Advent is a season of preparation, of waiting, of penance, and of repentance. For much of the United States, Advent is just the opposite. In fact, it is not Advent at all. It has become a season filled with parties, Christmas decorations, sweets, treats, and a frenzy of activity. In the weeks building up to the Birth of Christ, it is easy to become consumed in those activities the rest of our culture is practicing.
Instead, as faithful Christians devoted to Tradition, how do we make Advent a time to quiet our hearts in reflection, to prepare our homes, and to wait in anticipation of the coming Savior?
The Church teaches us: “[W]hen the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating [John the Baptist’s] birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: He must increase, but I must decrease” (Catechism, no. 524; original emphasis).
To prepare for the Christmas season, then, one must first make ready her own heart with prayer, intention, and resolve. Like a mother waits for the birth of her child, counting down the days, her heart and mind are filling with excitement, nervousness, and hope to meet her child. We too ought to spend the Advent season longing for Jesus.
1 Peter 1:13 “Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
After preparing your own heart, however, it is time to prepare your home, so your family members may be ready, too. It is the responsibility of the parent to foster a home environment that educates children in Scripture and Doctrine of the Faith and guides them to embrace the appropriate Christian Tradition for each liturgical season. As a parent, the traditions of your home are largely decided by you. Notice that these are “traditions” with a small “t.” Those little things outside the requirements, such as trimmings, foods, candles, etc. are the little ways you make your home reflect the season. These are largely your choice and therefore, what you decide now informs your children about how to think and act during a season.
Having a plan before Advent arrives helps you begin the season on time and enables you to be consistent throughout the season. So, make some decisions and go! You might not try everything this year, but choose a place to start and begin building your family’s small traditions.
As you spend time contemplating how to best capture the essence of this Advent season in your home, think about the word “preparation.”
Preparation is “the action or process of making something ready for use or service or of getting ready for some occasion, test, or duty” (Merriam-Webster). When Christ’s birth arrives, we should be ready to begin a new year full of excitement, wonder, and giving.
Taking the word “preparation” as a starting point, we might then focus upon two ways to prepare: first, self-sacrifice, which is physical denial of earthly goods and second, spiritual growth, that is feeding the soul with the things of God.
Let’s begin with the first. You might consider what items you will be giving up during Advent. To help understand the concept of denying oneself, I find that is is beneficial to think about a feast. What makes a feast so special? It is the time given to prepare the food, to prepare the home, and to share it with many friends and family. What if during the preparing of the feast, the host gorged herself on sweets, fine foods, and great leisure? When the time of the feast arrived, the food would be just “okay”, the celebration would be plain, and the excitement of the event would be lost. But, if the host denies herself and withholds her desires so that the event arrived with anticipation, the joy would be abundant.
Below are some practical ways to deny one’s self during Advent. Many of these suggestions may be used by the entire family as a way of teaching self-sacrifice to your children.
Ways of Teaching and Practicing Self-Denial for Preparing your Heart and Home:
Give up sweets and or your favorite drink until Christmas
Give up television, movies, video games, electronics
Make and write out Christmas cards (to be sent out after Dec. 25th)
Make and wrap Gifts for others
Make gift baskets for others
Christmas baking to be saved for the Christmas Season (Don’t taste!)
Considering the second point of spiritual growth, reflect upon this quote from Scripture: “The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the one who seeks Him.” Lamentation 3:25
This means it is not only important to deny yourself, but also to prepare your heart by reflecting upon Christ in thought, word, and action.
Here are some ideas of things that will help ready your heart and home:
Go to Confession
Attend Weekly or Daily Mass
Volunteer at a homeless shelter, nursing home, or community food bank
Make an Advent Wreath for your home
Follow a Daily devotional
Sing “Advent songs” not Christmas songs
Follow a Jessie Tree
Each night, have older kids read a passage of the Bible building up to Christ’s Birth
Say daily prayers as a family
Celebrate St. Lucy’s Day
Celebrate St. Nicholas’s Day
Celebrate The Immaculate Conception
Blessing of the tree
Erect an empty Nativity scene, to be filled Christmas Eve night
The Mary Candle
The Christ candle
The Year & Our Children by Mary Reed Newland
Advent in the Home: Activities for Families by Ellen C. Becker and Mary T. Barnes
The Domestic Church Room by Room by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle
The Little Oratory by David Clayton
The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition by Catholic Biblical Association
The Story of Christmas Story Book Set & Advent Calendar by MoonLitTree
Etsy Jessy Tree Felt Ornaments
Nativity Set Puzzle Waldorf
Fish Eaters Advent
Traditions for Advent
Adoremus Books Christmas and Advent Supplies