Advent is known as “little Lent,” and prayer, alms, and sacrifices are an important part of the liturgical season as we prepare for the coming of Christ.
To help children participate in the true purpose of Advent (rather than the temptation to treat it selfishly as a countdown to getting their presents on Christmas day), a visual teaching aid can be very helpful.
One of the popular ways to help children understand the meaning of Christmas is to encourage them to thoughtfully make small offerings for the Baby Jesus throughout the days and weeks of Advent. These offerings can be a small sacrifice, a good deed, a kind word, or a prayer.
Join in this tradition using the Baby Jesus figure either from your nativity set (which may be a little too small depending on the size) or opt for a larger solitary nativity creche with a Baby Jesus figure like this or this.
Place the creche in a prominent place in the home, perhaps next to your Advent wreath, and encourage children to make their spiritual gifts out of love for the Baby Jesus each day leading up to Christmas.
For each small sacrifice or good deed done by a child during Advent, a piece of straw (or something that comparable that you can purchase at a craft store) is added into the manger or creche.
On Christmas day the Baby Jesus figure is placed inside the creche, and the prayers and sacrifices symbolized by the pieces of straw have added up to prepare a comfortable place for him to rest, just like Mary and Joseph prepared for him in the manger at Bethlehem.
This visually symbolizes the room that we have prepared in our hearts for Jesus by making sacrifices and doing good deeds for others. Just as Jesus' birth was an act of self-giving, so children can learn to prepare for Christmas by imitating him in his love for others.
This Baby Jesus creche tradition is a beautiful one to adopt in the home which teaches children how pleased Jesus is when we do things for others in his name:
"And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’" (Matthew 25)
What a wonderful way to welcome Jesus into our homes and hearts at Christmas!
Have you adopted this Advent tradition with your children? If so, please comment below and share your story with our readers.
This article has been updated and was originally published in November 2015. Copyright © The Catholic Company. All rights reserved.