Advent Traditions

(NOTE:  Mary is taking a break this week from blog writing.  So she has asked me (Sue, the other mom on this blog) to write my first ever post!   This is so exciting!  Mary has posted the lion share of the content on this blog, but I am hoping in the coming months to step it up!  Just a forewarning, my blog posts will never be what Mary’s are.  That lady is AMAZING!   Mine will be more of a cross between Erma Bombeck and C.S. Lewis.  So here it goes!)

As we head into one of my most favorite liturgical seasons, I thought it would be nice to share some of our family’s Advent Traditions. I LOVE to establish different traditions around the Church calendar.  First, the kiddies go crazy about them!   We are talking, absolutely have to do this stuff without a doubt, even when I am too tired and just wanting to read a book and take a bath. Second, we are covertly teaching them about the Faith, and it doesn’t involve anything BORING (as they put it)!  So each year, I try my best to do something exciting but liturgical.

First off, we celebrate Advent!  So that means, our Christmas tree and decorations stay in the boxes until December 23rd.  I really want our kids to prepare for the coming of the Savior and not get distracted by all of the materialism and secularism of the holiday season.  I also feel like as soon as the tree is up, the kids start bouncing off the walls with excitement, and we still have school work to focus on for a few weeks at least!  Finally and perhaps the best reason, I am a homeschooling mother of four, between school, music lessons, holiday concerts, scouts, etc., I just can’t seem to get around to it any earlier!!!  So here is a list of our traditions.  Some we do every year without fail and some we change up.

Advent Tradition #1. The Advent wreath.  I don’t own a store bought wreath with candle holders (I am way too cheap!), so we take the bottom of my cake plate (a round plate or platter would also work).  I use four fat white candles (purple and pink fat candles are: 1) hard to come by depending on what colors are in vogue, 2) usually scented, and 3) more expensive…there is that cheap thing again!), one pink and three purple bows that I made out of ribbon, greenery cut from the trees in our yard, and pine cones.   This gets displayed on our dining room table.   At dinner time, we light the appropriate number of candles, turn on repeat “O’Come, O’Come Emmanuel”, turn off the lights, and eat by candlelight.  My husband reads an Advent meditation we get from the books that they set out at the back of our church.  Since Advent is a time of darkness, it seems appropriate to turn off the lights in the evening as much as possible (also saves on the electric bill….cheapness!). As we progress through the season, the light from the centerpiece becomes brighter and brighter, symbolizing the light of Christ.   On Christmas Eve, I change the candles to red and green and the bows to white.   At least once during the season, I have to refresh the greenery.

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Advent Tradition #2. The Advent Calendar.  When my oldest was little, we used to buy the cheap $1.99 calendars from our parish gift shop.   Then one year, we splurged on the chocolate one, approximately $6. (This was all fine and good until child number two became old enough to open the little flaps.  Well, who gets the chocolate?   Then I was buying two calendars.   Four kids later, you can imagine the cost, and I don’t even have a big Catholic family!  It was complete madness!)  Anyways, I asked my aunt to make us an Advent Calendar.  Being the creative person that she is, she made us this amazing wall hanging from scrap material she had lying around.  She made the ornaments out of various beads and charms that again were just in her scrap jewelry supply box.  If you are a crafty person or a sewer, apparently this stuff is readily on hand!  In my wildest dreams, I couldn’t have come up with something so classy or so perfect to countdown the days until Christmas.   Even more amazing, is that each ornament comes in its own separate box which are numbered and have a flower glued on the top. So each night the kiddies take turns opening one of the boxes and hanging the little ornaments on the “tree”.  On Christmas Eve, there is a Nativity scene to pin on the bottom.   Using an old Christmas card, my aunt cut out the Nativity, decoupaged it on a small piece of wood, and then glued a pin on the back.  Are these fabulous calendars available in stores, you might ask?  No.  My advice is to find a crafty sewer type and beg them to make you one, because this is by far one of our most favorite traditions.  Alternatively, you could buy one.  In fact, since one of Mary’s children is our Godson and I am clearly NOT the crafty type, we bought him a wooden one  from Amazon.

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Advent Tradition #3. The Nativity.  For a wedding gift, my grandfather made us a stable out of sticks from trees in their yard.  Another aunt buys us Fontanini characters each year as a Christmas gift.  I have lots and lots of these suckers!  We set up the stable on the first Sunday of Advent, and then each night the kids pick out a different character to add to the scene.  We save the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph for later in the season, and of course, Baby Jesus waits until Christmas Eve to make His appearance.   Every time the kiddies do a good turn, they put a piece of straw into the stable.   They do this anonymously and without ceremony.   It is nice to see them doing something kind for each other (instead of the usual!) but not seeking any reward other than making a soft bed for Baby Jesus.

