“Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.… It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Earlier this month the women in my parish’s homeschool group somehow talked me into (or rather cornered me into!) giving a presentation at the November meeting, something I’ve only agreed to once before (The 2015 Rocky Mountain Home Educators Conference), checked it off the bucket list, and said never again! I really love visiting with other moms, but public speaking makes me so incredibly nervous, not to mention life is just so full already… I didn’t have much time to prepare, basically just the day prior, so I ended up starting this month’s presentation with part of my previous talk – “A Little Way of Celebrating the Feasts and Seasons of the Liturgical Year in the Home” – and then followed it up with specific ideas for Advent! I survived the talk, despite my nerves, and hopefully I was able to pass along a little inspiration to some of the families in our parish.
“Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year. It is a season of spiritual preparation, marked by eager longing for the coming of the Saviour through grace at Christmas, and for His second and final coming. It is also an ideal time to establish in our homes liturgical customs which will restore our children to Christ… Secularism has invaded our households. The Bishops of the United States (back in 1954) have warned us that “the Christian must make his home holy–the Christian must realize the Christian ideal.” ….. Children, who love the beauty and simplicity of family religious practices, make the traditions easy to establish. As a rule it is best to begin with one or two customs and add others in years to come.”
The beginning of Advent is determined by St. Andrew’s Day. The Sunday nearest to his feast is always the First Sunday in Advent. If November 30th falls on a Monday through Wednesday, Advent begins the Sunday preceding his feast day, if it falls on Thursday through Saturday Advent begins the Sunday following.
This feast is a name-day (patron saint’s feast day) for one of our boys! Some past treats have included Cross and Fish Cupcakes, Goldfish with Pretzel Rods and Peanut Butter, and Andreasherzen (St. Andrew’s Hearts) from Cooking With the Saints.
Christmas Anticipation Prayer
Beginning on St. Andrew the Apostle’s feast day, November 30, the Christmas Anticipation Prayer (also referred to as the St. Andrew Novena) is traditionally recited fifteen times a day until Christmas. This beautiful meditative prayer helps us increase our awareness of the real focus of Christmas and helps us prepare ourselves spiritually for His coming.
Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.
Imprimatur +MICHAEL AUGUSTINE, Archbishop of New York, New York, February 6, 1897
The Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath is packed with symbolism and is a great way to teach the children about God, Christ and the Christmas season. The round shape stands for God’s eternity. Like God, it has no beginning and no end. The greens used to make the wreath are EVERgreen, and therefore unchanging, just like God. The four candles symbolize the four centuries that man waited for the coming of our Savior. Three of the candles are purple since Advent is a time of penance. It was because of our sinfulness that we needed a Savior, and so we must prepare ourselves through sacrifice and penance during Advent for Christ’s coming at Christmas. However, we know that Christ HAS and IS coming again, and so our penance is a joyful one! We are joyfully anticipating and preparing ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, as well as Christ’s second coming. Therefore, one candle is pink to represent our joy.
At the beginning of Advent my husband blesses the wreath, and leads the prayers each Sunday of Advent as we light each additional candle.
We have two Advent Wreaths in our home. One on the coffee table in the family room which we light during our rosary each evening. Originally we always used a live homemade wreath, but they dried out so quickly (and my husband, being a firefighter didn’t like the potential hazard) so we switched to a wreath from Costco. I bought candle holders at the dollar store and we use pillar candles so they last all of Advent for our family rosaries…
Singing as a family is a great addition to evening prayers during Advent. We always begin with O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Our collection of music for Advent and Christmas also includes:
- Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary
- Advent at Ephesus
- Legends of Nicholas
First Sunday of Advent and our Nativities
On the First Sunday of Advent we set out family Nativity and other nativity sets. We add to our nativity a little each week, beginning Advent with the Stable, Ox, Tree and Pinecones decorations. On the second Sunday the angel, shepherd and lamb are added, on the third Sunday Joseph and Mary arrive, and on the fourth Sunday the wise men start making their way towards the nativity. Baby Jesus is added on Christmas following Midnight Mass!
