Preparing for Advent :: O Antiphon Gifts

by | Nov 30, 2012 | Advent and Christmas, O Antiphons | 21 comments

Ever since our oldest children were very little, we have been implementing an old monastic custom in our home of providing special treats, representing each of the “O Antiphons,” on the days leading up to Christmas.  Each night, after our family rosary, we pray the O Antiphon for the day, sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel (which was inspired by this ancient tradition), and then give the children a special treat.    Some years it has been little gifts for the family, some years it is all food related, and some years it is a mix of both.   You can see some of my past posts from 2007-2011 by scrolling through the archives and visiting Catholic Cuisine.

The picture above is from last year, but I have this year’s gifts set aside or ordered, and I plan to wrap them soon (in gold wrapping paper for these “Golden Nights”), attaching the various O Antiphon Ornaments from Jesse Tree Treasures to each package.  We’ll pull out our O Antiphon House and (since I don’t have any plans to deliver a baby this Advent!) I will probably include some extra treats at mealtimes as well.

The Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one – Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia – the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.” So the “O Antiphons” not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.

The O Antiphon Prayers begin on December 17th and end on the 23rd, which is the last Vespers of Advent, since the evening prayer on the 24th is the Vigil of Christmas.  Our family just loves this little tradition, and it is such a fun way to teach the children about these beautiful prayers of the church and also increase their excitement as Christmas gets closer!  Here are the treats that I choose for this year:

.: December 17th :.
O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!

Since the symbol for wisdom is a book, I often choose a new Catholic Book for our family.  This year I happened to run across this beautifully illustrated book at our local Catholic Book Store. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion and plan to wrap it up for the first of the O Antiphons this year!

In past years we have given the children Around the Year: Once Upon a Time Saints, the beautiful A Catholic Child’s Picture Dictionar, Novena: The Power of Prayer, new children’s prayer books for Mass, and a craft kit to make Christmas Bookmarks.     

.: December 18th :.
O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!

We usually emphasize the word “house” in this Antiphon, and have made our Gingerbread Houses or Gingerbread Cookies on this night.   We have given the kids a fun new Gingerbread House Cookie Cutter, Gingerbread Houses and Mini Village Kits.  We have also roasted marshmallows over a fire, drawing from the reference to “Moses in the burning bush.”

This year I totally am streaching it and giving the kids the Little House on the Prairie DVD.  My husband had bought it for me when it first came out (it was $29 back then and now it’s only $4.99!!) and we all enjoyed it so much!  Years ago we lost one of the (two) DVD’s and it’s just not the same watching only half the movie.   The kids are going to be so excited! 

.: December 19th :.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.

I couldn’t decide between this set of 12 Red Glitter Poinsettia Ornaments and Miracle of the Poinsettia, so I ended up purchasing both (and wrapping them together) for this year’s O Root of Jesse Antiphon gift.

In the past I have purchased our Poinsettia Plant for Christmas, new books including The Legend of the Poinsettia and The Miracle of the First Poinsettia, baked Poinsettia Cupcakes, made recipes with root vegetables including Hearty Beef Stew and Carrot Cake, given the kids Old Fashioned Root Beer Drops or served Root Beer.

.: December 20th :.

O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

Since this is initially a monastic tradition, and on this night, the monk in charge of the wine cellar would provide a special bottle of wine. We usually always serve a special drink with dinner. Sometimes I also serve a Key Lime Pie as well! Last year I purchased a couple key hook rails from Target to use to hang our Rosaries!

This year Charlotte almost talked my into buying this awesome puzzle, but since I had already purchased Key Puzzle/Brainteaser!

.: December 21st :.
O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!

I love wooden stacking toys!!! And I think the kids do too! 😉  We already have the Rainbow, Fire, Water Waves, Stone Cave, and the Little Flower Wooden Stacker.  Rose will be receiving the Wooden Fairy Tale Village and Bud will be receiving the Stacking Birds for either Christmas or on their birthdays!  When I ran across this set of blocks, I immediately thought it would be a perfect gift for this O Antiphon!

Other past ideas include a surprise trip to town (complete with mugs of Cocoa) to view Christmas Lights,  decorating our own house or tree with Christmas lights, eating “O Dayspring Ice Cream,” and adding the Kurt Adler 10-Light Candle with Gold Dish Light Set to our Christmas Tree!

.: December 22nd :.
O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!

Earlier this year I finally ordered one of the beautiful sets of Three Kings Gifts! Every Christmas the kids put together a Christmas Play for their Daddy & I, and these will make such a fun and beautiful addition to their usual props!  

