This Sunday November 29th the Church celebrates the beginning of Advent.
Advent comes from the Latin word meaning "coming." Jesus is coming, and Advent is intended to be a season of preparation for His arrival. While we typically regard Advent as a joyous season, it is also intended to be a period of preparation, much like Lent, it is sometimes called a “little Lent.” Prayer, penance, and fasting are appropriate during this season, it is meant to be a period of self-preparation of our hearts and our homes for the coming of Christ at Christmas. The purple color associated with Advent is also the color of penance.
Advent is a time of expectation and excitement as we prepare for the birth of Christ. Within Advent is the unfolding of beautiful readings that build from one week to another. The opening of Advent calendars or the many other creative ways of counting sacred time is amongst my favorite childhood traditions. What are your Advent traditions? Perhaps incorporate a new Advent tradition from the suggestions below.
Suggested Advent Traditions:
Advent Wreath: The Advent wreath, which has German origins, is probably the most recognized Advent custom. It is a wreath made of evergreens that is bound to a circle of wire. It symbolizes the many years from Adam to Christ in which the world awaited its Redeemer; it also represents the years that we have awaited His second and final coming. The wreath holds four equally spaced candles, the three purple ones lit on the penitential Sundays and a pink one for Gaudete, the joyful third Sunday in Advent. For a Blessing and Prayers for the Advent Wreath, click HERE!
Advent Calendars: Advent calendars, especially ones with religious themes, are a great way to introduce children to the concept of waiting. Some can be refilled from year to year, some are designed to be opened just for one Advent season, and others incorporate Scripture to reflect upon a particular part of the Christian story.
Advent Angels: Advent Angels can be another simple tradition to encourage children to pray for one another. Each person in your house secretly chooses the name of someone within the family to pray for. You can also incorporate random acts of kindness into this activity. Family members only reveal their identity to each other on Christmas morning. Some families incorporate a guessing game in which family members are given clues and they try to guess which person is their Advent angel.
Jessie Tree: The Jessie Tree helps us connect the custom of decorating Christmas trees to the events leading to Jesus’ birth. The Jesse tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the father of King David. We adorn a Jesse tree with illustrated ornaments that represent the people, prophesies, and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history.
Straw for Baby Jesus: Each child may have his or her own individual manger, or there may be one manger for the whole family. The idea is that when acts of service, sacrifice, or kindness are done in honor of Baby Jesus as a birthday present, the child receives a piece of straw to put into the manger. Then, on Christmas morning, Baby Jesus is placed in the manger. Encourage your children to make Jesus' bed as comfortable as possible through their good deeds.
The Nativity scene: This is the event in which the entire family shares setting up the Christmas manger. Mary and Joseph should be far off traveling and their approach to Bethlehem can be adjusted daily. Older children can make life-size Nativity models, carve them, cut them out from cardboard, or set up pre-made figurines.
Resources from: Catechists’ Journey; Catholic Online; Catholic Education Resource Center; Loyola Press; Catholic Culture; The Catholic All Year Compendium