Advent, the prayerful and penitential liturgical season leading up to Christmas, offers so much to enjoy with our families. While the world has already professed Christmas is here, as Catholics, we try to observe Advent and keep to traditions that focus on salvation history from Creation through the Incarnation of Jesus. Familiar Advent traditions include placing wreaths and candles, special prayers each evening at dinner, and celebrating feasts that fall during Advent. There are many ways to observe Advent. Below are ideas you can try together as a family.
Attending Mass allows us to grow closer to Jesus through His true presence in the Eucharist – body, blood, soul and divinity. Attend weekly, and if it works for your family, consider attending a daily Mass together.
Read a special Advent prayer each night at dinner. Consider saying the St. Andrew or Christmas Novenas as a family.
Celebrate the Saints of Advent
Many saints have feast days in December. Learn about these saints and do something special to honor them as as family.
A crèche, or Nativity/manger scene, is one of the greatest ways to anticipate Jesus’ birth. Consider waiting to place Jesus in the manger until Christmas day. Place the magi far away and have them move a little daily around your home until they arrive at the stable on Epiphany, January 6.
Create your own Advent Wreath and with greenery from your yard or community. Consider saying a special Advent Wreath Blessing as a family. The three purple candles signify prayer, penance, and sacrifices and good works. The rose candle is for Gaudete Sunday, or “Rejoice” Sunday, to celebrate the arrival at the midpoint of advent.
Advent calendars have become popular in secular culture and often feature chocolate or other secular themes. Traditional Advent Calendars often “build up” as the days grow closer to Christmas. Some may feature adding to a Nativity scene or Christmas tree. Others may open doors featuring scripture from Creation, through the prophesies, up to Jesus’ birth.
The Jesse Tree tradition, like Advent Calendars, provides a daily Advent tradition. Each day features scripture and images tracing salvation history. Etsy offers a variety of downloadable options. These can be printed and colored as a family. For the tree, have your children choose a branch in your yard to hang them or add them to a simple banner string on the fireplace mantle.
Catholic New Year’s Eve
While much of the world anticipates December 31st as New Year’s Eve, as Catholics, our Liturgical New Year is the night before Advent begins. Consider letting your kids stay up a little later (or countdown to a special time dedicated as “midnight”) and read the First Sunday of Advent readings together.
Choose a patron saint for the year
Have each family member chooses a saint they know (maybe their name saint) and a new saint (one they wish to know better).
These are just a few ideas for your family. To learn more about Advent, visit the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops.
Partial source and reference for further reading:
The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life, by Kendra Tierney.