Other years we have made Crowns, added a “King” puppet to our puppet collection, baked a Crown Cake and/or Cookies, added the King of the Golden City CD to our collection, and assembled the Three Kings Puzzle.

.: December 23rd :.

O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!

For the last of this year’s O Antiphons I ended up purchasing the beautiful 500-Piece Stained Glass Jigsaw Puzzle.

In the past the children have been given special Holy Cards or Coloring Books, including the beautiful Eucharistic Adoration: With Saints And Symbols Of The Eucharist Coloring book, added various Children’s Nativity Sets to our collection, made a Chocolate Nativity Scene, and received the Holy Family Puzzle with a lovely embroidered Mass bag from Catholic Embroidery.

And, as I mentioned last year, you can listen to the O Antiphons beautifully chanted in Latin here or purchase the CD An Advent Processions Based on the Great O Antiphons.  And don’t forget the quick and easy O Antiphon Chocolate Coins, if you’d like a simple treat for each day!  

Now that I have this checked off my list, it’s time to wrap up this year’s Advent and Christmas Books!   I’m planning on sneaking in a few new ones (like this brand new Good King Wenceslaus) which I happened to discover (and couldn’t resist purchasing) while I was out shopping last Friday!


  1. Lena

    inspiring, as always. i'll be brainstorming some more for simple and FREE ways to celebrate the o antiphons. thanks for the ideas. prayers for a blessed lent.

  2. Jessica Gordon

    In past years, when I needed to keep the treats to a minimal cost, I always tied in food or extra fun activities after dinner. It might be a little more difficult with your special diet, but between the two posts on Catholic Cuisine, maybe you can find some ideas that will work for your family.

  3. Julie

    I would like to start this tradition too, but we don't have a budget for gifts. Maybe we will read them and I can look for free coloring pages for Bella to color each day.

  4. Sarah

    I always admire your thoughtful ideas surrounding the "O" Antiphons, Jessica! I was just working on some Advent plans, so this is perfect timing … When do you begin planning for Advent? It is obviously much sooner than me 😉 I love the wrapped gifts with the attached Jesse Tree Treasures ornaments! I can't wait to use mine again this year … Angie's company was recently featured in our local Catholic newspaper, and I was privileged enough to be interviewed for the article! 😉 Thought you'd appreciate that … I will email you the link.

  5. Maxine

    What a great idea! Thank you for sharing.

  6. Jessica Gordon

    I think I have O Antiphon coloring pages linked in my "Links for Advent Planning" post from last year… Yep! Here's the direct link to the coloring pages on O Night Divine.

    I love wrapping up the gifts for the kids to open each night now – which started as an alternative to our previous mix of food and activities since our last two babies were due on Christmas and ended up arriving right before and during the O Antiphon days!

    However, had that not been the case I probably would have just stuck with extra food themed treats! You can find some of our past favorites over at Catholic Cuisine: O Antiphons :: Incorporating an Old Monastic Tradition in the Home

    I really need to stop expanding on all our Advent Traditions… Especially with two birthdays to celebrate during Advent now! 🙂

  7. Jessica Gordon

    I usually don't (officially) do much planning until after our All Hallows' Eve Party, so sometime in the beginning of November. Although, I do watch for gifts (birthday and Christmas) all year, especially when I run across a great sale. Some years I am better at preparing than others, and I am always so grateful during those years that I have everything ready ahead of time and can just enjoy the seasons of Advent and Christmas, without having to worry about shopping, etc. I still have quite a few things to finish, but this past week was so busy with hosting Thanksgiving and co-hosting a Baby Shower. I was very glad that Thanksgiving was early and Advent was starting late this year! 🙂

    And that is so great, about the article on Jesse Tree Treasures! I'd love to see it!!

  8. Lindsay Boever

    Thank you for all you do to keep the Catholic culture alive and strong. You have such an important apostolate here on your blog. Thank you for doing the foot and ground work for some many important feasts. May God reward your time.

  9. Jacqui

    HI Jessica! Thanks for yet another inspiring post! Help me out, can you send me to a link where this tradition is explained? you see, I grew up Catholic but wasn't really taught my faith (oops!) which is one reason we're homeschooling our kids, to teach them the faith =)
    O Antiphons are totally new to me, it sounds like a lovely tradition, and I want in 😉

  10. Jessica Gordon

    The seven "O Antiphons" are prayers that come from the Breviary's Vespers during the Octave before Christmas Eve, a time which is called the "Golden Nights."

    Back in 2007 I quoted an article from Catholic Culture which explains them as "the seven jewels of our liturgy, dating back to the fourth century, one for each day until Christmas Eve. These antiphons address Christ with seven magnificent Messianic titles, based on the Old Testament prophecies and types of Christ. The Church recalls the variety of the ills of man before the coming of the Redeemer."

