How We Celebrate Advent

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After writing about observing Advent instead of fighting Santa, I promised to tell you a little bit about what our family does to celebrate Advent. It’s actually very simple and I think the difficulty lies in having to say no to a lot of festivities in order to spend Advent waiting, reflecting, and anticipating.

What We Do:

We bring out our Nativity Scene. My sweet mother-in-law gave us this beautiful olive wood set for Christmas a couple of years ago and it is just perfect for little ones to play with! It’s practically indestructible and each piece (other than Baby Jesus) is too big for an infant to choke on. Win! Usually I bring it out on the first day of Advent but this year I thought I would bring out one piece each day. Once they’re all set up we can just wait until Christmas morning to put Baby Jesus in the manger.

Last year we started having a Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree’s ornaments tell the “big picture” story of God’s redemption. Daniel and Benjamin painted some ornaments and we hung them up on a branch we brought inside. We didn’t get a chance to make an ornament for each day, so I think we’ll try to paint some more and if we run out of time we’ll just color some ornaments and make more lasting ones next year. Keep it simple!

Advent candles are always a central part of the season for us. I’ve already told you about my very favorite Advent candles that Benjamin helps to make. We do Scripture readings as we light them. Sometimes we just do the readings on Sundays, sometimes we’re more consistent and do them each night.

Benjamin and I also like to decorate the house with simple greenery. Last year we went to Home Depot or Lowe’s Christmas Tree sales area, can’t remember which, where they let you grab and take home Christmas tree branches they cut off of the trees. As much as you want! Free decor. Yes, please.

We usually cut down our tree in mid-December as a tradition with Daniel’s family. Then we string lights on the tree but don’t decorate with ornaments until Christmas Eve. The lights remind us that we’re waiting for the Light of the World.

We have an Advent calendar of little storybooks telling the Christmas story that you can hang on the tree after you read them. Benjamin really loves reading these together and it’s so hard for him to wait for the next day to read the next “chapter.”

For my personal reflection, I like to read some of the selections in Watch for the Light. There are some wonderful and beautiful selections by folks like Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day and then some that aren’t so hot, so I skip those. All-in-all, it’s a lovely book.

We also have some special traditions on Dec. 6th (St. Nicholas Day) when our kids receive all their presents from us, and Dec. 13th (St. Lucy’s Day) which is my daughter’s name day.

What We Don’t Do:

Listen to Christmas music.  I know! It’s actually torturous to wait until Christmas to listen to my favorite Christmas songs. We console ourselves with Advent hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Come, Though Long Expected Jesus.” And we always listen to a lot of Handel’s Messiah which I think is great Advent music. Sometimes I play Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. It’s not in English so I don’t feel so much like I’m cheating. I know it sounds hard (and it is) but listening to Christmas music during Christmas is soooo exciting when you’ve waited all through Advent. Benjamin wants me to sing “Joy to the World” to him every night for weeks.

Go to Christmas parties. We just kind of skip ‘em. I don’t think that’s what every family needs to do, but it helps us keep things simple and our schedule relaxed.

Decorate our tree (I explained above). But once it’s Christmas (and sometimes Christmas Eve) we string popcorn and cranberries and Benjamin helps me put all the ornaments on. I get so sentimental about tree decorating!

Watch Christmas movies. Yes, like waiting for the Christmas music, it’s so hard. But then we pull them out during the Christmas season and Benjamin can watch them over and over. And I usually cheat by watching movies that remind me of Christmas but aren’t technically Christmas movies like Little Women. Can’t help myself.

Make Christmas cookies. Yup, we wait til Christmas. We have a set of nativity cookie cutters and the little ones love it when it’s time to bake and decorate.

For us, I think the key is just adding a little extra quiet to our days, trying to attend daily Mass more regularly, going to Adoration, keeping meals simple, and other disciplines for this “little Lent.” The kids love the nativity scene and advent wreath and I think it gives the season some special traditions they look forward to. For me, the challenge is in NOT doing  a lot of the things I want to do.

This year I want our family to memorize the St. Andrew prayer:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God! to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother. Amen.

And something I really want to emphasize more in our Advent observance is giving. Making peanut butter bird feeders for the birds. Giving away clothes and toys to those who need them more than we do. Choosing a special charity to save up for by sacrificing eating out or other luxury expenses. Any brilliant ideas?

How do you observe Advent?

Remember to link up with us a week from today, Dec. 3rd, with our Little HolyDays: Redeeming Time with Feasts, Fasts, Holidays, and Everyday! Click the button to read all about it!

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Comments

  1. says

    We really are very alike! We do things very similarly, especially the “don’t do” category. Not listening to Christmas music is super hard, I agree. But there is nothing like that first singing of “Joy to the World” at the vigil Mass when you’ve fasted from the music for that long! I bake Christmas cookies a week ahead of time but they’re stored away until after Christmas Mass and we hold off on decorating the tree until Gaudete Sunday. I’m making lots of plans for Advent this year to make it the best one yet. I actually posted an invitation on my blog…would you consider reading and maybe linking this up?

  2. Gwenny says

    We sing in the choir, so holding off on Christmas music is tough. We don’t play any on the stereo in our home, but we practice the necessary pieces at the piano and don’t turn it off if it’s on the car radio.

    I think we might try waiting until Christmas Eve to decorate the tree this year. Other people take a break from facebook during elections… I think I need a break just to avoid the images of other people’s trees! (Actually, quitting facebook during advent sounds like a pretty legit idea…)

    Speaking of social media, know what drives me cuh-rAzy? Pinterest advent calendars that are more of a Christmas countdown (WITH presents) than a making oneself ready for Christmas. Be wary, my friends. Just because it has the word “advent” in it does not mean it’s a good (or holy) idea.