Candle in the Window – An Old Irish Tradition
Another Advent decoration I wanted to share is our candle in the window. Teresa Zepeda, in her book Celebrating the Faith in the Home, describes the tradition as follows:
With the way things are going this year, it might not be too long before we have to resort to this again…
Preparing our Hearts: Crib & Straw, Christmas Creche
Each Advent, as we prepare for Christmas, the Church individually encourages us to prepare our hearts for a personal and spiritual encounter with Christ. During Advent we are then encouraged to perform good works and increase our prayers and sacrifices.
One method of getting the children involved is to make these acts an offering of love for the Christ Child by adding a piece of straw (or raffia) in a manger for each of their extra prayers, good works, and sacrifices. By preparing their hearts for Christ, they are also preparing the manger scene and a soft place for the Infant Jesus to arrive on Christmas.
At the beginning of Advent we set our manger for Baby Jesus with hay to be added for their good deeds and sacrifices. On Christmas after attending Mass our children place Baby Jesus in the manger they have prepared.
About 8 or 9 years ago we decided to expand on the Christmas Creche tradition by incorporating the Christkindl (Christ Child) tradition which Maria von Trapp shares in her book Around the Year with the Trapp Family. (This book was out print until recently but the complete text was – and still is – available on the EWTN website… Many years ago I printed it out in it’s entirety before finding a used copy on ebay!) Growing up my family enjoyed doing this during Advent, and it was also encouraged at Christendom College when I was a student!
Mrs. Von Trapp explains the tradition much better than I ever could: Read all about it here.
Our children actually just tuck their letters into their shoes on the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas so that he can pick them up and deliver them to the Christ Child!
The Advent Calendar
Every Advent our family counts down the days until Christmas with picture books, Advent Calendars, and the Jesse Tree.
I really love this Advent Calendar but wish I was able to be customized with the correct number of days of Advent each year…
Advent Book Baskets & Spiritual Reading
What IS customizable is our annual Advent Book Basket.
Years ago, when we didn’t have enough Christmas themed picture books to wrap one for each day of Advent, I would check some Christmas books out from the library just before Advent began. We have added many books to our home library since then, giving one Christmas themed book to each of our children on the feast of St. Nicholas, and our collection has definitely grown.
A New Favorite Advent Calendar
The Jesse Tree
The Jesse Tree provides a meaningful way for us to count down the days until Christmas. Moreover, it increases our understanding of this portion of salvation history and is an effective way to prepare spiritually for Christmas.
I can’t remember exactly when I made our Jesse Tree, it was a long time ago, before I had a blog (or a digital camera) and started documenting every craft we make. 😉 It was either in 2003 or 2004, those first few years of our marriage, with three babies in three years, are somewhat of a blur… Anyway, it is around 17 years old now and has been well-loved by my little ones.
My goal, when making the Jesse Tree was to have something that I would be able to use every year, but wouldn’t cost much or require any sewing. I had considered the kit from Leaflet Missal, but even that was out of the question at the time. Since I already had a collection of colored felt, I ended up picking up some blue and green felt from the fabric store for just a few dollars and made my own!
Detailed pictures of each individual ornament can be found on in the archives if you are up for crafting one for your family!
Another option is reading through Amy Steedman’s Read-Aloud Book of Bible Stories (originally published between 1907 and 1922 as The nursery book of Bible stories, republished with minor editorial revisions in 2009 by Sophia Institute Press) and adding in some extra picture books as well!
The Jesse Tree Path
A few years ago I decided to create a path down the center of our table for Advent using the ornaments for each day. The first year was actually just a countdown path out doilies … the next year I incorporated our wooden Jesse Tree Ornaments!
A Jesse “Tea” is another thing we have incorporated a few times over the years, inspired by Alice Guther, with various food items representing different things included on the Jesse Tree!
