Christmas is just around the corner.
Leaves change, branches become bare, Thanksgiving approaches, and we know there will soon be trees to decorate, lights to hang, cookies to bake, gifts to buy, stockings to stuff, and special meals to prepare. In all of the excitement and busyness, it’s easy to forget what the fuss and hustle is really about.
Many of us long to soak in the real reason we celebrate, but it takes intentional planning and commitment.
For centuries, Christians around the world have set aside the four weeks before Christmas (Sunday to Sunday) to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. We call this Advent, meaning “the arrival” or “coming,” and embrace it as a season of anticipation for both the birth of Christ and the glory of God still to come. It’s a time to ready our hearts and honor God’s gift to us through our Savior, Jesus.
The first Sunday of Advent is on November 27th this year, so some activities and observances will begin then. Daily devotionals traditionally begin on December 1st and end on Christmas Eve or Christmas. Read through the following suggestions for individuals, groups, families and children to find something that works for you. Above all, let’s accept the gift of a slow and meaningful season, rest in God’s promises, and ready ourselves for the wonder of Christmas.
Ideas for Personal, Family, or Small Group Reflection
We love studies and daily readings that keep us close to the Word and guide us toward Jesus. The Bible should always be our primary resource. The gospel of Luke has 24 chapters and tells the story of Christ from the manger to the cross. Consider reading one chapter a day alone or with family, then end your time with a prayer of thanksgiving. Find some of our favorite Bibles here.
Below are studies and devotionals geared towards personal use, but that doesn’t mean you can’t meet with a small group to discuss what you’re learning. We think that’s always a good idea! Some of these resources will work with older children or families. Read our notes about the books and check out our IGTV with Angie and Janell to learn more.
- Author – Ruth Chou Simons
- Timeline – 25 day devotional
- Framework – This devotional includes four weeks of Advent readings. Each day includes a passage of Scripture, a written reflection, a question to ponder, a suggested Christmas song to sing, and a prayer for each day. Ruth’s paintings give it a beautiful aesthetic that families might enjoy, but it’s a fair amount of reading/listening for young children (one to two pages each day).
- Authors – Eryn Kesler & Mary Straker
- Timeline – 4 week study
- Framework – This is an in-depth Bible study that focuses on the first two chapters of Luke. It will help you glean new revelation from the well-known Christmas story and better understand the prophesies, context, and events surrounding Christ’s first coming. Work through the weeks at your own pace to discover character traits of God revealed in both the Old and New Testament while practicing an inductive Bible study method. Do this one on your own or with a group of friends, and be sure to download our free printable Scripture cards that coincide with the study.
- Author – Tsh Oxenreider
- Timeline – 4 weeks of short daily devotionals
- Framework – This is an amazing resource for both personal and family reflection. Drawing from liturgical tradition, Tsh provides a daily Scripture passage, a short reflection, a discussion question, and a simple activity to engage the senses. We love the ample introduction that includes commentary on Advent and additional ideas/resources. Each day is short enough to hold a child’s attention and lends itself to entire family participation.
- Author – Various; edited by Melissa Kruger
- Timeline – 25 daily devotions
- Framework – Each day is about two pages of writing and includes a Bible reading, longer reflection, questions for response/discussion, and a hymn stanza for rejoicing. It’s a great way to hear from different authors. The weeks are structured around traditional Advent themes – hope, peace, joy, love, and faith.
- Author – by Paul David Tripp
- Timeline – 25 day devotional
- Framework – These daily Advent readings are suitable for both individual and family devotions. While some of the daily reflections are longer than others, the stories and themes are captivating enough for young listeners. Each day includes a short activity or follow-up discussion question.
- Author – Sinclair B. Ferguson
- Timeline – 24 day devotional, about 15-20 minutes per day
- Framework – Based on 1 Corinthians 13, this Advent devotional focuses on the transforming love of Jesus. The readings are longer than some of our other recommended resources, so we think they’re more suitable for individual reflection. Each day includes a beautiful prayer and a contemplative questions.
- Author – Asheritah Ciuciu
- Timeline – 4 weeks
- Framework – Asheritah leads readers through the four weeks of Advent with five short daily reflections that focus on that day’s name of Jesus (the Vine, the Lion of Judah, the Bread of Life…). Each week begins with an interactive devotional that may take a little longer. We love the author’s suggestions for fun-filled family activities or service projects and think it would work well for both personal and family worship. If you have younger children, use this alongside Unwrapping the Names of Jesus for Kids.
- Author – Ann Voskamp
- Timeline – 25 days
- Framework – These are long and beautiful readings that lend themselves better to individual reflection or read-aloud with young adults. Ann leads readers through the Old Testament to explore “The Jesse Tree” lineage of Jesus. A family edition is also available, and was a favorite for our own families. Read more about the different variations and accessories below.
