9 Ways to Prepare Your Home for Advent and Christmas + BONUS Video Tutorial on How to Teach Your Child to Sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel”…with my children singing!

Prepare your home this Advent and Christmas with these simple ideas for decor, children’s activities, prayers and liturgical rituals!

***Nota bene – while I do realize we are almost halfway through Advent, I know there are many moms like me who are scraping at the last minute trying to put their homes, kitchens and activities together for the seasons upon us! I hope these ideas could still be useful, and maybe my timing will improve on these blog posts 😅***
Contrary to what we see around us this time of year – lights, celebrations, reindeer, and that large man with a white beard – Advent is a time of preparation, a time of expectant waiting for the coming of the Savior of the world!

As such, there is so much we can do in our homes that can impress upon our family members the symbolism, meaning, and spirit of Advent. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and celebrate Christmas too early!

Having been born to Mexican-Arab parents, I know that there is a rich cultural heritage surrounding these seasons of Advent and Christmas, yet sadly it has been lost in translation growing up as a millennial in a small coastal suburb in Southern California.

I have yet to explore the traditions of my ancestors but for now am deciding on the few family traditions we want to uphold and establish. There are a few that seem to really resonate in the traditional Catholic community.

1. Take your Advent Wreath to the Next Level with this Prayer Ritual

Our entryway table decorated
with an Advent wreath

If you haven’t already heard about the Advent wreath or used it in your family’s treasure trove of liturgical traditions, this is one that is simple and readily available in stores everywhere.

It consists of some sort of wreath with greenery – your typical “Christmas tree” type of pine or fir – with four candles symbolizing the four weeks of Advent (three violet or purple, and one rose-colored or pink). As you can see this wreath needs to lie flat on a table so that the candles can stand upright in their candle holders.

Amazon and Hobby Lobby have wreaths and Advent candles, but I always try to take advantage of sales (Black Friday, Hobby Lobby’s annual 50% off Christmas items sale, etc.).

Our family loves to use the resources on fisheaters.com for prayer rituals throughout the church’s liturgical cycle. Here is a really great one we have been doing once a week on every Sunday of Advent since we got married almost five years ago.

It explains the symbolism of the Advent wreath (which, although most likely Lutheran in origin, still is a beautiful way of keeping track of the Advent season). We’ve printed it out, stapled it and kept it in a drawer with other seasonal novenas and prayers (see our Nativity picture below).

Try this prayer ritual this Advent as it involves participation between the mother and father, and can include the children as well depending on their age and skill level.

The prayer ritual itself consists of a short reading recited out loud by the father while the mother lights the candles respective to the current week in Advent. It can be done right before dinner or before going to bed as a nice way of ending your Sunday.

Our children really love the solemnity of candle-lighting, and their favorite part is getting to blow them out! Of course with young children as ours this is an exercise for them to practice stillness and body-quiet as Papa reads the excerpt and prayers.

2. Take Advantage of the Color Purple (aka “violet”)

There is no “set” flower for Advent like the poinsettia for Christmas, but there is one thing about Advent that sets it apart from the typical red and green colors of Christmas – the color violet!

Violet – aka purple – has traditionally symbolized a period of increased prayer, penance, and preparation for a greater liturgical season to come. It is a reminder of the sacrifices we are to be making in expectant longing for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh.

We see it make an appearance again during Lent when it is contrasted by the arrival of white on the Easter Vigil (as in the Midnight Mass at Christmas or “First Mass of Christmas”).

Find whatever closely resembles the color violet and see how you can incorporate it into the main areas of visibility around the house. Candles and flowers are the easiest to find!

Our Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart of Mary image takes the main place of importance in the living room above our fireplace mantle. While I personally love symmetry – two candles, two bouquets of flowers – experiment with off-setting your items or including different numbers of objects for a unique aesthetic.

Also, above my kitchen sink there is a window with a ledge holding an Our Lady of Fatima statue on which I like to display something which reminds me of the season we’re in.

3. Try a DIY Nativity scene with Wood as Your Backdrop

I used an old wooden crate (I believe it was used for wine bottles!) to set the stage for my nativity creche. I also folded up a white bed sheet underneath to offset the wood from the table with the crate, four candles above the crate representing the 4 Sundays of Advent, and some greenery to tie in the decor.

The creche or manger for the baby Jesus was taken from a “treasure box” which I had used for my girls’ opening/closing activities on their Montessori shelf. I simply unscrewed the hardware attaching the lid to the base, flipped the lid over and voila! instant crib.

Trying using whatever materials you have around the house as “props” for the scene – rocks, wood boxes or panels, or even cardboard/paper dolls if making a destruction-safe one for children!

4. Set out your Nativity scene one-by-one, gradually increasing the numbers of characters each week…do the same with decor

There are so many Nativity sets out there that are unfortunately already complete and unable to be separated into individual parts (like front yard displays), but try to look for some that have the characters set apart.

We inherited one from Avon that includes different animals and human characters (cow, camel, sheep, shepherd boy). I decided to break up the appearances thus:

1st week of Advent: Cow

2nd week of Advent: Woman with water jar

3rd week of Advent: Sheep with shepherd/shepherd boy

4th week of Advent: Innkeeper

Day before Christmas: Camel with Our Lady and St. Joseph

Christmas Day: Baby Jesus!

Gradually increasing the number of characters in your nativity scene creates an element of surprise and fun as children get to see “what changed this week?” and who else is going to come to see the baby Jesus be born.

For decor, I began with just a garland of greenery on my mantle then the following week added some pine cone decor above my bookcase.

In years past I would add things to the garlands as Christmas got closer – pine cones, holly berries, candles or Christmas lights if the garlands are artificial.

6. Show your neighbors you mean Advent – not Christmas [yet] – in your outdoor decor

A couple of years ago I put together a simple wreath using flowers from Hobby Lobby and a glue gun – the result was beautiful and served the function of showing the world we are still in a period of waiting and praying before Christmas! I added a simple Christmas tree and lantern to tie in the concept.

7. Don’t forget the “sacrifice manger” to make a soft bed of straw for the baby Jesus

Since my older girls turned 2 last year I began looking for ways to include them in the Advent season – the easiest by far is to create a “sacrifice manger”.

Children are encouraged to make sacrifices or acts of charity which turn into pieces of straw that are then put into the Christmas manger for the baby Jesus to sleep on.

The idea is to make as many sacrifices as possible to make the crib as soft as possible with lots of straw for the baby Jesus to curl up on.

I noticed this has made the most impact on my children’s overall mood and behavior for Advent, keeping them focused on the real “reason for the season”.

8. Trade the secular pant-suit Santa Claus for St. Nicholas – and don’t forget the stockings

As with most “secular” holidays, there is always a Catholic underpinning which can be extracted and useful for teaching our children and learning about the faith. Use this opportunity to discuss St. Nicholas, his historic biography, and even include some activities for the children.

I stumbled upon this amazing website stnicholascenter.org which has tons – I mean TONS – of resources for the littles in your life, from coloring pages to puzzles to crafts to even music and audio stories of the real St. Nicholas. They are all extremely tasteful and not cartoony in the slightest.

Several years back I had also decided to decorate Dollar Tree stockings with puffy paint for our girls, then when our 3rd came along I simply added his to the mix. I liked the result as each stocking is personalized and easy to recognize!

9. Use essential oils fit for the season – cloves, cinnamon, frankincense, pine, etc.

As you can see in the picture above I have a small, inexpensive electric diffuser sitting right next to my nativity scene. I included cloves and cinnamon for Advent and plan on using frankincense for Epiphany. What a wonderful teaching moment where my children actually get to smell the gift that was given to the baby Jesus!

Whatever you decide to do this Advent and Christmas, try adding just one little tradition to your household. As the years go on you will have acquired new traditions to add to the preceding ones, building your family’s little liturgical heritage!

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