Elizabeth Tomlin offers 14 ways families can make the most of new Advent traditions and celebrate the rest of the season.
Memory is associative. We associate sounds, smells, experiences, and tastes with certain events or seasons in our lives. What are your Advent traditions?
What sound do you associate with Advent? Is there a special smell or taste of the season?
This may seem strange, but aside from church, I will always associate Advent with my college years in Williamsburg, Virginia. Each year, on the first Sunday of December, Colonial Williamsburg kicks off its holiday season with a festival of carolers, bonfires, and hot apple cider. The festival culminates in a fireworks display.
As thousands of people cram into the Colonial Williamsburg streets and await the fireworks, there’s a conspicuous silence, and an excited expectation because something incredible is about to begin. For people of faith, that something is the Advent Season leading to the Nativity. O come, Emmanuel.
For me, Advent sounds include the sizzle of firewood in peat-lined, hanging baskets that light the colonial streets. Advent smells include the pungent odor of peat itself. Advent tastes like hot apple cider in a nearly-collapsing paper mug.
Advent feels different this year.
This year, Advent has sounded, and smelled, and tasted a lot different. For starters, I’m writing while under a quarantine order in Washington State. Guests cannot enter my home, and church services are limited in size. But nonetheless, my spirit has felt that longing and expectation of Advent.
Continuing traditions in a year of upheaval.
I think that this year of upheaval is an invitation for us to dig in on some of our traditions to offer that warm familiarity of Advent to our families.
One of our family Advent traditions is that my children place cotton balls in a little homemade crèche when they do good deeds, to prepare a soft bed for Jesus. As some of kids have gotten older, they help the youngest think about his good deeds and add cotton balls – the older kids are mentoring family traditions. It’s very sweet to see.
Even though Christmas is just a few days away, it’s not too late to re-light or begin anew some Advent traditions to help us prepare for the birth of Jesus and spend time as a family.
Here are some ideas to re-ignite that period of preparation and expectation of Advent.
- Prepare the crèche for Jesus’ arrival.
- Read the Advent Gospel readings together as a family.
- Light the Advent wreath or make an Advent wreath. It’s not too late!
- Take a family photo.
- Go to daily Mass as a family.
- Pick a local charity and make a special gift to it.
- Get to Confession as a family to prepare for Christmas.
- Wrap presents – little kids love wrapping presents! Buy extra scotch tape!
- Bake cookies using your favorite recipes or even try a new one.
- Have a white elephant gift exchange. It’s amazing what funny gifts my youngest child dreams up!
- Sing carols together.
- Build a fire in the fireplace or backyard – with marshmallows handy.
- Read Advent and Christmas stories aloud as a family.
- Write a thank you letter to your priest – he’s worked hard this season!
Time spent as a family is always time well-spent! I hope that in these last few days of Advent you can re-ignite or begin some Advent traditions as we prepare for good tidings of great joy!
Copyright 2020 Elizabeth Tomlin
Image: Taryn Elliott (2020), Pexels
About the Author
Elizabeth is the author of Joyful Momentum: Building and Sustaining Vibrant Women’s Groups (Ave Maria Press), General Counsel for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and director of stewardship for the Military Council of Catholic Women, where she previously served as the president and as director of faith formation. Elizabeth is a catechist and speaker, and blogs at JoyfulMomentum.org.