Christmas is my favorite season of the year. Growing up I would be one of the first jamming out to Christmas music on the radio and cozying up in Christmas sweaters and reindeer earrings. Seriously I love Christmas.
As I’ve starting new traditions with my little family, and growing in my knowledge and zeal for my Catholic faith, I’vebeen learning a lot about liturgical living. And with this has come a shift in the way we are approaching Christmas, most notably, by actually observing the season of Advent.
My bishop recently said, “Advent helps us to keep in mind that between that first coming of Christ on Christmas and His final coming at the end of time, Jesus comes to us constantly and in countless ways as we live our lives of faith through our participation in the life of the Church.” I think that is a beautiful summary of why I believe liturgical living, beyond just weekly, or even daily Mass is so important to truly living our faith.
At first I hated Advent. Like seriously H-A-T-E-D it. I don’t care the Christ isn’t born yet, I want to be able to listen to my Christmas music! But the more I learned about Advent, I began to saw the beauty of waiting.
So what is the liturgical season of Advent all about?
As my girl Maria says, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”. It begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and leads directly into THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR, also known as Christmastide, also known as the 12 Days of Christmas. I like to think of Advent as that last month before the birth of a baby or your wedding or graduation – you try real hard to combat the stress so you can actually enjoy it, you spend a lot of time in prayer and you are so excited for the end result you can’t sleep. I’ve also found (in my one year of data so I guess take it with a grain of salt) that focusing on the anticipation and the waiting spirit for the birth of Christ instead of using Advent as a month to get ready for the big family Christmas events really cuts back on the stress and anxiety of big holidays with family and children and all that comes with it. Perhaps that’s a lesson for those other big events, stop worrying about the little details, stresses and anxiety and focus on the big picture. Christ is coming!
According to the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar:
- a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered;
- a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time.
The liturgical color for Advent is violet, except for on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, when it can be violet or rose. “Gaudete” (gau-de-te) means “rejoice” in Latin and is the first word of the entrance antiphon during that day’s Mass. The readings for the third Sunday of Advent are celebratory and involve rejoicing, and so we join in, rejoicing that we are halfway through Advent and so close to welcoming Christ.
What our Advent looks like
This year is the first year we will have an Advent wreath. I’m excited because I think V is old enough to find it exciting and it will be a great addition to our meals. We can’t always swing family dinner with Husband’s nursing school schedule but we do try to have family breakfast on those days so we should be able to light the Advent candles every day. I love the wreath blessing and prayers over at Best Advent Ever. V and I will also continue our nightly practice of daily prayers and readings, and adding in the St. Andrew Novena starting Nov. 30. You pray it 15 times per day so I think I will try to do 5 on my way to work during my personal prayer time, 5 at lunch and then 5 with V during bedtime prayers.
I’ll also throw a plug in for Dynamic Catholic’s Best Advent Ever. I really enjoyed their Best Lent Ever last year and I’m excited to see their programming for Advent. Plus it’s free and comes straight to your inbox so you have a built-in reminder to save some space for quiet and reflection during Advent.
And if you are looking for a one-stop-shop for daily Advent prayers and readings, the USCCB has an awesome digital Advent calendar.
I polled some of my sisters in Christ in my Blessed is She Facebook group for new ideas to celebrate Advent with littles. It was actually for an article I was writing for my day job but I loved a few of the suggestions and we’re implementing them this year. Some of these came from them, some from colleagues or friends from church.
9 ways to celebrate Advent with the spirit of waiting
Hold off on the Christmas music until Christmas Eve.
I cheated on this one and listened to Christmas music for a week or so before Advent began. I needed my fix to get me through until December 24!
Don’t decorate, or at least don’t go all out until Christmas Eve.
We bought a new tree this year (because we haven’t had one the past two years) and made sure it only had white lights. We won’t add anything to it until Christmas Eve, when we’ll have lots of fun and merriment celebrating and decorating. We aren’t hanging up any other Christmas decorations or our stockings until Christmas Eve. I’ve also heard some families will add one ornament a day to sort of build up to the grand shebang on Christmas Eve. I see the appeal of both and we may switch to the latter when V gets a bit older or if she seems interested.
Have your nativity set travel.
We were gifted this beautiful (and nonbreakable) nativity set* as a wedding gift. We setup the manger with some animals in our living room and the others get moved to places around the house so they have to journey to the manger.
Set up a manger to fill with good deeds and sacrifices.
This is one from the BIS group that I hadn’t heard of before. You have strips of yellow paper, ribbon or yarn and any time one of your children does a selflessly good deed or sacrifice they get to add a strip to the “manger” to prepare it for baby Jesus. I love this idea as a very hands-on visual way of preparing younger children for the Christ-child.
Do a book Advent calendar.
I looooove this idea and I may be heading to the Dollar Tree to pick up some paper to try it, though I’m not sure we have enough Advent-themed books to do it every single day; we may just do one per week. Instead of getting a piece of chocolate each day, wrap up 24 books and place them under your (sparsely decorated) tree. Each day, unwrap one and read it as a family. If you need some book ideas, Haley has a great roundup.
Create a paper chain Advent calendar.
This is another Advent calendar idea that is so simple. Take pink and purple construction paper cut into strips to make a simple paper loop chain representing the days of Advent. Each day your children can remove a link. You could either write a Scripture passage on the loop ahead of time or just follow a Jesse Tree-type list and read it as your children fight over who gets to rip the link this time.
Do a reverse Advent calendar.
I think this would be a great idea if you have older children. Instead of them getting a sweet or toy each day, they get to pick something of theirs to give away each day in Advent. Service and sacrifice are both strong parts of Christian life, and especially so during Advent. This is a great way to teach them the importance of self-giving and sacrificing to those who are less fortunate.
Create a Jesse Tree.
We aren’t doing this one this year but I haven’t ruled it out for the future. I love the idea of weaving Scripture reading as a family with a craft like making the ornaments. We may pull the readings instead and just read them as a family. Or we may print these free ones and color them together since V loves to color. I haven’t decided yet. There are some great free resources for making a Jesse Tree available here as well.
Celebrate liturgical living through Advent with saint feasts and memorials.
There are several feasts and memorials during Advent you can celebrate with your children. This post from Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas is from last year but it will still give you ideas for what to do to celebrate the saints. Our bishop is holding a St. Nicholas Day Celebration complete with shoe goodies and St. Nic so we will be attending that this year.
If you’re wanting to learn more about liturgical living, I recommend Daniel and Haley Stewart’s books Feasts! and More Feasts! which I personally have read. And Jenna from Call Her Happy just released her liturgical living guidebook, The Lazy Liturgical, which looks amazing. You can also get it as a digital download. There are some more great ideas here and here. Blessed is She also printed a gorgeous Advent prayer journal if you are looking for something to help you get the most out of Advent.
*affiliate link – thank you for your support!