The Advent Prayer Grab Bag

Traditional Advent activities include Advent wreaths, calendars, and Jesse trees. While these are all great ways to help children celebrate the season, I like using something different: the Advent prayer grab bag.

Advent grab bag

The prayer grab bag takes its inspiration from the popular party game of grab bags. I ask my group if anyone has ever participated in a grab bag and invite someone who has to explain the tradition of bringing one gift to a group event and then having the opportunity to choose and go home with a gift someone else brought. There are many variations on how to run a grab bag, but those details aren’t important for this activity.

After we’re clear on what a grab bag is, I tell the group we’re going to have one for our classroom, but with a twist. Instead of bringing material gifts for each other, we’ll be pulling prayer intentions and praying for each other throughout Advent. This is a multi-week activity, and to get us started, I come with a gift bag filled with purple slips of paper, each with a prayer intention. By starting with pre-written intentions, the children get an idea of how to write an intercessory prayer. Some of the intentions I have used include:

  • Jesus, we pray today for all those who are hungry in our world.
  • Lord, help us to live in peace with one another.
  • God, help us to open our hearts and our lives to people in need.
  • Spirit of God, be with the children of this parish who will celebrate their First Reconciliation soon.
  • For all who will be traveling this holiday season, that their visits with family and friends will be safe, renewing, and life-giving.
  • For our families, that we observe this season of waiting and hope by preparing together for the coming of Jesus.
  • For my religious education classmates, that we may all grow closer to Jesus this Advent season.

I invite each student to choose one piece of paper from the bag and then keep that intention in prayer throughout that week. Then we take a few moments to write intentions for the next week’s grab bag. I collect those intentions and add them to the bag for the next session. We start this activity on the last session before Advent and keep pulling prayers from the grab bag until we break for Christmas. The grab bag is kept on our prayer table through the season.

A few hints from my experience using this activity:

  • Have a few extra prayer slips with intentions ready in case attendance varies week to week, so everyone has a slip.
  • Take a slip as the catechist and participate with the students in this activity.
  • Tell young people that they need not be specific about people and personal issues in this format. Using initials to protect identities is fine.

This activity fits in easily with whatever the assigned lesson of the day and is a simple lesson on the gift of prayer and how that’s one gift we can give to all people.

Have you done any Advent activities other than the traditional Advent wreaths, calendars, and Jesse trees? How do you bring young people to a better understanding of Advent?

About Denise Gorss 115 Articles
Denise Gorss is a catechist with more than 20 years experience, mostly in junior high. She appreciates the gifts of Ignatian spirituality and likes sharing various types of prayer with the young people in her groups. She enjoys seeing the world on pilgrimages and lives in the Chicago area, where she works as Web Editor at Loyola Press.


  1. Denise, I like how you model for young people how to write intercessions by providing examples the first week. Kids really need this kind of prompting.

    • Yes, Joe. Even with the examples, some of the intercessions don’t fit the typical model, but if the prayers are from the heart, that’s what matters.

    • Cindy, I’ve never used this technique with a group that young, so please let us know how it goes with your second graders.

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