    Catholic Culture also explains that:

    Beginning on December 17, as the final phase of preparation for Christmas, the Church recites or chants the O Antiphons preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours.

    The O Antiphons express the Church's longing and expectation for the Messiah, her startled wonderment at the fullness of grace which the Christ-Child is about to bestow on the world. Their theme is the majesty of the Savior, His wisdom, His faithfulness and sanctity, His justice and mercy, His covenant with His chosen people, who in their ingratitude broke faith with Him. They are concerned with His power and love as King and Redeemer of the world, His relation to every soul as Emmanuel, God-with-us. (With Christ Through the Year by Bernard Strasser)

    I was inspired by Florence Berger, author of (the out of print) Cooking for Christ, to start implementing this tradition in our home. Here is a quote from her book:

    Another old custom which we revived is giving family treats. In the monasteries long years ago, the different monks furnished extra treats on these days before Christ's birthday. The gardener gave the community some of his finest dried or preserved fruits on December 19 when he called on Christ: "O Root of Jesse, come to deliver us and tarry not." The cellarer unlocked the best wine or his treat as he called: "Oh Key of David, come, and come quickly." Finally, on December 23, the abbot gave his extra gift to the brothers. Expense accounts which are still extant show how generous and extensive a list of foods were used on the abbot's "O day."

    Each one in our family keeps his gift a deep, dark secret until supper time. We begin with the smallest child. Her treat may be only a graham cracker for dessert. Freddie cracked and picked some black walnuts for us. All the pounding didn't give it away because little boys are so often pounding. Ann made some Advent wreath cookies and used up all the cinnamon drops for decoration — on the cookies, her face and her fingers. Mary made a big casserole of baked beans and we couldn't quite decide whether she was treating herself or the family. Finally, it was mothers turn, and then, at last, father's turn to produce something really outstanding. At dessert time father rose from the table without a word, put on his hat and coat without a smile and left us sitting at the table with our mouths open in amazement. After five minutes which seemed like hours, he stamped back into the house — with a big bowl of snow ice cream. The squeals of delight would have pleased an abbot.

    Up until now I have been choosing all the gifts/treats for the family, but soon (maybe next year) I want to start having each of the children help with one of the O Antiphons!

    I hope that helps! 🙂

  11. Jacqui

    Thanks Jessica! I knew I could count on you 😉 I'm totally doing the treats with the kids! God bless you! and (lovingly) go to bed, it's late enough for you =)

  12. T

    What a great post 🙂 I wrapped all but our new Christmas books (which the children will get on St. Nicholas feast day) this evening. I managed to find purple and pink paper at the dollar store! I love the idea of this tradation and I am definitely going to see about including it as part of.our advent.

    I asked on the post you wrote about the St. Christopher book but thought I would ask here too, in case you didn't see it there. My husband is deploying in February and we will be invoking St. Christopher to watch over him and I was wanting to get a book for the children so they can learn more about the saint we are praying to ask to look after and keep their daddy safe. Do you think the book you posted about would be to old/advance for preschoolers? Thanks

  13. Jessica Gordon

    Good for you! And great job finding paper at the dollar store!

    I've been meaning to answer your comment, but I've fallen really behind with answering emails again, and have started with the most recent, so I'm glad you asked again! 🙂

    My Kindergartner did enjoy listening to the Saint Christopher book. If you'd like to preview it you can listen to an audio version here: Christopher Part 1 and Christopher – Conclusion You can also preview the pages of the book on the publisher's website.

  14. Jessica Gordon

    If you think it might be too advanced (it might be for even younger children) Christopher The Holy Giant by Tomie dePaola would be another good option. We own it as well, however when I just clicked over to get the link it looks like it is out of print. 🙁

  15. mel

    We started the O Antiphons I think three years ago? Such a fun way to count down those final days to Christmas! Don't be put off by the cost factor…I'm sure Jessica can attest, and it is the same in my house, these things are accumulated over the years. And some years are leaner, certainly.I was telling a friend the other day that our first jesse tree consisted of cardstock ornaments and a branch from the backyard. 🙂 That's what we used for years! Your children don't care how fancy anything is. Our O lineup…

    Night 1- this is when our kids get new Advent/Christmas books for the year…often purchased used throughout the year from my wishlist.

    Night 2- We have a gingerbread house making party…we have used kits in the past, but I think my kids' favorite way has been to make graham cracker houses, put out a mess of frosting and decorations, and just let them make a big ole mess. 🙂 The kits are probably cheaper though,,,buying all the candy separately that they like to decorate with gets expensive!

