With shopping, decorating, gift-wrapping, cooking, and visiting, the weeks of Advent easily become so busy and hectic that we may lose sight of what Christmas is all about. Below are a few suggestions that might slow this season down for us and at the same time, help make our holiday more holy.
• Family Retreat: A retreat takes us away from the distractions of the world and helps us to get closer to God. A retreat by yourself can be an awesome experience, but there are also retreats that can be taken as a couple or as a family. Most retreats are inexpensive, but a retreat can be a family gift with memories and benefits that last a lifetime. Ask your parish priest if he can recommend a good retreat in your area.
• Advent Wreath: The prayer at the advent wreath before dinner is a very memorable bonding experience that carries on a centuries-old tradition. Depending on the ages and capabilities, each family member can share in the responsibilities. We alternate weeks for each child to light a candle. You might share in the daily readings. Sometimes we work as a family to make the Advent wreath. By the time the last candle has been lit, the family is closer and everyone is more in the spirit of Christmas.
• Family Prayer: Advent is a good time to try the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office. This form of daily prayer is composed of many psalms and readings that are prayed by all of the religious throughout the year. You might try the Sunday Morning Prayer (lauds) or Evening Prayer (vespers) as a family. The Liturgy of the Hours has a special Advent section. This gift that can help improve the spirituality of your family by applying Mother Theresa's advice: “A family who prays together stays together”.
• Neighbor Gift: We are commanded by our Lord to love our neighbor. Everyone has a neighbor who is lonely or needs a helping hand. We might use this time to reconcile a lost friendship, or to rekindle a friendship that has grown cool from neglect. We could use this time to help someone shovel snow or rake leaves. Maybe you could ask someone who is alone to share Sunday dinner, go shopping, or join you and your family for Mass.
• Holy Hour: Spend an hour with our Lord each week during Advent. This time can help us to slow down the fast pace of the Christmas season and help us to keep our focus on our Lord, Jesus Christ.
• Remember your priest: Do not forget that many of our priests live alone. They may be keenly missing their own relatives at this time of year. Share the gift of your family with a person who gives so much to you. Invite him to dinner or offer to help him. This can help build a better relationship between you and your priest.
• Family Manger Prayer: Put up a manger in your home. All through Advent, ask each member of the family to say a prayer for another person each day. When they have completed the prayer, they place one piece of straw in the manger. Your family will be surprised to see how much straw is in the manger come Christmas day.
• Call an old friend: Pick one friend or member of your family whom you haven’t spoken to for years and call them. Most of us can think of a college roommate or a friend from our youth with whom we have lost touch. Your call might bring cheer to both of you.
• One-on-one time: Make a special exclusive time for each member of your household. You might go shopping, share a meal, or put up Christmas decorations. You want to spend this time in an activity that allows you to talk with one another. This can become a favorite family tradition. My son looks forward to his day all year long.
• Write a family letter of thanks to God: Try to remember the blessings He has provided for you in the last year. Write them down and thank Him. You will be surprised how much the Lord has blessed you in the past year.
© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange
Greg Wunderle is the father of four and teaches fourth grade PSR at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Norton, Ohio. After Greg's youngest son, Anthony, died of leukemia, he and his wife Lori founded Anthony's Angels to help critically-ill children and their families.