Friday, December 2, 2016

Observing Advent

In our family, we observe Advent and celebrate Christmas.  We do this not because we want to pretend that we’re still in darkness and we don’t know if or when the Messiah will come, as I heard someone expound during a webinar yesterday, but because we want to be like the wise maidens who prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.  Yes, Christ has come and saved us, but Christ will also come again on the last day to judge the living and the dead.  Of course we can and should repent and prepare for His second coming at all times, but by that logic, why have a special season to recall and celebrate the Incarnation, since we can and should remember and celebrate this at all times?

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.

Advent Candles 

Each year we roll our own Advent candles from beeswax sheets that I buy in bulk from Knorr Beeswax Candles.  It is a very simple craft, but the kids really enjoy it and feel such a sense of pleasure from getting to use their Advent candles all season long.

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

 There's nothing like praying "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 the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, 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." fifteen times a day from Nov. 30th until Christmas Eve to help you keep your focus on what Christmas is truly about.

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)

Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree was the first Advent observance I ever did, way back when I wasn't even Catholic yet and was trying to figure out just what exactly liturgical seasons were.  I was completely Biblically illiterate then, so the Jesse Tree seemed a particularly good place to start.  The overview of salvation history that I've learned from sharing this devotion with my family for eleven years has been priceless for myself and my children.

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 Messiah

For 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.

Advent Calendar

My mom made this for us years ago and it is a fun little tradition for us.  Each child takes a turn putting an ornament on the tree in age order, starting with the youngest.  It will look much more interesting when all the ornaments are on the tree, but I couldn't find a picture with them all on there!  Since each child has a different first letter, they all have a stocking with their first letter on it.  It was a wonderful gift for our family, and one I look forward to pulling out each year for many more years.

St. Nicholas

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

We have a little tea on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with Mexican hot chocolate and almond cookies (and usually some sliced bell peppers too, because I apparently unable to serve my kids just sugar, even on a feast day!) that the kids eat while I read one of the books I have about Our Lady of Guadalupe.  A simple affair, although in some years I make more of an effort to decorate the table and use nice serving dishes.

St. Lucia

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.

O Antiphons

We begin the O Antiphons on Dec. 17th, singing the appropriate verse from O Come, O Come Emmanuel and using this lovely devotional guide from Jennifer Miller.  I don't do gifts or special foods, but the discussion and singing adds a special note to these last days before our Christmas celebration.

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