advent.  (Most of our favorites are in the Advent and Christmas reading list in my sidebar.)

-I love this book of meditations for Advent through Epiphany and plan to revisit it for my own personal reading throughout the season.

-We will celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6th with new wool socks, mandarin oranges, and a bit of chocolate placed in each child’s slippers.

-I will try to once again incorporate the O Antiphons into the week leading up to Christmas day.

-Some years I make a beeswax nativity.  You might bookmark that post to revisit early next fall if you want to make one, because this time of year you can’t always find the molds!  Beeswax ornaments are easy and fun to make as well!

-Here are some relatively simple Christmas crafts using felt and felted sweaters.

-Though I don’t always get the participation that I would like, I always set up a manger and jar of “straw” to fill for baby Jesus.

-Christmas for the animals is one of our favorite traditions.  In the past we have celebrated it on the 23rd of December, or more recently, on the day that I need the Christmas tree to leave our house.  I can’t live with it inside for as long as my kids can (our house is just too small to host a large tree for long), and it makes it easier on everyone if we go through the decorating process all over again once the tree is moved to the garden.  We decorate the second time with homemade bird feeders.

-Finally:  Last night I tried to choose an Advent calendar for this year.  My kids really look forward to a new one each year.  There are so many pretty ones!

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The girls helped me, and we ended up ordering this pop-up one: .


I would love to read what you are planning for this Advent and Christmas!



  1. Marthalynn Rodriguez says:

    I love that you have Ann’s book and her advent candles! And yes, the Jesse Tree! I heard her talk about that and wow, what an amazing tradition. I am so excited to do this with my family this year.

  2. Loved this post as always … which pop up calendar did you buy? (for some reason I don’t see the link)…. I love the Nativity season!!! Here’s what I hope to do this year:


    So exciting!!!

  3. What an amazing and helpful post. We have done different things, different years. But, we don’t really have anything we do every year. After reading this I think it would be wonderful to have those traditions.

  4. Theresa C. says:

    I love idea of Christmas for the animals. We travel almost every year for Christmas so our tree usually comes down before we leave. I love having a live tree but it seems a waste to only have it for a short time. I think putting it outside with decorations for the animals would make me feel better about taking it down so early. Do you use a cut tree or a plantable tree?

  5. When my kids were small, my Advent celebrations were pretty complicated, but so rewarding. I think you have outdone me. I wish I could be little at your house this year. I love the spiral advent candle holder and the Christmas for Animals. Too cute. Thank you so much for this delightful reminder…now that my kids are almost grown and out of the house, they add their own complications to this season.

  6. Ginny, I am always so inspired by your Advent posts! We’ve gleaned so many ideas from you over the years. Advent has become my favorite time of year.
    Two years ago we were given an Elf on the Shelf. We are not big on the whole Santa thing, or on the naughty/nice list thing. But like all kids, my kids love a game of hide and seek, and I wanted to use some of those funny ideas you see on Pinterest of where to hide that mischievous little guy. So I found a Bible verse printable for Advent, and each day I hid the elf with the little verse tucked under his arm, and he became our Scripture Elf. It’s cheesy, but my girls love it.
    Also, is there a chance you have any dishrags left to sell? I would love to order a dozen. They remind me of the Sunflower dishcloths I like, which are always hard to find.

  7. I really love your idea of ‘christmas for the animals’. I am still very much in the process of ‘adding traditions’, mine are still very basic, but it is a good place to start from!

  8. Thank you so much for this post. I’ve done a terrible job in years past of celebrating Advent. I have all these grand ideas and then don’t follow through….not so much because I don’t want to but more life just seems to get in the way. I need to make it a priority. All of your ideas are so helpful and the post is motivating me to do more this year. Thank you!

  9. Happy Thanksgiving Ginny! I loved this post. Thank you for all the beautiful ideas. My husband and I were just looking through your previous posts and saw the manger. We are hoping to make one out of the scrap pieces from the farm table he just built us.
    I was admiring your prayer table and thinking what a peaceful place it provides for a busy season. I’m wondering, where can you find the Good Shepherd icon? Our kids have been in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and I was hoping to find the icon for Christmas as a family gift.
    Thank you for all your inspiring posts! You’re such an inspiration.
    God Bless

  10. Love this Ginny!! My plans are to keep it simple…we are going south for the winter this year and I’m bringing our Advent wreath, a daily family Advent meditation book, (we do it at supper time) and Tabitha’s Travels…(it’s one of the Jotham’s Journey books) I’m thinking of skipping the Jesse Tree this year to keep it simpler. (I have a Fulton Sheen and Padre Pio daily meditation books for myself)

    Now, I might have to order Ann’s book…it looks amazing.

  11. We are a spiritual but not religious family and we currently live in Dubai (although will have the joy of moving over Christmas time period), but reading your posts always brings a sense of peace to a crazy world so I thank you and include your blog in my gratitude lists. We strive as a family to practice gratitude and joy of all being together. We will be cooking frequently, sitting in the garden late into the evening just talking and laughing together. My goal is always to focus on peaceful times together as a family (which often means extended family and friends:) I just realize I have written the word “together” many times — perhaps because come January, my older boys will have moved on which is exciting for them but a shift for me!

  12. The last couple of years I don’t feel like we’ve really celebrated Advent well as a family…new babies–lots of babies–and close babies can do that to a momma. I’m looking forward to picking back up some old favorites and tryine a dew new ones.

  13. Katie Rinker says:

    Hi Ginny!
    I absolutely love your blog! This is kind of a side question, but is there anything we can do for Sarah Harkins’ family at this Advent/Christmas time? Anything at all?


