It does not matter to me or to my family if a family decides to celebrate all during Advent and ignore the Christmas season, and if that’s what your family does, I hope it is meaningful for you and brings you closer to Christ. But I do get a little riled when I hear someone completely mischaracterize the historical celebration of Advent and speak dismissively of families who do choose to spend this time of Advent remembering and considering instead of jumping straight to the celebrating.
Now that that’s off my chest, I’d like to share a few things our family does in our observation of Advent.
We light the candles each night at dinner, and each child gets a week where they are the one who lights the candle. We generally sing "Light One Candle" from the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program as the candle is lit.
St. Andrew Novena, or Christmas Anticipation Prayer
As a convert to Catholicism, novenas and rosaries and other repetitive prayer were a stumbling block for me. It was something where I had to decide to move forward in faith, out of respect for the witness of the Saints and the teaching of the Church. I still don't completely get it, but I have seen amazing fruit come from these persistent prayer practices.
(This prayer card is the one Celeste links to here)
The first year my three year old daughter and I drew pictures and hung them with yarn on a small fake Christmas tree. In a particularly crazy and difficult Advent, I maintained my tenuous grasp on sanity by crafting little felt ornaments for a simple Jesse Tree write-up I had found online. That's what we still use, eight years later.
(This picture is from last year, we obviously aren't that far along yet since we just started on the 27th)
Handel's MessiahFor the first two years of listening to Handel's Messiah during Advent, we used Cindy Rollin's Messiah schedule. It worked reasonably well, but this year I wanted to be able to dive a little more deeply into the Scriptures and learn more about the music itself.
I ended up buying Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People by Calvin R. Stapert, and so far I am very pleased with it. The first part of the book is about Handel, how he composed the Messiah, how the Messiah was received, and the musical traditions and forms of the day. The second part goes into depth, section by section, about the Messiah. He breaks it down into 22 sections, which works nicely for an Advent study (because really, who can actually do it every day for all the days of Advent?? Not me!)
We’re only 4 sections in, but we’re all enjoying it and finding that it helps up to listen more carefully and with more interest. In the evening after the two youngest are in bed, we listen to a part of the Messiah, read the commentary out loud, discuss a little with different people sharing what we want to listen for this time, listen to the part of the Messiah again, and then discuss a little more.
On the eve of the feast of St. Nicholas, we make simple chocolate goodies together, which then appear, wrapped, in the children's shoes the next morning. On some years we'll have a few new Christmas books or other books, and in other years it is just the treats. (This photo is from last year too.) I would like to share some of the treats with family, but haven't quite gotten that organized yet. Maybe this year!
Our Lady of Guadalupe
On the feast of St. Lucia, we decorate the house with a few strands of lights, remembering and discussing how Christ is the light of the world. Again, a simple observance, but one that has a big impact on the kids.