Easy Ways to Celebrate Advent with Toddlers

Be intentional about putting Christ at the center of your family’s Christmas with these SIMPLE steps!

Teach your children about Jesus this Christmas

Do you long for a Christ-centered Christmas for your family?

A Christmas less about gifts and and consumerism, and more about THE ULTIMATE GIFT of Jesus Christ?

My heart longs for this, too.

How do we refocus ourselves and our families back on the true meaning of Christmas? How do we celebrate Christmas with toddlers and little kids? Where do we even start?

After you read this post, be sure to check out my Complete Advent Plan (geared toward toddlers, but for the whole family, and can be modified for older kids as well!)

Y’all, before I get into any of these, I just want you to know that:

  • I am BY NO MEANS an expert at discipleship or parenting! I have a 1 year old and an almost 3 year old. I am seeking to be intentional in our traditions and in how we celebrate in our home, and hope that in sharing some ideas (from friends, the internet, and myself), I help some of you be more intentional as well. We are all working together to lead our children to Jesus; this is not a competition.
  • START SMALL! Pick one or two things to start/add/replace this year. Do not try to do everything at once or you will overwhelm yourself. It’s really easy for me to come up with grandiose ideas.. but not actually DO any of them. Know yourself; start small.

*There are affiliate links in this post.  Read my disclosure policy to learn more.*

use an advent wreath with toddlers this christmas
I love Kati at Red Barn Toy’s Advent Wreaths! They’re heirloom quality and just stunning!

1) Celebrate the season of Advent

Sometimes Christmas comes and goes without much thought, right? One day it’s Halloween, the next is Thanksgiving, and the next it’s December 23rd and you’re rushing to finish your shopping. It’s crazy!

What if, rather than only celebrating for two days, you designated the entire month of December for celebrating?

Christians call the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas “Advent”.

(See this article for more information on Advent and what churches typically do to celebrate)

Celebrating Advent is a way to extend the Christmas season, anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth (and His second coming), and really allow time for what we consider to be the most important parts of this holiday.

I know that the idea of celebrating for an entire month sounds daunting, but that depends on what you think of when you think of “celebrating”. This doesn’t mean elaborate family meals every night, giving gifts every day, or making elaborate crafts with your kids. Maybe a better word to use here is “observe”: sitting back, soaking in, and ENJOYING the Gift that is Christmas.

What matters MOST to you and your family? What do you look forward to most during the Christmas season? What most points your family to Jesus? What things do you want your kids to remember about the season? Get those things on the calendar and plan for them. Think through your month now, so you can move more slowly later, and really savor the season with your family.

Let’s be deliberate in our celebrations of Christmas this year. Let’s celebrate the season of Advent, not “just” Christmas.

GOD WITH US as family Christmas Advent devotion this Christmas
I’m so excited to use Katie Pawlak’s God With Us Advent devotional this year!

2) Get a family Advent devotional (with ornaments)

Okay, so you’ve decided to celebrate Advent, now what? How do we make our family Christmases about Christ?

We choose a time to purposefully focus our families on Christ every single day during Advent. We pray and read the Bible together each day- to remind ourselves Who and why we are celebrating. Pick whatever time works best for your family: after breakfast or after dinner; maybe even right before bed as the bedtime story.

An easy way to help your family start this (and hopefully continue it past Christmas!), is to find an Advent family devotional. These have daily Scriptures, devotions, and prayers all packed into one book/PDF.

The past two years we’ve done a family Advent devotional from The Daily Grace. it was short, easy, and came with ornaments to hang on our mantle. While we loved it (and it got us into the habit of doing a family devotion during Advent), it wasn’t really geared toward kids, so I started looking online for some that were more kid-focused.

There are so many to choose from, and it can be daunting to try to choose one from all of the options, so I’ll share a few options here.

NOTE: If you miss a day (or 12), DO NOT WORRY or make a big deal out of it. Give yourself grace and try again the next day! Parenting and discipling our children is a marathon, not a sprint.

The Jesse Tree and other Advent devotionals

Through asking friends and surveying social media, I discovered that so many families with kids are doing this thing called “The Jesse Tree”, and I had never heard of it.

