This Sunday begins the season of Advent, which in the Catholic Christian tradition is a time of preparation of mind, body, and heart for the coming of Christ. First it’s preparation for the Feast of Christmas, when we commemorate Christ’s first coming to earth with his birth as a baby; but it’s also a time that Christians re-focus our energies on preparing for Christ’s promised return at the end of time (we call this Christ’s “Second Coming.”)
Advent spans a period of four Sundays, and it’s sometimes called a “little Lent” in that we focus our efforts on prayer, fasting, and good works in preparation for the Feast of Christmas. I found it difficult as a child, and even more difficult now that I have children, to place enough emphasis on the “little Lent” aspect of Advent amidst the holiday hustle and bustle of Christmastime joy.
I don’t feel as though the Hubs and I have entirely ironed out our “family traditions” plan for Advent and Christmas yet. Since we’re still such a young family, I’m sure things will change and evolve as our family does over the next few years. But for now, we’ve chosen to embrace the “early Christmas” theme of our culture while incorporating a spirit of Advent in at the same time. Maybe not ideal, but with a 2-year-old and 1-year-old, I think it’ll work for us for now.
Our tree will go up on the first Sunday of Advent, and we’ll make just as big a deal of lighting the first candle on our Advent wreath as we do over the twinkle lights on our tree. Our first cookie baking day of the season will be on my all-time favorite feast: St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. (We’ll pull out the kid’s nativity scene that I’ve been working on and scheming over for months on that day too. Can. Not. Wait.!!!).
We’ve already started teaching Mark some of the Advent songs we’ll sing during our Advent lighting at dinner time. He’s truly amazing us with his ability to memorize Christmas songs. He already know “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and sings all twelve gifts in the correct order!
So while we’re not a shining example of a “Little Lent” over here this Advent, we’ll try our best-est to keep a spirit of prayer and focus on deepening our relationship with Christ as we prepare for his birthday and his coming.
Here are a few of the ways we’ll walk through Advent with our family this year:
1. The Giving Tree. Many churches have a ministry where you take a gift tag off the tree and return it with a gift for a child or adult in need. We’ve already purchased our gift tag gifts and we’ll take them to church with us this week. It’s a great way for the whole family to get involved in shopping for someone other than themselves.
2. Advent Wreath. Ours is a combo of homemade and pre-made. The best part for our son is the “snuffer.” He loves blowing them out at the end of prayer time.
3. Advent Calendar. I purchased the Little People Nativity Calendar last year, and my 2-year-old is sooooo excited about starting it this year! It’s up on the wall and ready to go tomorrow! (Hint for parents of toddlers: this calendar makes a great teaching tool for learning numbers. We’ve been playing round after round of the numbers “matching game” and my kiddo loves it!)
4. Advent scripture memory verses. I’m using my kitchen chalkboard (made it myself, thank you Pinterest!) to help our family memorize one verse of scripture each week of Advent. Here’s our kick-off verse, from the Mass readings for the first week of Advent.
5. One Christmas Book/Day of Advent. Thanks to two years of shopping garage sales, thrift stores, used book stores, and children’s consignment sales, I now have enough children’s Christmas books to do the Pinterest project of unwrapping/reading one Christmas story per day of Advent. I’ll post more details of how it goes after we start, but knowing how much my boys love to read, I think they’ll love it.
6. The Nativity Movie. Thanks to my sweet sister Anne, who sent my kids an Advent gift, we’ll be watching this story of the Nativity on DVD as a way my kids can learn the story in a fun, musical, childlike way.
7. Advent crafts. I love crafts and DIY projects with my kids, so I’m hoping the bear cubs and I can do several this year. I’m gathering ideas from Lacy@Catholic Icing: my all-time favorite Catholic kids crafts blog. I think we might try her Advent wreath made out of pipe cleaners this year, and I’ll put it in Mark’s room under his little bedroom tree.
8. Edible Advent Wreath. This idea from Catholic Icing is so dang cute I think my family simply must do this – maybe on Gaudete Sunday (third Sunday of Advent). We eat a very low-sugar, gluten free diet but sometimes you just gotta splurge for the sake of CUTENESS!
9. Advent Adventures. My friend’s at Holy Heroes are launching an awesome “Advent Adventure” for kids of all ages. There’s still time to sign up as the adventure begins today! Check it out and join us here.
10. Advent/Christmas Coloring books. My godchildren and my children all have copies this year of the “Childhood of Jesus” coloring book and CD from Holy Heroes. Highly recommended. You can purchase them from Holy Heroes or from the Family Life Center. (Holy Heroes products make great St. Nicholas Day gifts too! That’s when Mark will be getting his coloring book this year.
And for my own Advent preparations, I have my three favorite Advent resources ready to read during my morning coffee each day: my Magnificat Advent edition, my bedside Bible, and my Advent volume of In Conversation with God. Short, to the point, and packed with spiritual food for my Advent journey.
Happy Advent everyone! I wish you joy, peace, and much spiritual growth as we all seek Him this season.
(And P.S. Happy Friday y’all!)