Ideas for Families with Younger Children
- Author – Ann Voskamp
- Framework – Ann’s “Jesse Tree” experience was a favorite for all of our families. It became a rich Advent tradition that we looked forward to every year, so we highly recommend it if you have young children at home. What began as an online version is now a vivid book with full-color illustrations and downloadable ornaments. The book includes daily Scripture readings, discussion questions, and meaningful Advent activities. These wooden ornaments are a long-lasting option if you think you’ll make the Jesse Tree a tradition and don’t want to print and laminate the ones from the book. Families with young children may enjoy the interactive Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration. See it in action on our IGTV, along with the beautiful Cradle-to-Cross Wooden Advent Wreath (which can also be used for Lent). Ann has additional suggestions for how to engage your family in rich Advent tradition on her website.
- Author – Nancy Guthrie
- Timeline – 30 days
- Framework – With devotions for every day in December, this resource is suitable for families with kids of all ages and includes a short reflection, discussion questions, and even explanations of some hard-to-understand aspects of popular Christmas carols.
- Author – Marty Machowski
- Timeline – 4 weeks, 3 readings/activities per week
- Framework – This resource includes an excellent introduction to Advent and even has directions for how to create and use your Advent wreath. We love the simple instructions throughout, and think the model of three readings per week could work well for many families. Each of the readings includes discussion questions, a prayer, and an activity.
- Author – Asheritah Ciuciu
- Framework – Geared towards children 5-8 years old, this storybook complements what families will hear and discuss in Asheritah’s family devotional (see above). It’s a theologically rich story and full of engaging illustrations. Find more about how to use this book and other Unwrapping the Names of Jesus resources here.
- Author – Arnold Ytreeide
- Framework – This short novel is part of a 4 storybook series designed to be read over the Advent season. The main characters are all children that endure some peril, so gauge the maturity level of your own family and provide ample time for discussion. We think this is well-suited to 2nd to 3rd graders, but could easily extend beyond that. An audiobook is also available, so consider using it on long drives this holiday season!
- Author – Lisa Whelchel
- Timeline – Activités spanned over the 4 weeks of Advent
- Framework – Young families will enjoy stories and hands-on activities that bring tradition and theology to life. We suggest looking through the book to choose a few of the ideas rather than becoming overwhelmed by trying to do them all. There is an excellent introduction with suggestions for how to use the book, how to create an Advent wreath, when to light the candles, and much more.
A Few More of Our Favorites
- Listen to music – Singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson teamed up with author Russ Ramsey to create Behold the Lamb of God. The music takes listeners through the Christmas story beginning in Genesis, and was a favorite for all of our families. We loved listening to it in the car on all of our seasonal errands and travel. The accompanying book is harder to find right now, but is a great read for adults if you can get your hands on one.
- Use Scripture cards – Memorize or meditate on Scripture alongside friends or family this Advent. We suggest printing these free Scripture cards by artist Anna DeRoos (especially if you’re working through our He Will Advent Bible Study), or purchasing this set by Emily Lex. Both are a simple and beautiful way to incorporate the Word into your daily Advent journey. Post them on a mirror, refrigerator, nightstand, or anywhere else you’ll see them every day. We love the idea of tucking one or two in a note to a friend, or including them in your Advent countdown.
- Make your own Advent wreath – Create your own simple and budget-friendly Advent wreath by purchasing something pre-made and adding your own fresh greens every year. The Advent wreath is traditionally an evergreen wreath with four candles on the outside, each lit on Sundays during Advent readings. Consider adding a pillar candle to the center to light on Christmas. Some variations of the Advent wreath include different colored candles to represent different themes, while others keep the candles a simple white. Follow instructions for lighting the candles in one of the Advent books we shared, or get a quick summary and weekly readings here.
About Our Contributors
Lisa Da Silva
Lisa is a wife, mom of two young adults, and advocate for women to love God with their heart, soul and mind as they engage in responsible study of His Word. As the founder and director of Arise, she writes, speaks, and teaches the Bible to anyone who will read or listen.
Lisa is a teacher by trade and passion, recovering striver, and lover of simplicity. She enjoys thrift store shopping and often has to convince people she’s an introvert. Just a loud one.
Loving Jesus and making Him known really is her everything.
A northwest native, Angie enjoys spending her time cultivating gardens and young minds including her five “free-range” children. She has been a home educator for over a decade, working alongside other mamas to build community for homeschool families. As a lifelong learner you may find her reciting Latin, reading aloud to her children, or applying National Park stickers to her water bottle from her most recent adventure.
Janell is a follower of Jesus, a wife to her best friend David, and a mother to five gifts. She has a heart for women, women’s ministry, and the study of God’s Word. You can find her most days sitting at her farm table schooling her kids, telling punny jokes, and resting in the beauty and grace of her race because of Jesus. She occasionally writes at janellsorensen.wordpress.com.