This week, Catholic families will begin to prepare our hearts and homes to celebrate the birth of our savior Jesus Christ by commencing the season of Advent. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Catholic families have a unique opportunity to enjoy devotions and customs that will help them to truly embrace this special season. Rather than focusing on shopping and material observances, Catholic families can participate in time honored traditions that teach the faith and symbolize the Advent journey towards the Nativity.
In her lovely book The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days, and Every Day author Meredith Gould sums up the anticipation which should fill our homes during the next four weeks: "During the four weeks of Advent (coming), we're expectant with awe; the season is pregnant with meaning. How can we not be excited…Advent is a time to luxuriate in peaceful waiting."
During the hubbub of holiday parties and trips to the mall, it seems especially crucial to pause as a family nightly and embrace quiet prayer as a means towards helping our children keep the true nature of this time in the proper perspective. This can be as simple as lighting a candle in the center of the family dinner table and pausing for quiet reflection prior to dinner. Advent is also a time to participate in the sacrament of Penance. Most parishes offer a family Penance service during the season of Advent. Family devotions might also include increased attendance at daily Mass, time spent in Eucharistic adoration, prayer of the Rosary as a family or time spent reading scripture together each evening.
To help your family "luxuriate" in the Advent season, consider embracing some of the following time-honored Advent traditions in your home.
Advent Wreath – Create your own simple wreath of evergreen branches and decorate the wreath with four candles – three violet and one rose. The first candle is lit on the First Sunday of Advent, with subsequent candles lit on successive Sundays. Visit the USCCB web site for a family Advent wreath blessing. To order candles for your Advent wreath, visit the Catholic Company.
Advent Calendar – Whether store-bought or homemade, Advent calendars offer children a visual frame of reference for counting down the days until Christmas. Most prefabricated Advent calendars begin on December 1 and allow your family to open a "door" for each day until Christmas. My favorite calendars have a daily scripture reference or service idea waiting behind each door. For a fun family craft, create your own Advent calendar and brainstorm as a family ways in which you can use your calendar to journey closer to Jesus.
Jesse Tree – The Jesse tree tradition finds it's "roots" in the book of Isaiah. To create your own family Jesse tree, find a large branch that is bare of leaves. For each day of Advent a small ornament is placed on the tree, tracing the lineage of Jesus Christ. A relevant scripture passage is highlighted. Your children can download, print and color Jesse tree ornaments at Our Sunday Visitor or you can purchase a Jesse Tree kit at the Catholic Company.
Many other wonderful traditions are prevalent during the season of Advent. In a future column, we will look at traditions surrounding the Feast of St. Nicholas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the crèche or Nativity Scene. Regardless of the manner in which you choose to observe Advent as a family, make time during this season to ponder the miracle of the Baby Jesus with your children – memories are made, hearts are brightened and souls are prepared.
For additional Advent project and craft ideas to create with your children, visit http://www.catholicmom.com/advent_kids.htm