Advent now comes and goes nearly unnoticed. The only thing worth of recognition between Halloween and Christmas is Thanksgiving, and even that has started to take a back seat as major stores start “decking the halls” and major TV stations start putting on Christmas movies in late October and early November. Advent, a delightful period of quiet waiting and anticipation for the coming of the child Jesus passes by largely forgotten.
My husband is a Maronite Catholic. Any of you familiar with Eastern Catholicism may have heard that the Eastern Catholic rites follow a different liturgical calendar. Most major feasts, like Christmas and Easter, fall on the same dates, thereby emphasizing the unity of the Church, but other feasts and the general cycle of the liturgical seasons differs. Since we’re a mixed family (I’m Roman Catholic), I like to joke that we can opt for the longer Advent (Maronite calendar) and shorter Lent (Roman Catholic calendar).
In all seriousness, though, I deeply appreciate the length of the Maronite Advent, which averages out to be six weeks instead of four. This gives more time for contemplating the Gospel narrative leading up to the birth of Jesus and for allowing a sense of longing for the Lord’s coming to grow in our hearts.
Right now, my husband and I have three kids, four and under, all born in the month of February. If you do the math, that means that I’ve been about 6 months pregnant during 3 of the last 5 Advents. Expecting a child is a WONDERFUL way of getting into the Advent season and teaching kids what we mean when we say that we’re waiting for Baby Jesus to arrive. But we can’t count on that natural way of celebrating Advent all the time, so we have to come up with other hands-on family traditions that can teach the kids about Advent and make the season come alive and make a difference.
Get the kids’ senses involved: fill your home with sights, sounds, tastes and smells of Advent.
Play Advent music. There are many beautiful hymns and songs specifically focused on Advent. You can play these in the background, or, if you still sing to your kids at night, simply include an Advent song to mark the season. A few Advent songs to consider:
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel (this is one of my all time favorites!)
- O Come Divine Messiah
- Come Oh Long Expected Jesus
- On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry (OK, not my favorite, but still, let’s not forget John the Baptist’s role in helping the People of God prepare for the arrival of Jesus
- Rorate Coeli (Another one of my favorites – incredibly simple and beautiful. Plus you get brownie points for exposing your kids to a second language and one very important to our Catholic traditions.)
- Hark, a Mystic Voice Is Sounding
- Every Valley Shall Be Exalted
Decorate for Advent. This could be as simple as an Advent wreath on the dining room table, or you could get more elaborate, putting symbols and scripture verses that remind you of Advent around the house.
Have special foods. You could, for example, make sugar cookies in the shape of Advent symbols (like the star), and frost them in Advent colors (pink and purple).
Get creative with Advent scents. There aren’t really specific smells associated with Advent, aside, perhaps, from the evergreen scent that emanates from the Advent wreath, but you can get creative here and set aside certain smells that you only use in your house during Advent, so you kids associate them with the season. You might consider, for example, boiling orange peel, cinnamon sticks and clove – this will give off a warm, inviting smell that permeates throughout the house.
Do something Advent related everyday as a family. This could be setting aside a few minutes to say an Advent prayer as a family (if you have an Advent wreath, you can light one of the candles at this time), using an Advent calendar, or making a Jesse tree. You can find many different free online resources for Advent calendars and Jesse trees. Loyola Press has both, as well as other printable Advent resources for families.
Use Advent images. Introduce your kids to classical art related to Advent (pictures of John the Baptist, the Visitation, the Annunciation, etc.) and talk about the stories depicted and what we can learn from them. ChurchYear.net has links to different Advent art; scroll down the page to the “Advent Art, Photos and Images” section. It’s far from comprehensive, but can give you a start. You can also build anticipation but putting the nativity out before Christmas and gradually adding the figurines in preparation for the big day, placing Baby Jesus in the manager on Christmas Eve.
Celebrate the Saints during Advent. Several feast days in the month of December can take on a distinctive Advent flavor, including St. Nicholas and St. Lucy. Each of these saints has a rich history and a variety of traditions (think: costumes, special foods, etc.) surround their feast days, so I’ll dedicate a separate post over the next week or so with ideas for celebrating their feast days with your kids.
Do some sort of additional outreach as a family. The Lord once told us in a parable, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:40). One of the best ways to get ready to receive Jesus is by opening our hearts to other people. This starts in the home, with kindness toward each other, and can then extend to our parishes and local communities through works of mercy.
Wishing all of you and your families and blessed and peaceful Advent!