    • Katie, surely there is. Please email me first week of December, and we can come up with something that those who aren’t local can do. I know it would be appreciated. Thank you!

  14. Our Advents have been punctuated the last few years with losses and then a brand-new baby (glory to God!) so I have had to learn to scale down and forgive myself for not being everything to everyone. I love reading about your traditions new and old. 🙂

  15. Oh my, advent is absolutely my favourite time of year, it’s a treat to read your post. I’m looking for some new daily reflections this year, and I’m adding a second nativity somewhere. I cannot wait, every year my big boy understands a little more, and this is our baby’s first Christmas!

  16. Advent is a big deal here in Austria — almost more than Christmas itself. Bazaars are not Christmas bazaars; they are Advent bazaars. That said, I’m not seeing any wreaths with beeswax candles, so I’ll have to fashion my own. I was noticing the prices of plain wreaths in various locations and I think I’ll just have to get to a forest soon. Vienna can be expensive!

    We always use these every year and really enjoy the conversations that come up:

  17. I love your traditions and these posts are my favorites! I had to giggle though when I saw which Advent calendar you got this year. It just hit me two days ago that we didn’t have our Advent calendar yet and I scoured Amazon for one that would qualify for the prime two day shipping and guess which one I ordered? The exact same one! It should arrive today actually. It sounds like it will a good one for my children and I can’t wait to see it.

    Speaking of Advent, I am off to figure out our Jesse Tree for this year.

  18. Sorry about the double post….

  19. I love Advent – I love the O Antiphons especially and have the best memories of being pregnant during the Advent season – those were really special years. Now that my babies are older – here is a list of the activities my family and I will be using to celebrate the Advent season this year. (forgive the shameless blog promotion..)

  20. I love Advent – I love the O Antiphons – I have the best memories of the year’s when I was pregnant during the Advent season – those were really special. Now that my babies are bigger – I have compiled a list of what my family will be using to celebrate Advent this year: (I know – forgive the shameless blog promotion -

  21. MarieAnne Branaman says:

    Ginny, thank you for posting about the Advent spiral. I ordered one a few minutes ago, and cannot wait to set it up. I am also pulling out my old Conversations with God for the Advent season. You inspire me, and I thank you so much for that. Words do not convey my gratitude. Blessings to you during this most wonderful season of preparing and waiting… with joy!!

  22. This is our first year to use celebrate Advent at home and we are excited about the Advent Wreath.

    We just bought a kit to make beeswax Advent candles from Toadily Handmade – a great price and free shipping!

  23. I was thrilled to see the Ann book in your post for Advent! We used her book, The Greatest Gift, last year for Advent and printed the cut outs to place on a tree of sticks inside a vase.

    I LOVE celebrating Advent, but can relate to your words of advice on going easy and only adding one new thing each year else you can tend to feel like a failure when it doesn’t work out. Last year because we lived in limbo after moving countries and having a whole wad of other stresses filling our plates, and pretty much none of our own belongings, we did more hand-made, last minute things thrown together for Advent and they ended up being, for me, one of the most special memories.

    We always set Mary and Joseph on their journey the first day of Advent, traveling through the house and arriving at the barn on the 24th, but since Mary and Joseph were at UHaul storage last year, the children made them out of toilet rolls and glued fabric on them and drew faces. I loved the set so much we’re going to use it again this year, even though I found my Mary and Joseph from years past. It will be my next post this coming week. And as for the candles on the table (something else we couldn’t find), we made punched tin lanterns and put led lights in them. The kids enjoyed taking these outdoors in the snow with the led lights all lit up.

    Thanks for getting me all giddy excited about the forthcoming week to prepare the way of the Lord!

  24. I just got Ann’s book and am so excited to use it! We have a Jesse tree we are using for the first time this year, so it should go well with it. I bought the tree on etsy from this shop. It is absolutely gorgeous and we are so excited to use it. She also sells the pattern if you are more on the creative side. We also celebrate St. Nicholas feast day and the kids wake up with surprises in their shoes!

    Another thing we do in our little town is have a lighted parade. My kids look forward to it every year. You have to dress warm as we live in Iowa, but munching on popcorn, drinking hot cocoa and watching the different churches and local groups get lighted up for Christmas is a fun was to bring in the season.

    Side note: I was successful getting your original advent wreath. Not sold out!

    • Oh good! It was sold out last night, they must have updated the shop! I edited my post to reflect that. Thanks for letting me know!

  25. I too have the Advent spiral you have, but have found I don’t use it. I am preferring the wreath we have always used according to the Church.

    If anyone would enjoy this spiral wreath, email me. I will sell it for a reduced price than it is offered on the website.

  26. I really, really love Advent. The weeke before (tomorrow in fact) our church hosts an advent fair to get us all preparing. I like to pick up a calendar there along with something new for our advent table. We begin with a wreath table, adding a new element weekly ( we are Anthroposophists) and my absolute favorite is the weekly sing at friends houses. We usually host one Sunday and just being together is so special and enlivening. I love the clearing the schedule. Taking that to heart.

    • Brooke, your comment made me so happy! Although my family and I have joined the Catholic church we still add our weekly elements to our Advent festivities (just not as heavily as we used to):

      We set up our Nativity scene slightly by it, too. The barn comes out on the first week, then the second week we add trees and soil in pots with seeds for my children to plant a seed with each kind act, we also typically get our Christmas tree that week, the third week all the animals are added and we make bird food ornaments to hang outside for the birds and other things for the other wildlife as well as give our pets treats, then the final week all the people are added to the Nativity scene except Jesus who is added Christmas day and stays until Epiphany.

I love to hear from you!