    Thanks for sharing what you do!

    • Haley says

      Haha, waiting to decorate is soooo hard. And those Advent calendars crack me up, too. Missing the point! That’s what I grew up with, though. Open the window for a piece of candy and when it’s all gone, it’s Christmas! Haha.

  3. says

    Even preparing the Link up with you guys I still feel like such an Advent newbie! I’m trying to figure out what our Advent season is going to look like right now! I still have to go buy our candles and centerpiece!

    I do love my Christmas music, but am trying to keep it to the “expectant” rather than celebratory stuff (note: need to pick up a copy of Messiah too) and trying to keep the super secular stuff to very minimum at least.

    I want to do a Jesse Tree, but I think I’m going to wait until next year when the kiddo is a little older and we’re definitely not going to decorate soon. I like the idea of wait until Gaudete Sunday at least.

    So much to learn!

  4. Kelly says

    I have been wanting to do a Jesse tree with our kids for several years, but just couldn’t seem to get it all together. After clicking through several blogs (and comments therein) I found this lovely resource….ornament and scripture readings for each day…

    http://www.ourjessetree.blogspot.com/

    Hopefully this could be helpful to others too!

  5. Danae says

    My husband and I are both musicians so we end up having to practice Christmas music during Advent, but at home we don’t play Christmas music. Two Advent CD’s that are really great are

    http://www.amazon.com/Advent-Ephesus-Benedictines-Queen-Apostles/dp/B009UECNXO/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1353957209&sr=1-1&keywords=advent+at+ephesus

    http://www.amazon.com/Naxos-Book-Carols-Christmas-Traditional/dp/B0000EI9W9/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1353957248&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Naxos+book+of+carols

    The second CD eventually goes to Christmas carols but the first part of the CD is all Advent music and it is beautifully done. We love how the CD takes us through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

    Thanks for your great thoughts on celebrating the season simply!!

  6. Andrea says

    Thank you for posting this! We are celebrating Advent for the first time this year as a family, and I just had a !muppet flail! moment, when I realized that I have no idea what I’m doing. I instantly thought of you, and you delivered! Thank you , from the bottom of my heart! <3

  7. LMM says

    Patience not being one of my strengths, I’m even having a hard time waiting to celebrate Advent! So many great ideas here. I did just buy the Advent at Ephesus CD that Danae recommended, on iTunes, and had to listen this morning instead of waiting until Sunday like I had planned. So, so gorgeous. I’m also itching to display our Advent calendar, make our Advent candles (thanks for the Toadily Homemade recommendation!) and put out our own olive wood nativity scene, which last year was augmented with some Sesame Street characters, courtesy of the two-year-old. I’ve also decided, unilaterally, that lights are more Advent-y than Christmas-y, so I’m going to put candles in our windows (leaving the light on for Jesus? Or something. But there is something about a candle in the window that makes me think of watching and waiting) and take my kids and neices and nephews to see the lights at the Fatima Shrine, down the street from our house.

    • Haley says

      I’m with you! I’m listening to the Advent at Ephesus music right now while my kids are napping! Can’t help it, haha.

      And I agree about candles in the windows. When I was a little girl my mom had electric candles for each window during Advent and I loved it and it definitely made me think about waiting and leaving a light for Jesus. I want some but most of our windows don’t have real ledges because they’re weird 40s windows.

  8. says

    So many great ideas! I’m really excited to switch things up this year and hold off on the more Christmas-y stuff until it is actually Christmas. Haley, thanks for being such an inspiration with not only your ideas and practices, but also your reasoning for why you choose to do each one. I’ve already spent so much time pondering, I cannot wait for how focussed I think this coming Advent season will be! Thank you!

  9. says

    I loved hearing about your traditions! Are you going to tell us what you do on Christmas day? I was wondering if you did gifts on St. Nicholas or on Three Kings Day. What do you do for St. Lucia day? When I was growing up I did the white gown/red sash/wreath with candles on my head thing–bet Lucy would love to do that when she’s older!

    And now, on your Advent calendar…
    Oh my gosh, Haley–I have been traveling a lot in the last month and haven’t been reading my blogs much. I finally got around to this post tonight and got so excited when I scrolled past your photo of the Advent calendar and just had to read the post first. It’s the same one that we have. My mother used to buy a paper one with little doors that popped out and had Bible verses that would day by day lead up to Christmas (it wasn’t until I was older that I realized most people think of candy or small gifts in Advent calendars). The store that sold these closed and my mother wasn’t able to find them anywhere else. My father came home with that calendar as a gift to her the year it debuted (1994 maybe?) and we used it every year since. Before I was going to get married I looked everywhere for something similar but couldn’t find anything like it. Knowing how important the calendar was to me (and that she didn’t have any children to read it with anymore!), she gave it to me after my last Christmas in their home. The only thing that kinda bugs me is that the Wise Men show up in the stable.

    • Haley says

      Thanks! I’ll definitely post about our Christmas traditions. This year we’ll give the kids some little gifts on St. Nicholas Day. I will try to post about our St. Nick’s plans next week! Last year for St. Lucia’s Day we just made some delicious St. Lucia bread but we will need to do something a little different this year b/c we found out our son is allergic to gluten :( I can’t wait til Lucy is old enough to dress up for it!

      Haha, that bugs me, too! But overall I like it a lot.

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