It’s that time of year again, folks. Everyone’s busy, but cheerful, and the radio stations are playing nothing but Christmas songs even though it’s not Christmas yet.
But it’s December 1st, surely “Christmas Season” has begun, right?
NO! Traditionally, the four weeks before Christmas day have always been Advent, a Christian liturgical season of penitential preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ as well as for His second coming.In the Catholic Church, we can see evidence of Advent in the priests purple or rose colored vestments, the lighting of the Advent candles, special readings leading up to the birth of Christ, and an empty manger scene. Click here to read more about why Advent is so important to Christians.
Advent can be tricky because all kinds of celebrations are happening all around our kids. Holiday dance recitals, 25 Days of Christmas movies, the Christmas singing program at school, and school Christmas parties all occur during Advent. They see all the decorations and TV programs and hear the Christmas music and obviously assume it’s time to celebrate. That’s what makes this season of anticipation harder for parents to navigate.
Here are 10 things we can do this Advent to prepare our own hearts and our childrens’ hearts for His coming:
1. Light an Advent wreath. If you don’t have one, most parishes sell them this time of year, they can be ordered online, or you can make your own. This creates a special place for daily Advent prayers and shows the progression of the weeks as each candle is lit.
2. Get an Advent calendar. I’ve seen Advent calendars that have a daily ornament, chocolate, beer, Lego figures, toys, pretty much anything. This is especially fun for the kids to be able to countdown to Christmas and ups the anticipation as each door is opened.
3. Set up a Nativity scene at home. Most of us have a Nativity set (or several) packed with our Christmas decorations, and now is the time to get it out and set it up in a prominent place in your home. The trick with this is to take the Christ child away until Christmas morning. I’ve had my Nativity set for years, and I place a pregnant Mary, which is a figure that matches that I already had in place of Mary holding baby Jesus until Christmas morning when they “magically” appear. If placed on a table top, it can be a place for prayer and reading the bible or other religious books.
thejessetree 4. Set up a Jesse Tree. The tradition of the Jesse tree goes back hundreds of years. According to LoyolaPress.com, “We adorn a Jesse tree with illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history.” It’s a fun daily tradition that will get you reading a little bit of the bible every day. This will really help adults and kids especially to understand the connections that led to the birth of Christ. I am making these ornaments from ShiningLightDolls.com, which are easy and adorable, and they conveniently have the readings right there on the download. Print the symbols, glue them to these wooden ornament circles http://amzn.to/2gB2G7X , and enjoy journeying through the Jesse Tree this Advent with your family!
5. Receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. This year I have a second grader, who will receive her First Reconciliation with her class this weekend. They have been preparing for months, been practicing, and doing homework for it, and now the time has come to fully receive God’s absolution through this beautiful sacrament. As adults living in the secular world, it’s easy to say to ourselves, “Well, I can just confess my sins to God and be forgiven.” And you’d be right, of course you can, but the sacrament of Reconciliation truly reconciles us with Christ, meaning that we are absolved from our sins and returned to a state of grace. It’s the perfect way and the perfect time of year to get closer to Christ.
6. Go to Mass. And truly be present. Listen to the readings and the homily. Worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Receive Christ in the Eucharist and believe in what is an unbelievable gift to us. The feast of the Immaculate Conception is coming up next Thursday–and it’s a holy day of obligation–which celebrates the conception of Mary completely sinless in her mother’s womb. Which brings me to my next point…
7. Learn a little bit about the Virgin Mary. The Catholic Church is so deep, so rich, and I’m just starting to scratch the surface on Marian doctrine. A book I highly recommend is Meet Your Mother by Mark Miravalle, which outlines each Marian dogma by chapter and will blow your freakin’ mind. Warning: this seemingly short little book has so much information about our mother in Heaven and will help you understand that although we do not worship Mary herself, having a devotion to her can change your eternity.
8. Give something up/make a change. This past Sunday at Mass, Father talked about how we should set a small, achievable goal in our faith life this Advent much like you’d do during Lent. Either give something up to remind yourself to pray and devote yourself to Christ (like when children give up chocolate for Lent) or actively do something to further your faith life. I personally am praying the Immaculate Conception novena and am reading Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism book this Advent.
9. Almsgiving. This is actually a very common thing to do, even among nonbelievers. It’s a merry time of year, and it seems to make most people more cheerful and in a more giving spirit. Your local parish may have a giving tree to provide Christmas gifts to needy families, food banks are always looking for donations and volunteers, several program exist that donate toys and coats to needy children as well. This is another one of my favorite things to do with the kids because they can see tangibly how we’re helping other people.
10. Celebrate the Advent feast days, like the feasts of St. Nicholas on December 6 (shoes by the door), Immaculate Conception on December 9 (get thee to Mass), Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 (pray the rosary), and St. Lucy on December 13 (rolls and cookies and candles for the festival of lights). Many have different cultural traditions tied to each of these feasts, so celebrate with your own cultural and family traditions or look online for ideas to begin some new traditions.
Bonus: Blessing of the Christmas tree. When we get our Christmas tree set up, we’ll be blessing it with this Christmas tree blessing.
Bonus 2: Ditch Elf on the Shelf and Follow the Star instead. A friend of mine recently told me that instead of Elf on the Shelf, she’s hiding a star each night for her daughter to find in the morning that will lead to their Nativity set by Christmas morning. What a cool idea!
We make such a big effort on the holiday of Christmas itself with gift-giving and celebrating, so let’s be sure to prepare our hearts–and the little hearts we’re raising–to really get ready for Jesus this year.
How do you and your family prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth? Do you have special family or cultural traditions for Advent? I’d love to hear all about it!