    Night 3- we read Legend of the Poinsettia this day and go buy our poinsettias. We also start our amaryllis bulb on this night and watch it grow the rest of the season. I am eyeing those poinsettia cupcakes this year as well. 🙂

    Night 4- key lime pie…my oldest's favorite dessert. 🙂

    Night 5- Christmas lights drive with cocoa.

    Night 6- some kind of crown cakes..easiest is plain cupcakes with mini hershey kisses around the outside.

    Night 7- We unwrap a new piece to our nativity set on this night. We are slooowwwly replacing my old ceramic mostly held-together with superglue nativity with expensive pieces from a better set. I buy one new piece each year. 🙂 I like the coloring book idea though too. I am thinking of making the starlight cookies from catholic cuisine on this night this year.

    Thank you for all your ongoing ideas! Most of what we do I think has come from you, lol!

  16. T

    Thanks I will check out those links 🙂 maybe I can find a used copy of the dePaola book

  17. Anonymous

    Hello Jessica~ I so very much enjoy your wonderful posts especially for Advent and Christmas. I just found this wonderful old story about Christmas Cookie Cutters that I thought that you would enjoy doing with your sweet children. I thought of your blog and your family when I read the story this afternoon. I fell in love with this idea and I hope to share this new tradition with my grandchildren. Sincerely, Debbie

    Cookie Cutters Tell the
    Story of Christmas
    By Iris Hammett, written in the 1940’s
    (Published in the Mansfield News Journal)

    It is a story, as suggested by cookie cutters, which are familiar to the
    younger generation
    both for their utilization purpose in shaping sweets and as playthings for toddlers.
    This is their message as interpreted by Mrs. Iris Hammett.

    The oven is heated, the dough is made, and the kitchen table is spread with an
    array of cookie cutters.
    But theses are not just ordinary cookie cutters, for they have a story to tell.

    Three anxious little faces look on with great anticipation of receiving a sweet
    morsel when it is baked. Their dark eyes glisten as they listen to the story
    of the Christ child as each cutter tells his part.

    First, we make an angel, for it was an angel who came to Mary
    and told her that she would have a baby boy and should call his name
    Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins.

    Second, we make a donkey, for it was a little donkey that Mary rode
    into Bethlehem where the baby Jesus was to be born.

    Third, we cut a star for the star that shone in the East to guide the Shepherds
    to where they would find the Baby Jesus. The wise men had seen this star in the East
    and knew it told of the birth of the Savior.

    Fourth, we cut more angels for the angels who sang Glory to God
    in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
    The angels also brought the good news to the shepherds
    as they watched their sheep during the night.

    So we make candy cane cookies to represent the shepherd’s staff.

    Fifth, we make a camel because the wise men traveled over many miles of
    sandy desert on camels that they might find the young child.

    Then we come to some of the cookie cutters which we can’t find in the Bible,
    but which have wonderful meaning by which we tell God’s love for us.

    We make a wreath for it is round and has no end,
    even as God’s love has no end. He gave to us eternal life which has no end.
    We think of the wreath being made of evergreen and so we frost it green.
    The evergreen is a symbol of the eternal life which Christ bought for us on Calvary.

    Then comes the Christmas tree, again an evergreen tree,
    the symbol of everlasting life. It stays green winter and summer as no other tree.
    It tells of the love of Christ which goes on and on, and of the eternal life
    which he gives us if we believe in him as our Savior.

    And last of all we make the bells, for the bells ring out the glad news
    that a savior is born this day in the City of David.

    And so, as we bake our Christmas cookies, we see the story of the Savior's birth
    and purpose in our lives.
    What a wonderful way to gather the little ones around and tell them of God’s love for us.
    As we roll and cut the dough and mold it into shape,
    we tell over and over the story that never grows old.

    Then breathe a little prayer that we are molding young and pliable lives,
    minds, and hearts into the right form, that they might come to
    know and love this Christ that was born on Christmas Day.

    My prayer is that my children shall never forget the cookie cutters
    and the story they told of Jesus, His birth and purpose.
    Thus we keep Christ in Christmas even with the cookie cutters.

  18. Jessica Gordon

    I made it back in 2009! Here's the link to that post: O Antiphon House

    I bought the supplies at Michaels. With a 40%-50% off coupon, it ends up being really inexpensive to make!

  19. Jessica Gordon

    How neat! Thank you for taking the time to share this with me! I'm going to print it out and hopefully do this with the kids this year. 🙂

  20. Jessica Gordon

    Great plan, Mel! Thanks for sharing!! Have a blessed Advent! 🙂


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