12 Fun Activities for Christian Families Celebrating Jesus during the 12 Days of Christmas
THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS, known as Christmastide, is a unique time of year. (Read all about it in my post here.)
This year, I had planned to write about the Advent season, but it came too quickly. Instead, I jumped ahead to a season I had not yet explored much, and I was thrilled by it.
Christmastide is a time to turn our attention from preparing for the King to celebrating the arrival of the King. We begin with the still, dark night on Christmas Eve but quickly switch gears to the light that has dawned…
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isa 9:2)
The following Christmastide family activities and traditions are primarily based on light – the light of Christ, and the light of the Bethlehem star, which led the wise men to Jesus.
Fun fact: Did you know that some scholars believe the star was an angel? According to what we know about angels and stars, an angel is more likely. The Bible refers to angels as “stars” in Scripture (Rev 12:4), and it is possible the star was only visible to the wise men who were seeking Jesus. Furthermore, the star did not seem to behave like a normal star, such as how it rested atop the place where the child stayed. That’s amazing to think about!
May you and yours enter the Christmas season this year star-led and wonder-bound.
1 | Go Stargazing
This is always a fun activity, and it may become even more interesting on a cold winter’s night. You probably won’t be able to stay out very long if you live in the northern regions of the US like I do, but the night sky in the winter can be very clear and beautiful. Just have some hot chocolate at the ready for when you come back!
There are many learning opportunities for this activity, too. Not only are you explaining to the kids that the wise men would have been individuals who studied the stars (and you can imagine together what the Star of Bethlehem may have looked like), but also you can remember that God told Abraham He would make his descendants as numerous as the stars. How can that be? Jesus came for the whole world, and the Bible tells us that all those who trust Him become Abraham’s children, too. (Gal 3:6-9)
To see what constellations are in the sky for the month, go to NASA’s printable star maps here.
To see what planets are currently visible, go to Timeanddates.com’s Interactive Night Sky Map here.
2 | Make a Treasure Hunt
Treasure hunts are a joy to plan for children. The options are limitless! You could do a scavenger hunt using items that recall the Christmas story, such as nativity pieces, coins for gold, pretty smelling candles for frankincense and myrrh. Or, get extra creative and make a map complete with clues at various locations. The reward could be chocolate gold coins or other "treasure." For older kids, you could include finding verses in the Bible as part of the tasks or clues.
If you don’t want to make your own treasure hunt, here are some great free ones from Bible Games Central.
The Bible tells us that finding Jesus is a matter of the heart. It is only if we seek with our hearts (Jer 29:13) that we will find Him, and He is the most precious treasure. (Matt 13:44)
The wise men that went looking for the King Jesus understood the great treasure they sought. They had read and believed the Word of God. They knew Jesus’ worth and that is why they left their homes to find Him. They wanted to humble themselves and worship Him. They also obeyed God more than man, which is why they did not report back to King Herod where they had found Jesus. They were very wise, indeed!
3 | Do the King Cake Tradition
The King Cake that is usually associated with Mardi Gras is actually an Epiphany thing, which explains the tradition. The circular cake, decorated with the royal colors of purple, gold, and green for “justice,” resembles a jeweled crown honoring the wise men, who could have been kings. This is also why a tiny baby is baked into the cake.
The tradition of the king cake dates back hundreds of years to France, but baking a baby into the cake was not common until the 1800s. Traditionally, whoever gets the piece of cake with the baby is a King or Queen for the day, and it is said they will have good luck and prosperity that year. That is also why they are to provide the king cake for the next year.
The “luck” part of this tradition is superstitious, but the king-or-queen-for-the-day could be a lot of fun!
Note that Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” which has become known as the day before Ash Wednesday. The official season of Mardi Gras begins on Epiphany and ends on Ash Wednesday – this is also the official season of Epiphany on the church calendar. Ash Wednesday is the official beginning of the Lenten season on the church calendar, which is also a time of fasting. That is why merrymakers began to binge rich, fatty foods in the weeks leading up to Lent. Thus, the origin of today’s Mardi Gras, or Carnival.
