If your kids are anything like mine, Advent has less to do with preparing for the arrival of baby Jesus and more to do with the studied preparation of Christmas lists. In an effort to combat an increasingly present-hungry holiday focus, a few years ago we started a Jesse Tree. Every morning, we added a new ornament to our Jesse Tree and read that day’s Bible story, which took us from creation to the birth of Christ. While this reinforced the biblical basis of Christmas, it was still missing the sort of action-based change that could really transform our family as we prepared for Jesus’ birthday.
This year, we’re trying something new. I’m calling it our year of Advent in Action. For the 22 days of Advent, beginning on December 3, our family will explore ways we can actively prepare for Jesus to enter our hearts through works of mercy and social justice. My 8-year-old son took time off from the active curation of his Christmas list to help me curate a list of 25 Advent activities we could perform as a family, so goal number one—take our focus off presents and put it on serving God’s family—has already been accomplished. The activities range from educational inspiration to easy acts of love with most taking no more than five or 10 minutes. Click on the image below to view these activities in a printable calendar.
1. Become “Two Feet of Love in Action.” Our first step is to teach the difference between charity and social justice. It’s a wonderful act to give money or toys to someone in need. It’s a transformative one when we start to ask why the recipient of charity is without in the first place. The USCCB encourages “Two Feet of Love in Action,” which means walking with one foot to remove the root causes of social injustice and with the other foot to meet the basic needs of others. Find a handout here.
2. Read a book that encourages community involvement and social action. Loyola Press created two great books, Green Street Park and Drop by Drop, in conjunction with the USCCB, but the classic Stone Soup is also a great starting point for a conversation about community involvement.
3. Choose and plan out how to achieve one activity from your social justice foot.
4. Read the Beatitudes.
5. Watch this Thai commercial on giving. Ask kids to come up with one thing to add to their day that will make someone else’s life better.
6. Pray a prayer of peace and justice. Here’s one from the Communities of Salt and Light Parish Resource Manual:
7. Choose and address another activity from your social justice foot.
8. Ask someone to play who looks like they need a friend.
9. Read the Corporal Works of Mercy and make a list of ways we can act them out.
10. Engage in a “genius hour.” Once a week, have an hour when kids Google a politically or socially inspirational person. It doesn’t have to be a full hour. Ten minutes is fine. Have them Google Malala Yousafzai or Martin Luther King Jr. and find five interesting facts to report back to you.
11. Watch this video by kids on fair trade and discuss it. If possible, buy a present for someone with a fair trade label.
12. Make snack bags for people at a shelter.
13. Watch “The Race of Life” video and have a conversation about what privilege means.
14. Make cards for people in a nursing home.
15. Choose a socially conscious family movie like Brave Girl or The Lorax to watch together.
16. Participate in a community event. For example, in Fort Wayne, Indiana where we live, an organization called Food Not Bombs puts on a Chase the Chill Scarf Bombing where scarves are tied to trees all over town with notes asking them to be used.
17. Visit the library and bring home books about immigration stories. We Came to America by Faith Ringgold is a good one.
18. Color in a Keep Families Together card (found here) and send it in to Congress.
19. Write a poem in the voice of someone who is struggling because of injustice.
20. Compete in a Social Justice Bible Challenge. In small groups, compete to see who can find scriptural references related to helping the poor and vulnerable.
21. Have a Dorothy Day day. Research Dorothy Day and ask children to come up with one way they can emulate Dorothy Day’s life of helping others.
22. Address one activity from your charity foot.
23. Watch Burger King’s “Bullying Jr.” video together. Make a list of opportunities to stand up for someone who needs support.
24. Do this “Superhero of Justice” activity created by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
25. Pray the Prayer of St. Francis.
Molly Jo Rose’s column, In and Of the World, focuses on finding God's goodness in the darkest places of the world.
Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash