"When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating [John the Baptist’s] birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
(Catechism, no. 524)
The Advent season begins! Are you feeling overwhelmed? Or filled with quiet, gentle peace? I recently gave a talk to parents of the Faith Formation program at church about Advent.
Why We Celebrate Advent: The Short AnswerThe Catholic Church in her wisdom has the liturgical calendar, so that our minds and hearts can devote special times to the life of Christ. Like the secular calendar, which reminds us to give thanks or to move our clocks or check out a ground hog's shadow (does anyone really do that?), the liturgical calendar helps us to:
- set aside times and days in our routines to think and pray about certain aspects of our faith
- re-commit ourselves to our dedication to follow Jesus Christ
- unite both the spirit and physical in prayer (All the outward signs that we make during these special times ... the lighting of candles, the opening of Advent calendar boxes, etc. ... help our bodies to also be aware of the changes in the season.)
- prepare the way for the Lord (Not only do we remember the birth of Christ, but we also await his Second Coming.)
10 Tips for a Simple Yet Holy Advent1. Incorporate color
The colors of Advent are: purple (penance and contrition) and rose (repentant, expectant, and joyful). Decorate your home in these colors: tablecloth, napkins, blankets, candles, etc. If you have any purple clothes, wear them at Mass. Be sure to point out to the children that you are wearing the same colors that we use at Mass. Don’t forget that on the third Sunday of Advent, the color is rose! This is a small, powerful way to unite one’s domestic life with the life of the Church.
Our children must understand that their faith is not separate from other aspects of their lives. Our going to Mass, our prayers, our beliefs are not something that just happen on Sundays. Our faith is the oil in the lamp of our lives. It cannot be separate, and if it is, then we are living a fractured faith. If the children have a house with small touches of purple, with an Advent wreath, with the sense of expectancy, when they then attend Mass, the Church will seem an extension of their lives. It won't seem odd or something shoved to the side, but something central to who they are.
2. Use an Advent wreath
It doesn't have to be fancy. Heck, it doesn't even have to be lit or real, but there are the basic components that help us to live the season:
- Evergreen: It lasts forever. It’s even a term in marketing for things that last forever and don’t lose their freshness or form.
- Circle: unending, unbroken because God always was and always will be, forever and ever, amen!
- Colors: (See above.) Some people are adding a white candle in the middle to light for Christmas.
3. Practice small acts of kindness
Let this season focus on love and doing small gestures of kindness towards one another. You can do the Gifts for Jesus/Advent manger activity or you can use the Secret Santa idea, but make it Secret Nick's, in which stockings are left in one place, and throughout Advent, members of the family do little things or make gifts for the stockings.
4. Create a nativity scene … slowly
Instead of just rushing to put up the manger and Nativity pieces, add the feeling of a journey to this tradition.
Piece by piece: Some people put up the scene, then they leave the manger empty until Christmas day. Other folks add a piece each day to the manger: maybe the shepherds on one Sunday, the animals on another Sunday, the star on the next Sunday, and then the family on the last Sunday of Advent.
The journey: Another idea is to have the manger set up, but then put Mary and Joseph in another part of the room. A friend of mine puts them on the mantle above the fireplace, another on the kitchen counter, and then, each evening, after the night prayer, a child gets to move Mary and Joseph closer to the manger. They will get there on Christmas day!
5. Use an Advent calendar
Every December, there are free liturgical calendars at the back of the church. Snag one! Let that be your Advent calendar. Or make one of your own. Just make sure the emphasis is on Christ and the spirit of holiness, not receiving gifts or Santa or anything that would shift our focus from the eternal to the temporary. You can also use one online, such as this one from EWTN.
6. Add songs to your night prayers
Add all the songs of expectation. Try to fast from Christmas songs. I know it’s difficult! You can look in the church missal for songs that we sing during Advent. Even choose just one, but add it to your nightly prayers. Or maybe sing it before meals.
7. Participate in the feast days of this holy season.
Learn about the following saints and create activities for each feast day: (I've coloring pages/paper dolls to help!)
- Saint Nicholas, Dec. 6
- The Immaculate Conception: Dec. 8
- Our Lady of Guadalupe: Dec. 12
- Saint Lucia, Dec. 13
8. Make gifts for the forgotten and lonely
Donate food or clothing to our charity office. Ask your friends and family members to put together a gift basket for a local homeless shelter or a pregnancy shelter. One year, my friends and I put together a newborn basket for a pregnancy center; we added baby clothes, diapers, wipes, blankets, etc. The children really got a sense of an upcoming child, which helped them tie in the idea that we’re also celebrating the birth of Christ. Plus, it was a good opportunity to discuss how Jesus had so very little, and we can focus on what to give others rather than what to receive.
If you are struggling to make ends meet, consider what you have and share it. Maybe you have some clothes that a child outgrew or you have extra fabric scraps---then you can donate extra yarn or blanket to the Binky Patrol and other charity crafting places.
9. Watch quieter, more contemplative movies together
Don’t gorge yourself just on the Christmas movies. I know, I love Christmas movies, too—even some movies that are dark and not like Christmas at all except for snow and glitter. (You really, really don't want to know.) Those may have a place, too, but also be sure to add movies that bring peace and joy, rather than chaos to the house. Ideas include: The Little Drummer Boy, The Star of Christmas (Veggie Tales), the first part of Jesus of Nazareth. Go to your local Catholic store and just ask for recommendations, too.
10. Do something outside of the ordinary
Think about this one for a while.
Like everything else, Advent can become something that we take for granted. We get used to doing the same things over and over again. Think about what you can do this year to make it different than the previous year. Look at the Church bulletin or diocesan newspaper, and see if there are events and activities in which you can participate this year. Maybe flip through Catholic sites and get ideas for new activities that y'all have never done before. For years, I read about the Jesse tree, but it felt too complicated to me. So, I simplified it, drew up easy-to-color Jesse Tree templates, and ... TA-DA! A new custom was born.
Happy Advent, friends!