Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent in Our Home


I've written before about how, as newlyweds, my husband and I are constantly figuring out what traditions we want to keep from our childhoods and pass on to our children. Likewise, we are often creating new traditions that perhaps neither of us did growing up but we enjoy and would like to introduce our children to. When I think about it for awhile it quickly feels like a daunting task - because eventually I'd like to create a family culture that celebrates and acknowledges our various cultural backgrounds but revolves around our Catholic faith, living out the liturgical seasons and certain feast days that have special meaning to us. Deep breaths, baby steps.

Michael and I have been married for 2 years and we're still navigating what "living liturgically" means for us specifically. The Catholic Church has so many prayers, feast days, and traditions that it's impossible to explore and experience every single one. The key, for us, is to start small and work our way up to bigger, more elaborate things in future years. 

After all, in our 2 years of marriage we have lived in 3 different states, had a baby, and are now expecting our second child...so I guess you could say we've had a lot going on. If we tried right now to do ALL the things I envision us doing years down the road I think I'd collapse from exhaustion. I want our family to create and experience specific liturgical and holiday traditions, but they have to mesh with and enhance our daily life - not overwhelm or complicate it.

Last year I read a lot of blogs and thought quite a bit about various ways Michael and I could celebrate the Advent and Christmas seasons respectively...but, considering we had a newborn and spent much of our Christmas break packing and planning a move across the country, a lot of it stayed inside my head. This year Michael and I had a good talk about all the ideas I had and decided together which things we liked, thought were feasible, and would like to begin implementing this year and next. After a nice discussion and some healthy compromise, here's what we came up with:

I've broken our Advent (and Christmas) plans down into categories, which gives me a better sense and understanding of our overall vision. Not to mention, I think it keeps everything a lot more manageable when I can glance at each category and see how we're doing - rather than creating one, big list.

Advent Wreath
We do not yet have a real wreath and candles, which means currently we don't have anything to light. Instead, we're keeping the toy felt wreath my sister gave us in the center of our dinner table. Once we have a real wreath we'll light the appropriate candle(s) each night before dinner, possibly accompanied by a brief prayer. Here are some ideas we might use to pray:
  • Brief prayers from a book or prayer card - the book pictured above was a gift from my friend, Sr. Elizabeth Ann, so I plan to use it this year and see how it goes for us.
  • Prayers for loved ones - I love the idea of taking a few minutes to pray for any person/family that sends us a Christmas card or letter in the mail when we receive it.

Advent Calendar
  • Eventually I'd like some sort of nice, permanent Advent calendar that we can re-use, but for now the disposable ones with the little flaps you open each day are perfectly fine.
  • Once our children are older I love the idea of having one children's book for each day in Advent; that way you can wrap them all up and let the kids choose one to open and read each night. Those books would be "special" Advent books that we only pull out that time each year. So fun, right?!

Other Decor
  • Nativity scene - but baby Jesus doesn't get to make his debut until after we attend Christmas mass (confession: we don't yet own a nativity scene, but this is what we plan to do in future years).
  • Christmas tree - we will set up our Christmas tree any time in Advent, but plan to keep it bare until we get closer to Christmas. I love the idea of decking it out on Christmas Eve, but I'm not sure we'll be able to wait quite that long. The idea behind this is to create a sense of longing and anticipation so we really feel Advent. Looking at an empty tree is a visual reminder that Christ is coming soon, but has not yet come (I'm thinking the earliest we might ever decorate would be Gaudete Sunday).
  • Stockings - we have agreed that while stockings tend to make you think of Christmas morning, there's no harm in hanging them for decoration during Advent...especially considering how little we currently have in the way of seasonal decor (plus our beautiful stockings have an angel, holly, and a snowflake on them which is not at all inappropriate for Advent!).
  • General seasonal decor is good for both Advent and Christmas (a festive tablecloth, holly, mistletoe, wreaths, you get the idea).
This is a big one this time of year. Our goal is to do our best to listen to Advent music - not Christmas music - as much as possible during Advent (think of songs like "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"). Then, once Christmas season hits we can go all out with ALL the Christmas hymns and songs. This one will be hard, but worth it I think.

Much like music, we're going to do our best to hold off until closer to Christmas. We own a collection of the old, animated Christmas classics with Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, etc. The idea behind all this waiting is, once again, to create that sense of longing and anticipation in our hearts - but we're realistic about all of this, too; there's no way we're waiting all the way until Christmas to watch these (especially since they're aren't religious in nature). We compromised and said we can bust them out once we light the 4th (final) Advent candle...and if that's too hard I imagine Gaudete Sunday might be a good time to start watching. ;)


As a general rule, things that are SEASONAL (i.e. hot chocolate, eggnog, mistletoe, etc.) are welcome to make their appearance in our home at any time. The things we're holding off on until Christmas have more to do with the liturgical seasons and our Catholic faith. However, we are still newlyweds and slowly learning what it means for us to live liturgically within our growing family - so there are bound to be changes as we continue figuring it all out. I think the key, for us, is to set tangible goals and strive to implement them - and see how it goes. If we need to make changes, we will. But hopefully this is a good foundation upon which we can expand our family's traditions next year and the next year and the next.

It's also worth noting that just because we plan to wait to partake in certain festivities at home doesn't mean we expect everyone else to do so. Nor would we ever turn down invitations to Christmas parties simply because they might take place during Advent (how silly!). So if you want to invite us over during Advent and offer us Christmas cookies while rocking out to Joy to the World we will not be offended in the slightest. In fact, I'm sure we'd all have a jolly good time. And if our children ask, we'll simply explain that all families tend to do things differently and in our family we do x, y, and z.

I'm genuinely curious (and always on the lookout for new ideas): What are some things YOU do to celebrate the Advent and Christmas seasons???

"Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.… 
It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope."
-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI), Seek That Which Is Above


  1. Hahahaha we decked everything out on Advent 1 this year... but that was partly because I am trying to DO ALL THE THINGS before the baby comes. We also have our liturgical vestment doll out, prominently displaying his purple (which was very exciting for the girls), though we are missing an Advent calendar this year :( Next year, I want to go big and have a large felt one with little ornaments in the pocket for each day: then we could set up the tree on Advent 1 and progressively add to it!

    1. Oh believe me, if I was having a Christmas baby I would do exactly what you all did! Waiting too close to the baby's due date is just unnecessarily stressful! I just realized that I should move Gabriel's liturgical vestment doll into a more visible spot. That's a great idea. We're also totally lacking an Advent calendar but I keep telling myself that Gabriel is too young to notice...so basically next year I'm gonna have to REALLY get on top of things. ;) I like the felt calendar idea, too! I've seen some wooden block ones that are nice but felt would take up less space in storage. :P