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Advent Tradition #4. Saint Feast Days.   There are so many great Saints to celebrate during the season of Advent.   We don’t do all of them, but I try to pick out a few each year to do something extra.   This is also a great time, to read a story about the Saint at dinner or during school.   In my book, we can never teach them enough about the Saints, and a simple story and coloring picture doesn’t cut it for my crew most of the time.  Here are our favorites:

St. Nicholas (December 6th): The kids leave their shoes by the door, and St. Nicholas fills them with chocolate gold coins (easy to find in the grocery stores in November, not so much on December 5th), real coins, an apple or tangerine, a bag of assorted nuts, and a candy cane.  Each of these represent something significant in St. Nicholas’ life and maybe if Mary invites me to write a second blog post after this one, I will expand on that!

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother (December 8th): How about a birthday cake for Our Lady?   I am always up for an excuse to bake (and eat) cake!  Better yet, how about taking a meal to a friend who is expecting.  As we all know, there is nothing better than someone showing up to your house with a hot meal!

St. Lucy (December 13th): My oldest daughter dresses in a white outfit and wears a crown of fake candles that she made out of pipe cleaners.   She then gets up early and bakes cinnamon roles for the rest of us.  Not sure why she doesn’t do this every day of the year, but who is complaining?  Here is my favorite cinnamon role recipe (and it doesn’t involve yeast so it is super easy!):

Sweet Cinnamon Biscuits

Ingredients:
2 cups sifted flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 Cup vegetable oil
3/4 Cup buttermilk
6 Tablespoons butter
3/4 Cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Raisins (optional)
Pecans, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a pie plate lightly. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Stir in vegetable oil. Add buttermilk and stir just until blended. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Roll dough into a 15 X 8 inch rectangle. Melt the butter and combine with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Spread over the dough, sprinkle with raisins and nuts. Roll up rectangle, jelly roll fashion, starting from one long side. Cut the roll into 1 1/2 inch slices. Arrange the slices, cut side up, in pie plate. Bake until lightly browned about 15-20 minutes. Serve
warm.

Advent Tradition #5: Corporal Works of Mercy. I am always trying to get my kids to 1) think about the Corporal Works of Mercy and 2) DO THEM!   So last year I made a brilliant announcement that we were going to do all of them during the season of Advent…definitely brilliant ’cause it meant I had to do all of this extra work!  But it made me be aware of and tap into various opportunities around town that were already organized.

Feed the Hungry – We rang the bells outside of a local restaurant to collect money for our town’s food bank.  This was something our parish set up, we just had to show up and ring the bells for an hour. Not up for bell ringing, how about making a donation to the local food bank?

Clothe the Naked – This one was easy.  We already volunteer twice a month at our local Saint Vincent de Paul store for two hours on the weekends.   We pull the clothes that haven’t sold in the last five weeks so that the Monday volunteers can put out new items.  It seemed to qualify. Realizing that not everyone can spend their weekends volunteering, how about donating some gently used clothes to your local SVdP?

Visit the Imprisoned – Our former neighbor moved to a Nursing home earlier in the year so again this was an easy one.   Taking the kids to visit her, makes her month!  BONUS POINT: All of my kids play stringed instruments, and every year they are asked to play around town at various nursing homes.  Visiting older relatives or friends at their homes also counts!

Shelter the Homeless – Another mom and I got our kids together to make gift bags for our local homeless shelter.   We bought personal care items (like toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving cream, razors), warm socks, apples and oranges (the shelter told us their clients don’t get a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables), water bottles, granola bars, and a Christmas card.  We put everything into small gift bags and had the kids deliver them to the shelter.   (NOTE:  If you are going to do this, call your shelter first to make sure it would be ok and ask for suggestions on what to include in the bags.) Alternatively, shelters are usually in need of blankets and winter coats.  Again, consider donating some gently used things.

Visit the Sick – Another neighbor had been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the fall, the kiddies made her some zucchini bread and delivered it.   They also helped rake her leaves and walk her dog.  Finally, we took a meal to a family in our homeschooling group where the mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

Bury the Dead – My oldest son is asked to serve the funeral Masses at our parish.  My kids are well behaved at Mass so we all attend the funerals.  If you are unable to attend a funeral, how about making an effort to pray for the dead, especially the Souls in Purgatory, during Advent?

Give Drink to the Thirsty – I felt like we had this one covered in some of the other things we did, but just to prove a point, some carolers showed up at our house and we provided hot cocoa for them.   Again you could provide a donation to the local food bank to cover this one.

And so ends the list of all the things we do during the Advent season.  I am tired just thinking about all of it!    Hopefully you will add something to your own traditions.  There are lots and lots of great ideas out there for things to do during Advent.  I would invite you to celebrate Advent and not just jump ahead into Christmas!   If you don’t do anything, my advice would be to start small and pick one thing.   If you do lots of stuff, share it with the rest of us!  We are always looking for things to add to our traditions. May you all have a Blessed Advent Season!

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