The “Jesse Tree” is a type of Advent calendara way of preparing for Christmas by recounting stories from Scripture. Its name refers to the prophecy in Scripture that the Messiah would come from “the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1); the stories on the “Jesse Tree” come from Jesus’ family, and remind us that the entire story of Scripture is about Christ.

What I really like about this type of devotional, is that there’s a symbol for every story, along with a corresponding ornament that kids can hang on the tree.I love that by repeating this tradition every year, and connecting the stories with the symbols, our kids will be able to easily remember and share the story of Scripture. What an amazing tool for discipleship and evangelism!

There are a lot of different ways to “do” the “Jesse Tree”. You can choose your own readings and make your own ornaments or purchase one or both online. Keep in mind that the verses and symbols aren’t the same for every plan, so if you’re purchasing ornaments and a devotion, make sure the symbols on the ornaments match the symbols in the book.

Here are some examples of family Advent devotionals I’ve found:

Option 1: God With Us; A Family Advent Devotional

I think this is what we are using this year. I will probably shorten/simplify the devotions, as they’re most appropriate for ages 4-14 (my kiddos are almost 3 years old and 15 months old), but I love the idea of starting something that we can continue doing for years to come.

Every day there’s a scripture reading, a short devotion, a prayer, and 3 “Branching Out” activities/questions; that sounds like a lot, but it all fits onto one page per day.

There are pages at the back where you can color copy your ornaments onto cardstock, or just cut them straight out of the book.

Other God With Us resources:

Option 2: The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Calendar Guide

We LOVE The Jesus Storybook Bible! I love that it can be used for Advent readings! It’s most appropriate for ages 4-7, but can be modified for younger kiddos.

Other Jesus Storybook Bible resources:

Option 3: The Advent Jesse Tree

I purchased this book this year to look through and I think it’s incredibly well-done!

I love that it has two devotions a day: one for kids and one for adults. It also has a memory verse, suggestions of hymns to sing, scriptures to read, follow-up questions for kids, and prayers for both kids and adults.

Other Jesus Storybook Bible resources:

Option 4: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

I haven’t seen this book in person, but I hear it is beautiful and comes with ornaments. It is written for ages 4 to 8. If you love poetic language, Ann Voskamp’s your girl!

Other Unwrapping the Greatest Gift resources:

Other Jesse Tree resources

Focus on the Family’s Advent Calendar Devotions

This is a free, downloadable family Advent devotional made by Focus on the Family. In my opinion, it’s probably better for upper elementary through high school.

Jesse Tree Magnetic Tree, Ornaments, and card explanations

This is awesome if you’re short on space. It looks like everything you need for a simple Advent reading is included!

Wood circles

If you (or your kids) are super crafty and want to paint your own Jesse Tree ornaments, get these to paint on! This is something I would buy with the intentions of doing, but maybe do in 5 years… haha!

2 ft or 3 ft Christmas tree

Get your kiddos a specific tree just for the Jesse Tree ornaments (you could call it the Jesse Tree…. haha! )

You could also put them on your main Christmas tree, tape them to a garland on the mantle, or anywhere else you have space.

advent spiral as a countdown to Jesus birth
Kati at Red Barn Toys makes stunning Advent Spirals and wreaths. I would love to add this tradition to our Christmas: add and light a candle every night of Advent.

Make Advent devotion time special

Make Advent/Christmas a time that is special and set-aside by doing things the same way each night of Advent, and throughout all of the Advents your family has together. These traditions will become “pillars” of your family life that they will talk about for the rest of their lives, and seek to replicate with their own families.

Here are a few ideas to help you make your Advent devotion time special:

  • Sit in the same spot (on the couch, at the dinner table, etc…)
  • Use a Christmas tablecloth or runner
  • Turn off the lights and light some candles. You could use the same Advent wreath or Advent spiral every year.
  • Store the Jesse Tree ornaments in a special box and pull it out every evening
  • Begin devotion time with a hymn/song
  • End devotion time with a prayer

It doesn’t matter which devotional you choose, how you choose to make the time special, if you’re perfectly consistent (I know we won’t be!), or how well your kiddos pay attention. Pick a time, set the stage, and show your kiddos what Christmas truly about: God sending us the most precious Gift of his Son; the One who came to die to set us free from our sin to live in Him.

beautiful culturally-accurate nativity set
This stunning peg doll nativity from Patricia at LumberJillToys is just the stuff of Christmas dreams!