Feast of St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas’ feast day, on December 6th, is one of the highlights of the Advent season.
Stockings, slippers, or shoes can be placed outside bedroom doors or near the fireplace the night of December 5 with the anticipation of finding a coin purse full of chocolate coins from the kind bishop with his mitre, staff, and bag of gifts!
The story St. Nicholas and the Nine Gold Coins, or other books about the Real Santa Claus, can also be read aloud to and enjoyed by children to give special meaning to this season of preparation for our personal spiritual encounter with Christ.
Every year on December 6th our children wake up to find new slippers (or sometimes as new pair of shoes for winter) filled with little treats, chocolate gold coins, candy canes, and new Christmas books.
- Gold coins, other money or gift certificate representing the money he threw into the window of a poor family’s house.
- Candy Cane to represent his bishop’s staff.
- A toy representing the toys he had commissioned a toymaker to make for poor children.
- Something to represent his devotion to God: a spiritually oriented book, icon, cross, or other object.
- Something to represent the food he would give to the poor (fruit, nuts, gift certificate, etc).
- An item of clothing representing his clothing the poor.
- Something representing the gingerbread he liked to bake and give away.
- Something representing the ship he saved through his prayers.
St. Nicholas Books
Our children (and teens!) have always received a new Christmas book from St. Nicholas, which has helped us build an amazing collection over the last twenty years. It will be so great to pass each of their collections down to them when they eventually start families of their own.
St. Nicholas Coins
St. Nicholas Chocolate Coins make a special treat for the feast of St. Nicholas, symbolizing the gold he gave to provide dowries for the impoverished maidens. Decorate chocolate gold coins with images of this generous saint from the printable document found at Catholic Cuisine, then place the coins in shoes or stockings to be discovered by family and friends on St. Nicholas Day!
St. Nicholas Surprise
Last year we all discovered a bag on the front porch!
The note read: Happy Feast of St. Nicholas! We hope that you will be blessed by our ‘secret’ gift, given to honor the spirit of the day. It is our hope that you will have a blessed Advent and Christmas season. Ho Ho Ho and all of that!
- The Baker’s Dozen :: A Saint Nicholas Tale and Baking Cookies for the Feast!
- St. Nicholas Cookies (made with Nutter Butters)
- St. Nicholas Purse Cookies (pick up a bag of Mint Truffle Kisses is you see it!)
- Speculatius (German Spice Cookies)
- Stamped Shortbread Cookies
St. Nicholas College Edition
It put a huge smile on my face when my boys sent me these pictures from college last year! They set up a fire on their laptop, put out their slippers, and then filled them with the care package I had sent to them, complete with sprinkling chocolates on the floor! I’m so very happy to have them home this Advent. We’ll have this whole Advent season with all nine of our children for the first time!
Feast of St. Ambrose
Legend says that when St. Ambrose was a baby, a swarm of bees flew in the window and clustered around his mouth, indicating that he would grow up to become a famous writer and speaker, one whose words would be as sweet as honey.
Since he is the patron saint of beekeepers, bees, and candlemakers we also start creating our Christmas “Christ Candle” on his feast or on the following day which is the feast of the Immaculate Conception! Sometimes we will wrap it in a blue ribbon for Our Blessed Mother, covering the baby Jesus until Christmas when the ribbon is removed.
Immaculate Conception *HOLY DAY OF OBLIGATION*
After Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception I’ll have some sort of craft for the children –sometimes making homemade Christmas cards or ornaments to gift to their godparents and grandparents.
The special treat for the day is gingerbread. It is baked on this day because it reminds us of the passage in the Book of Sirach, 24:20-21 that describes Mary smelling like spices:
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
A Mexican tradition begins at the break of dawn with the signing of Las Mananitas a la Virgen de Guadalupe followed by Holy Mass. According to tradition, afterwards everyone returns home for feasting and celebration.