If you are not from a liturgical church, the pieces may be coming together for you. After the Christmas season, which celebrates the arrival of Jesus, we enter into the season of Epiphany, which features the revelation of Jesus to the world. We learn about His life and ministry. Then comes Lent, a special season of reflection leading to commemorating Jesus’ death and burial. This is followed by Easter, celebrating His resurrection. Fifty days later is Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit arrived. Ta-da! (The remainder of the church year is called Ordinary Time.)
4. Other Star Traditions
To bring focus to the Star of Bethlehem and the progression of the Christmas story beyond Christmas Day, you might begin any number of new starry traditions. For some examples, bake star-shaped cookies or make star crafts with small children, and share the goods with others.
A more elaborate, beautiful and festive craft is a paper star lantern, such as those from the Indian Christmas tradition. Across India, Christian families, making up less than 3% of the population, craft these lanterns to represent God’s light. Here is a pattern for an Indian Christmas star from World Vision.
Next, you could wait to place your star atop your Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, adding special significance. Since we are on our way to Epiphany now, the wise men are on their journey!
Along these lines, perhaps the kids could be permitted to sleep by the lit Christmas tree during these nights, like the wise men camping out under the stars on their journey.
Finally, if you want get ambitious and organize an event at church or elsewhere, nothing depicts the arrival of kings and their entourage like a parade! Three Kings Parades are held around the world. Imagine the colorful costumes, shining crowns, waving banners, and bobbing stars on poles marching down the street. It could become an amazing evangelism event for the community.
5 | Symbolize the Light of Jesus
The light has come into the world. It was a very big light indeed, but perhaps symbolically it started small (like a baby) and became brighter and brighter. The baby Jesus grew, and with a ministry heralded by John the Baptist, the light of God began to spread. It would burst across continents with the coming of the Holy Spirit, and one day, the whole world would hear it.
During Christmastide is a good time to focus on the light that now burns within each of us. If you have been using an Advent wreath at home, keep the Christ candle burning throughout the 12 days of Christmas. Or, you could bring out special lights for the winter to look like stars and represent the light that burns in your home despite the darkness around.
Additionally, children could be given small, personal light sources to be nightlights for these dark days. Then as Easter begins to approach and so does the end of winter, the symbolic lights are no longer needed. The light has become so bright and the days are lengthening, representing that Jesus’ light went out and is doing what it was meant to do – bringing many sons and daughters to glory, including us.
6 | Have Traditional Christmastide Treats
The history of Christmastide food would need its own post. What I mean by traditional Christmastide treats here is staples you choose for your own family for the season. Keep these snacks or drinks something special and unique to this time, just like gingerbread may be something unique to the weeks leading up to Christmas in your home.
Some suggestions may be indoor smores on the fireplace fire, King Cake (see #3), egg nog, wassail, or a special punch.
7 | Give Away Lightly Used Toys or Clothing
Now that the Christmas gifts have been unwrapped, it’s time to share the blessings! Consider having the kids go through their lightly used toys and clothing to make room for their new gifts. Giving these items to charities or directly to the needy is a good visual to teach spiritual truth. God has blessed us, and we are not to hoard blessings. We are to turn around and bless others.
8 | Do a Building Project Together
We know that the occupation of Jesus’ earthly father Joseph was that of a carpenter, and there is evidence that Jesus would have been his apprentice. Therefore, what better visual for reflecting on Jesus’ humanity and His possible childhood than working with wood?
A wood craft project is a fun activity that can 1) occupy time while the kids are still home from school, 2) be something special kids can do with parents, 3) teach both practical skills and spiritual lessons.
Think about an item that would either add beauty or functionality to daily life, such a bird house/feeder so Gramma can watch the birds, a napkin holder, a new mail box, etc.
A tip: A kit with the instructions and materials could be a family gift opened on Christmas Day.
9 | Make Family Devotional Time Special
Set apart the 12 days of Christmas as a really special season to reflect on the meaning of Christ's arrival. Make a point to do family devotional time together, and make it a memorial experience. You could use candlelight, or allow the kids to stay up later. Maybe bring out a special Bible – such as an old family Bible. Maybe incorporate a special food treat, or give each person a special job – someone gets to pray, someone gets to find the verses in the Bible, etc.