2) Purchase (or make) a kid-friendly nativity set

Purchase a nativity your kiddos can play with.

Sit it out at the beginning of Advent, in a prominent spot, and begin to introduce your little ones to the people involved in the story of Jesus’ birth.

Toddler-friendly nativities

I really struggled with finding a nativity set I wanted. I’ve been looking for one for years, and still haven’t found THE ONE. It really annoys me that most of the figurines are white (SO NOT culturally accurate). I also really wanted it to be beautiful and kid-friendly, which is really hard to find as well.

Option 1: Melissa and Doug Nativity Set

This year I made myself purchase this nativity, just because my kids needed one and this one is made of wood, inexpensive, and seemed like the best option for right now.

This is the best option I could find for mouthing babies and toddlers. There are no small pieces, so no choking hazards! It’s also made of wood, and a brand I know and trust.

Option 2: Bible Toys Nativity Set

This is a cute nativity set! There are a few small pieces so this would be a better option for kids who don’t put everything in their mouths-haha!

Nativity fun with toddlers and young kids

  • Allow kids to explore and play with the nativity pieces
  • Play “hide and seek” with the figurines
  • Move Mary and Joseph around the house, like they’re en route to Bethlehem. Each morning, have your kiddo(s) search for them. On Christmas morning, they’ll find them in the stable with baby Jesus!
  • Use them when you read Christmas books
  • Use them to retell/act out the Christmas story over and over again throughout Advent; let your kiddo help you tell the story as much as they are able

What nativity sets do y’all have for your kiddos? I would love to make a peg doll nativity set at some point… but I’m reallllly good at having aspirations… NOT so good at follow-through! Also, it wouldn’t look like that one, so there’s that! Haha!

best books for teaching your kids the real meaning of Christmas

3) Read Christ-centered Christmas children’s books

GOOD, Biblical books are such a help for teaching your kiddos about Jesus. Buy one of these a year, add them to your kids’ Christmas wish lists, or find them secondhand; it’s worth it!

Christmas books we love

The Silent Noisy Night

This is a super cute board book with animal sounds and illustrations that your babies and toddlers will love!

A Very Noisy Christmas

If you haven’t discovered Tim Thornborough’s “Very Best Bible Stories” series, you are MISSING OUT! We have three of them and the rest are on our wish lists! They’re full of truth, culturally-accurate (and beautiful!) illustrations, and engaging for little readers! WE JUST LOVE THEM!

The Christmas Promise

This is another series of books you need to invest in as a Christian parent- “Tales that Tell the Truth”.

We have a few of these and they’re SO, SO good! I’m so thankful that Christians are writing books that help us teach our kiddos about Jesus!

The Garden, The Curtain, and The Cross

This picture book is the best explanation of the entire story of Scripture that I have ever read. It BEAUTIFULLY explains the connection between the Garden of Eden, the curtain tearing in the temple, and the cross.

It is a must read during Christmas, to teach/remind our kids about the entire narrative of Scripture!

Bonus Christmas-Book Tips

  • Purchase a new book a year to help slowly build a collection of truth-filled Christmas books
  • Wrap up the books and set them under the tree to be opened at a specific time (each Sunday after family devotion, or randomly throughout Advent)
  • Wrap one book for each day of Advent; read it after the devotion each evening (you don’t need to buy 25 books- use books you already own and books you borrow from the library as well!)
  • Buy used books here or here
reasons NOT to focus on Santa this christmas

Our kids are already self-focused because of their age and the self-consumed world we live in. We don’t have to contribute to this by making Christmas all about them and their desires; let’s teach them (and remind ourselves) to look upward and outward.

Young Mom Mentor

4) Don’t compete with Santa or the Elf

In order to reduce the commercialized Christmas “noise” in our home, we don’t “do” Santa or the “Elf”.