Santa Lucia Day
Santa Lucia (St. Lucy) was a young Italian girl who was martyred for her faith in 304 AD. During Advent in Sweden, one of the biggest celebrations is Santa Lucia’s Day originating from the stories told by the holy Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden. Traditionally ‘Lussekatter’, St. Lucia’s Day Buns flavored with saffron and dotted with raisins, are served by a girl dressed in a white dress with a red sash around her waist and a crown of candles on her head.
Here once again I want to remind you to start small! These celebrations will grow organically along with your children!
Santa Lucia Braided Bread
A recipe for Santa Lucia Braided Bread, inspired by the candle-covered crown she is said to have worn to light her way as she brought food to the persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs, can be found at Catholic Cuisine.
On the third Sunday of Advent we read Amy Welborn’s charming picture book which introduces readers to a wonderful Italian tradition that takes place on the Third Sunday of Advent—when children from around the world gather in the piazza of St. Peter’s to present their Baby Jesus to the Pope for his special blessing.
Advent Ember Days
Advent 2020 Ember Days are December 16, 18, and 19.
According to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Missal (1962), the Advent Ember Days are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the third Week of Advent.
Ember Days are three days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) set apart in each of the four seasons for fasting, abstinence and prayer. Tied to the seasonal cycles of farming and harvesting, the purpose of Ember Days is to render thanks to God for the gifts of Creation and to ask His help in using them well. Since 1966, the fasting and abstinence are no longer prescribed but still encouraged.
In Catholic England, there was a verse to help people remember when they fell: “Fasting days and Emberings be Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and [St] Lucie,” and a shorter mnemonic that went: “Lenty, Penty, Crucy, Lucy.”
On these days, Catholics traditionally fast as they would on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, except they are permitted to eat meat as part of the main meal on the Wednesday and Saturday.
Ember Wednesday – Traditional day of partial abstinence
Ember Friday – Traditional Day of fast and abstinence
Ember Saturday – Tradtional Day of Fast and partial abstinence
Additional Advent Activities from Past Years
· Create Advent Lap Books
· Make Advent Candles
· Service Projects – Make Rosaries, etc.
The Great O Antiphons – The Golden Nights
The O Antiphon Prayers are chanted or recited at Vespers, prior to the Magnificat, beginning on December 17th and ending on the 23rd, which is the last Vespers of Advent.
Ever since our oldest children were very little, we have been implementing an old monastic custom in our home by providing special treats, representing each of the “O Antiphons” on the days leading up to Christmas.
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.
O Antiphon Treats
Each night, following 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.
The “treats” have varied from year to year. Some years it has been little gifts or activities for the family, some years it is all food related, and some years it is a mix of both, depending on our schedule and budget. It doesn’t need to cost much or even anything at all! Be creative!
Sometimes the treats are a bit of a stretch, but my goal is try and find gifts that will either help increase our faith (Catechism books, holy family, saints, prayer, etc) or encourage family time (games, puzzles, going to look at Christmas lights, etc). You can find some of our past O Antiphon treats by scrolling through the archives and visiting Catholic Cuisine.
Our family loves this tradition. 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.
In case you are looking for some inspiration, I’ve listed some of the treats I’ve given my family over the years… Special food ideas, activities and gifts (or you can simply decorate chocolate coins!) for each of the O Antiphons can be found in the archives.
A little over ten years ago I made this O Antiphon House, which is a variation on the Advent Houses mentioned in Helen McLoughin’s Advent Family Customs book, to go along with the prayers each day, as we count down these final days of Advent!
The transition from the liturgical season of Advent to the new season of Christmas can be accentuated in our home so that every family member recalls that good works and charity doesn’t end on Christmas Day. The purple and pink Advent candles can be changed to white, or a Christ Candle (white pillar or taper candle) can be inserted in the middle of the wreath and used for evening prayers until the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord which marks the day before Ordinary Time.