10 | Have Fun with Light and Dark Games and Activities
In keeping with the theme of the wise men seeking Jesus, continue introducing parallels from activities to teach the concepts of the light of God compared to sinful deeds of the darkness, and the necessity to seek Jesus.
A simple game for even young children is to hide-and-seek a light source. Turn out the lights and have the kids look for a hidden electric tea light or glow stick, etc. Alternatively, give the kids each a light source, have them hide, and let a seeker try to find them.
A board game suggestion I have is one of my favorite gifts that I gave a nephew one year – “Shadows in the Forest” play-in-the-dark board game for kids eight and up.
For more glow in the dark game ideas, check out these ones from Christian Camp Pro.
You could add another fun twist to Christmastide – no electricity after a certain time in the evening! This would reinforce our appreciation of light, and it would be an interesting test of resourcefulness. The actual visual of darkness, or less light, can help you teach many biblical concepts, such as that people cannot see where they are going in darkness, but light is available in Christ. (John 12:35) Or, the Bible is a light to our path. (Ps 119:105)
Have a few activities planned to help ease the kids from their electronic devices. With some glow in the dark paint and a black light, creative possibilities abound. (Here's a glow-in-the-dark slime recipe from Elmer's.)
I also found this neat puzzle by Peaceable Kingdom, “Gnomes at Night.” Once your puzzle is completed, you use the included black light to find hidden objects in the picture. The kids could do the puzzle during the day and look for the secret items later in the evening.
11 | The King’s Lantern
A lantern is the perfect Christian symbol for Christmastide just like the nativity or Advent wreath have become Christian symbols leading up to Christmas. This idea is based on Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
A regular lantern, painted white or gold, or white with gold (the church colors for the Christmas season) can appear in your home or on your porch at Christmas Eve and be a staple feature for the duration of the 12 days of Christmas. Put inside it your Christ candle from your Advent wreath or another white light. The light symbolizes the light that has come into the world. Those with a King’s lantern are declaring the light is in their home. As a child of light, the light of Christ also lights our path, and we will take it into the darkness with us wherever we go.
The King’s Lantern can be an evangelism tool in that you have an opportunity to tell about the light when anyone asks what the lantern is all about!
12. The Three Gifts Tradition
On Epiphany Eve, give a gift, or three.
In the past, Christmas gift-giving happened on Epiphany to commemorate the wise men giving gifts to Jesus. It now mostly happens prior to or on Christmas Day. However, some families like to stick to the three gifts per child concept, symbolic of the three different items given to Jesus (gold, frankincense and myrrh).
Whether or not you save some gifts for your kids for Epiphany, or you incorporate a new tradition to give gifts to others as a family for Epiphany, Jesus said that whatever we do for others, we do for Him. Therefore, as the wise men each gave a gift to Jesus, we can in this way give Him a gift, too.
Epiphany comes at last. The new season is upon us. Now that we have spent so much time focusing on the light, we understand that it has gone out into the world. It is now time to teach the children about the ministry of Jesus.
To impress this further, a good children’s book for the winter is C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When Aslan shows up, the winter begins to melt until it is nearly gone, and the witch’s power weakens by the moment.
Lent will be upon you before you know it. But perhaps this year, you will not be disappointed (like I have been in the past) by Easter coming and going without much change in your heart. For when you have your mind on Christ all the year through, and you’re shining your light, and teaching those kids, He becomes that much more beloved to you every day, and the story that you know so well is still just as powerful in your life as it ever was.
God bless you!
Meg Grimm is a Christian writer on a mission to bring the wonder and truth of fairy tales and folklore into modern life from a biblical perspective. She has authored several faith-based books exploring folk medicine.
“What was the Star of Bethlehem?” Accessed Dec 2022: https://www.gotquestions.org/star-of-Bethlehem.html
“A Kid’s Guide to Stargazing.” American Museum of Natural History Ology: Science Website for Kids. Accessed 22 Dec 2022: https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/astronomy/a-kids-guide-to-stargazing
“How the King Cake Tradition Began – and Why There’s a Plastic Baby.” VanSchmus, Emily. Better Homes & Gardens, 11 June 2022. Accessed 22 Dec 2022: https://www.bhg.com/holidays/mardi-gras/baby-in-king-cake-tradition/