This is not to say you can’t do these things or shouldn’t; we have just personally chosen not to. This decision is not something that “makes or breaks” your Christian parenting! The discipleship of your children is done daily and not just at Christmas; and your children’s faith is not hinging on whether or not you “do” Santa- Christ does the work in them, NOT you.

With that said, a few years I read a lot about Christians and Santa, and I came across some articles that really made sense to me, and articulated some of my thoughts well. I’ll share them here so you can read them if you’re interested.

*AGAIN, NOT JUDGING. We “did” Santa growing up and I LOVED IT and it was so magical and fun; follow your convictions with how you want to raise your family*

Here are a few reasons why we don’t “do” Santa:

  • We want to convey to our children that we give them gifts because we love them and delight in them, not because of anything they do or how they perform. Gift-giving is a reflection of God giving us the Ultimate Gift in Christ, while we were still in sin. Santa bringing gifts to children based on their merit and behavior is contrary to the message of the Gospel.
  • Kids must obey and behave because they should, not because “Santa’s watching” (or because an elf is “reporting to Santa”).
  • Christmas is a great time to teach and share with our kids about how blessed we are, how so many others are not, and work to meet needs of others together.
  • Only God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present.
  • Teaching that Santa brings gifts takes away from the fact that parents work hard to earn the money that is used to buy the presents; only God can materialize something from nothing.
  • Our kids are already self-focused because of their age and the self-consumed world we live in. We don’t have to contribute to this by making Christmas all about them and their desires; let’s teach them (and remind ourselves) to look upward and outward.

Not “doing” Santa doesn’t mean avoiding stories about him, or forbidding our kids to talk about him. It just means that he’s a character like Mickey Mouse or Daniel Tiger; he’s fun to read about and talk about, but he isn’t real.

Santa isn’t the central figure of Christmas for us as Christians; Christ is.

Fun, Christ-centered alternatives to Elf-on-the-Shelf

Honestly. the whole idea of moving an Elf every single night (AND coming up with silly things for him to do!) just seems UTTERLY EXHAUSTING! So, props to you moms and dads who have the energy for that, because I surely do NOT, haha!

If, however, you love your Elf (or the idea of something like it), and you’d like to just find something that points your kids to Jesus, here are a few options I found:

Note: I haven’t purchased any of these to look at; I am sharing from friends’ and the internet’s recommendations. Do your own research!

Option 1: The Shepherd on the Search

This is CUTE, you guys! This comes with a book and the Shepherd, packaged in a box that is a nativity!

You hide the Shepherd each night for your kids to find in the morning. He is on his way to Bethlehem. On Christmas morning, your kids find him in the stable! So cool!

On their website they also have daily “recipe cards” with an activity, story, and weekly memory verse! This could be everything you do with your kids for Advent!

Option 2: The Shepherd’s Treasure

The idea with this one is the same; and man, it is so, so cute! This set comes with the Shepherd, Advent cards, a baby Jesus in a manger, a book, and it comes in a keepsake box. I just love that everything is all together and so user-friendly.

be intentional with your family advent this christmas
My family, Christmas 2019 (look at my tiny babies!!)

Final thoughts on Advent with little kids

I hope that was helpful for you as you start to think about how you want to celebrate Christmas this year! If you’re looking for more specific ideas on WHAT to do and HOW to celebrate, check out my Complete Advent Plan (geared toward toddlers, but for the whole family, and can be modified for older kids as well!)

My goal wasn’t to burden you, or to make you feel like what you’re doing isn’t adequate. My goal was to encourage all of us to be more intentional with how, why, and WHO we are celebrating, so that through our celebrations our children see what Christmas, and LIFE, is really about.

Let’s focus on what truly matters this Christmas.

Lots of love,

Related Articles

Click to check out my Complete Advent Guide 2020: includes printable Advent activities for the whole family!
Teaching Toddlers about Jesus Birth at Christmas

Be intentional about putting Christ at the center of your family’s Christmas with these SIMPLE steps!

Hey, it's Anna! I'm a teacher-turned-SAHM of two young kids. I love to research all things parenting and kid-related and share them on here.

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