by Michaelyn Hein –
My children are big Elf on the Shelf fans. Every year, at the beginning of Advent, the elf “magically” returns from the North Pole to keep an eye on the children’s behavior until Christmas. As in the children’s book of the same name, the elf reports to Santa Claus each evening to let him know whether the children have been naughty or nice. In the process, he surprises them each morning by showing up in a new location, sometimes causing light-hearted mischief.
While I love seeing the smiles on my children’s faces at the mere mention of the elf, my heart wishes they were smiling for something less secular. So when I stumbled across an idea that would challenge the worldly elf’s way of preparing for Christmas and introduce my children to a more Christ-centered focus, I knew I had to add it to our Advent agenda.
We’ve since enhanced our Advent traditions with other holier activities. If you, too, are looking for ways to help your children or grandchildren keep Christ the focus of Christmas and also the season of Advent, then here are some suggestions.
- Shepherd on the Search. Instead of centering the fun around your children seeking a stuffed elf, this Christ-focused idea involves a shepherd who is seeking the Christ Child—just as we all should be. Throughout Advent, the shepherd (who, like the elf, comes with a children’s book that explains his story), engages in his own Christian adventures. As he moves about the house in search of the Holy Infant, he, too, has a little fun, but always in a way that points to the One for whom he is looking. (https://shepherdonthesearch.com/)
- Advent Angels. Years ago, my husband and I noticed that the Advent and Christmas Seasons in our home were becoming very self-centered. The holiday had our children writing lists filled front and back with the toys they dreamed of opening on Christmas morning. About that time, I came across the idea of “Advent Angels” and immediately added it to our December repertoire.
It is the quintessential Christian Secret Santa, wherein every participant secretly selects the name of another family member and seeks to perform a daily act of kindness for that person throughout Advent. Come Christmas, the “Advent Angels” are revealed.
- Merciful Manger. Much like “Advent Angels,” this activity aims to get children (and parents) thinking more about others than themselves. At the start of the season, the parents point out to their children the solid, uncomfortable wood of the manger on which the baby Jesus will soon lay. The goal of Advent, then, is to make our Savior’s bed a softer place to rest.
Throughout Advent, family members earn pieces of hay for works of mercy performed (don’t forget to review as a family the works of mercy. In my family, we had fun creating a poster with pictorial reminders of them that the children could reference throughout the day). When they earn strands of hay, the children immediately lay them in the manger as an offering to Our Lord. On Christmas Eve, Jesus has a bed of merciful acts to cushion his sleep.
- Honor Our Blessed Mother with a baby shower. This activity helps lead our children to think of the needs of others. Explain to children that preparing for a birth is traditionally a time to shower the mother-to-be with presents for the child. Together, plan a party for Mary. You might make a cake and decorate the house or collect flowers to lay at the feet of a Mary statue.
No baby shower is complete without presents. Since Jesus is not in need of physical gifts, this is a wonderful opportunity to gather presents for a local pregnancy crisis center in honor of Our Lady’s own “yes” to life. The best gift, however, might be one you give to Mary: a daily commitment of praying a family Rosary.
- Names of Jesus Countdown. Catholic Sprouts is a site run by Catholic parents who have one goal in mind: helping other parents to raise saints. They do this by creating fun, engaging ways to teach and share our Catholic faith with our children. One for Advent is a Christ-centered countdown to Christmas. Together, the family colors and staples printed epithets for Jesus into a paper chain that will take you from the start of Advent to Christmas. Each day, a family member pulls off the next title (think “Prince of Peace” and “A Sure Foundation”) in the chain. These can be hung on a poster board surrounding an image of the Infant Jesus. By Christmas, the Christ Child will be surrounded by His glorious titles. (You can find this free printable at www.catholicsprouts.com; search for Advent)
The world battles parents in so many ways for our children’s souls. It is the subtlest of fights when Santa Claus and his elves have replaced Jesus Christ and His saints. As parents, then, it is imperative that we work even harder to keep Christ in Christmas.
Michaelyn Hein is a Catholic writer, spouse and mother who resides in Hopewell, NJ. She wrote this article for the Fall 2021 issue of Soul Magazine.