Last summer I asked our kids what their favorite liturgical season was. Their answer, without hesitation, was, “Advent”. My little Catholic heart was bursting with joy upon hearing their answer. You see, my husband and I do a lot of extra things during the Advent season to TRY to keep our entire family’s focus on preparing for Jesus, rather than on the materialism and greed that penetrates so much of the culture.
When we first started all the extras our children (only 2 then) were ages 3 and 1. The extras were anything but pleasant for us. We were exhausted and family prayer time, which was already a daily struggle with the little ones, was now lengthened. We persevered and pushed through those years, wondering why we were doing it at all.
Last Advent was, I think, our first glimpse at the beauty that was created out of our efforts. The 3 and 1 year olds had grown into 8 and 6 year olds and now entered family prayer time with joy and anticipation. Their attitudes shouted to our 2 year old that family prayer time was something very special and he, in turn, rather than being a challenge as they were at his age, eagerly participated in all of our little extras. It was during Advent that we discovered that even though he could barely speak more than a few words, he loved to sing. His sweet little “Rejoice!” echoed through our entire house as we sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" each night.
So hearing our children declare Advent their favorite liturgical season last summer, rather than a more typical response of Christmas or Easter, was a moment of triumph for me. I know Holy Mother Church teaches us that Christmas trumps Advent and Easter trumps Christmas, but in a world filled with greed and a distorted view of the purpose of these holy days, I will delight in my children’s love of Advent!Below are some of (most of I think) the extra things we do to make Advent special. The Catholic Church is so rich and beautiful, we are not only doing these little extras, but are also making sure to explain WHY we are doing them. Advent could be called a season of story telling for us, as we are constantly talking about the traditions and meanings of the faith we are practicing. We’re always looking for new ideas, so feel free to add your own traditions and ideas in the comment section below! How about some Jesse Tree ideas????!!!!!
-Before Advent begins we make our Advent wreath(s) out of play dough. Just make the play dough using any recipe that will harden, decorate with greens, etc., and add candles! The kids love to see their artwork aglow throughout the Advent season!
-On the first Sunday of Advent our Christmas tree goes up. It is bare, except for lights. An empty crib is placed beneath the tree, waiting for baby Jesus. We will spend the entire Advent season preparing our tree for baby Jesus, just as we are preparing our hearts for Him.
-Each night we turn out all the lights in the house, and light the candle(s) on the Advent wreath. We pray extra prayers together and sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel. For those who may be interested, here is a link to the book we use: http://www.amazon.com/Advent-Family-Celebration-Prayers-Activities/dp/159325041X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322516627&sr=8-1
-After prayers each child gets to pick one ornament from the ornament tub to place on the tree. Each day our tree looks a little more beautiful for Jesus. By Christmas Eve, when He is placed in His crib underneath the tree, it is completely covered with ornaments.
-On years when there is not a curious baby in the house, we also place pieces of hay in the crib for Jesus, by performing acts of charity and sacrifices for Him throughout the day.
-We draw names at the beginning of Advent and try to be extra nice to that person throughout the Advent season. The name drawn will also be the recipient of our Christmas gift exchange.
-We remember St. Nicholas, and in honor of him, the stockings are filled on December 6, and sometimes other days leading up to Christmas with small items.
-We try to keep gifts very minimal. Jesus received 3, so each child receives one educational gift, one he/she needs, and one he/she just wants (the wants is purchased by the person who drew his/her name at the beginning of Advent). When we talk about the gifts we always make sure to stress that the greatest gift any of us can ever receive is Jesus.
-The Advent Calendar: Each day a door is opened on the advent calendar and the children get to add a piece to the nativity scene on the calendar board.
This year we’ll be using our new Advent Ornament instead!
-Our Nativity starts with only the animals and the shepherds and sheep off in the distance. As the weeks pass, the children have fun watching for Mary and Joseph to arrive, then baby Jesus, and finally the three Wise Men.
-This year we are adding to our traditions! Our parish has handed out the Advent Challenge. Each day we are to pray Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati’s “Prayer for the Courage to be Great” and pick a slip of paper from a small bag. Each piece of paper has challenge to be completed. Some examples are: Attend an extra Mass during the week, or write a letter to someone pointing out their good qualities. We are very excited to add this to our Advent traditions! Here is the prayer:
‘Heavenly Father, Give me the courage to strive for the highest goals, to flee every temptation to be mediocre. Enable me to aspire to greatness, as Bl. Pier Giorgio did, and to open my heart with joy to Your call to holiness. Free me fear of failure. I want to be, Lord, firmly and forever united to You. Grant me the graces I ask You through Bl. Pier Giorgio’s intercession, by the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Have a Blessed Advent everyone! Don't forget to share your ideas and traditions below!