This stretch of December is an interesting dichotomy, yes? In terms of our popular culture, everything is very noisy and rushed. Constant commercials on our televisions are showing us the things we need to be buying in order to “get everything on our list!” and we all start to fret over not only the stressful shopping experiences, but also planning the upcoming parties and celebrations. Yet on the other hand, the liturgical season is Advent. Advent carries with it a season of expectation, of quiet joy, of preparation. Yet it is difficult to maintain that spirit as we go about our daily tasks at this time of year.
For me, just as important as increased prayer time during Advent is emphasizing small prompts throughout my day, especially at home with my children, that this is a special liturgical season. Throughout December, I highlight not only an Advent calendar and the weekly candle lighting of the Advent wreath in our home, but also saints' feasts that fall within the season and other holy reminders. Seeing my children enjoy these small traditions and celebrations always harkens my mind back to what we are preparing for.
One Advent tradition that I have started with my children is celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th. On the eve of his feast, both children set their shoes out on the hearth:
Books, chocolate coins and saint dolls for everybody! My children really enjoy this feast day tradition, and I take great joy in passing it on to them. It is a reminder to parent and child alike that while Christmas is coming, is it not yet here. While we wait, we can turn our minds to our saintly intercessors in heaven, and the upcoming birthday of Our Lord.
As well, while we journey through Advent my children refer again and again to their nativity sets as reminders of the upcoming Christmas celebration. Inevitably, I will walk past the set that we keep near our Christmas tree, and see that someone had rearranged the scene just a bit:
Apparently, everybody has banded together, including an angel and the animals, to adore the infant King from outside in a mass lineup. This happens regularly, and each time I notice it, I cannot hold back a smile. The responsible party, almost certainly my daughter, is even more curious than ever at Mass during the Advent season:
“Mommy, why is that one candle pink when the others are purple?”
"Anne. Shhhhh, Honey. We have to be quiet during Mass."
"I AM BEING QUIET, MOMMY!!"
You know how this goes, all of you fellow long-suffering parents out there. After a whispered explanation, there were lots of questions and excitement about the pink candle making its debut.
Both of my children also take note of the feast of St. Lucy each year, which we just celebrated on December 13th. They love her story, with all of the references to lights guiding us in the darkness of winter. The past few years, I have purchased sweet rolls to serve at breakfast on her feast, as that tradition is attributed to St. Lucy. I will grant, it would be preferable to make our own, but if you had seen any of my previous attempts at baking, well… (the world breathes a collective sigh of relief). Such small customs, pulled from the lives of the saints, always capture the imagination of my children:
“Mom. You aren’t going to let Anne wear a crown of lit candles like St. Lucy did. Right?!”
My son is correct. We do not practice EVERY custom, just the ones wherein the potential for injuries and setting fire to the house are kept to an absolute minimum. It’s always an adventure in Catholic parenting!
For my part, earlier this month after seeing both of my little ones off to school, I stopped off at 8 AM Mass for the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. During his homily, the priest mentioned how well-placed this feast is during Advent, when we can reflect on how we all need Christ to save us and help us to become holy. He spoke about how Advent is an ideal time to avail oneself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, because this accentuates a preparation of our souls. Particularly, how are we preparing ourselves for Christmas? He specifically emphasized our preparation for this Christmas. Christmas comes every year, and we all know that it is a special season, but right now we need to focus on the present. Christ wants to dwell among us, and each Advent we need to prepare and reflect on that anew.
Advent can easily become a season of busy distractions, rather than quiet contemplation and preparation for Christmas. Although it is rarely quiet in my house, my children help me to remember the spirit of the season in other ways. Our Catholic faith is rich in ritual and tradition, and these holy reminders can help to ground our focus during Advent.
How do you celebrate Advent? Do you use a specific devotional, or practice certain Advent traditions? I would love to hear about it in the comments!
Copyright 2015 Tiffany Walsh
Photos copyright 2015 Tiffany Walsh. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Tiffany Walsh is a wife and mother, a native western New Yorker, and a college librarian. She is a cradle Catholic who rekindled her childhood faith as a graduate student via her love of books, and is the author of Exploring the Catholic Classics, part of the Stay Connected Journals for Catholic Women series. She enjoys writing about faith, crafting, dance, fitness and wellness. Visit her blog at Life of a Catholic Librarian.