Catholic Spirituality,  Family Life,  feast days

How we deck our halls: an Advent series

This Sunday – tomorrow, yay! – marks the beginning of the new liturgical year, (Year C for you liturgy nerds out there) and the dawn of the lead up to the most wonderful time of the year. If you’re anything like me, you probably didn’t grasp the concept of Advent on a particularly intellectual level as a child. As far as I knew, the Church simply delighted in dangling a big, fat, purple (and one pink) candle in front of me week after interminable week, dragging out the tortuous wait until Christmas morning.

Now that I’m an adult and I have my own enthusiastic elves at home, I realize that 1. the Church as a mother has to start preparing a good month out. And it’s still not enough time! And 2. it’s a penitential season for a reason.

Much like the last month of pregnancy, Advent is meant to be a slowing down, a time of decreased activity and time for reflection and greater simplicity. Mama can’t cook, she’s tired. We’ll eat soup. We’ll go to bed earlier. We’ll snuggle under blankets and read stories and watch movies.

In reality, Advent has been a bit hijacked by that quintessentially American quality of freaking the freak out about major holidays and, as a result, utterly disregarding the actual meaning of the feast in question.

As a mom it’s a tricky balance between getting our homes (and our hearts) prepared and properly adorned, while managing to not whip ourselves into a frenzied rage of wrapping paper and Amazon Prime and cocktail shrimp.

I don’t do a great job of it. But I’m trying. And like Lent, Advent (which has been called a kind of “little lent” in the Church year) comes annually, so I get to keep trying. I want my children to have a beautiful, meaningful experience of waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our salvation, Jesus Christ.

I also want them to experience the joy (or horror?) of sitting on Santa’s lap and earnestly filling him in on the remote-control X-wing they saw at Costco. And asking about where the reindeer sleep.

I want to show them that yes, while we do put our lights up and start preparing the house for the Big Day, no, He’s not born yet.

And just like we weren’t using Luke’s baby swing or carseat until after he’d actually arrived, we won’t have those Christmas lights turned on for good until Christmas Eve. (We do turn our lights on for Sundays in Advent and for big feast days. And this is just how we do it as a family, not a commentary on anyone else’s family culture.)

That’s what we’re trying to create, after all: a family culture. A little liturgy of traditions and memories in our domestic church.

So, with the aim of sharing some of those personal familial traditions from different perspectives, I’ve invited some beautiful women into this space over the next few weeks to share how they celebrate Advent and Christmas in their own homes. How they decorate and pray. How they give of their time and treasure. How they unabashedly combine Frozen: the singalong! with Vespers; hot cocoa walks to admire Christmas lights in early December with Advent wreaths and evening prayers; magnolia leaf wreaths, black-tie champagne receptions and cozy knit throws with purple and pink candles burning in an evergreen circle at the kitchen table.

It can be done, after all.

Because we’re all preparing for the same Thing. I heard recently that in Arabic, “Merry Christmas” translates literally into “happy holiday of The Birth.”

Can’t think of a better way to say it myself.

On Monday I’ll kick this series off by sharing a bit about our own family’s Advent and Christmas traditions. I hope you’ll join us, and chime in with your own family experiences too.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

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advent series


  • jeanette

    There’s a great Benedictine blog called “Vultus Christi” that has a post today called “Oftentimes to begin again” which is worth reflection on Advent as the season of new beginnings:

    In our family, Advent has a special meaning of new beginning, as it was the time of year that our children were placed in our family for adoption. Suddenly our new children experienced a radical change…once their lives, going from a history of multiple foster and adoptive placements and rejections. And they had to begin again in a new family. Like it or not. Changing families was not really much of a choice. It was simply a fact. Sometimes we get to choose our new beginnings in life, other times not.

    We had many traditions during Advent, some focused more on the typical American holiday activities. The very first event for our children after coming into our family was to go to the mountains to cut down a Christmas tree together. For my very new little daughter (only 2 years old) it was a strange unfolding of what was going on inside of her. Amidst these tall trees with my tall husband, she wandered about and started to whine in a somewhat distressed voice “Where’s Mommy” over and over again, as she had lost sight of me, her new mommy who was nearby though unseen. She appeared sad and dejected as our new son followed closely on my husband’s heels sizing up each tree for its potential. But she just followed along rather sadly. Then I tried singing some little songs with her, as she loved to sing. But still no cheer. My husband and son found a tree to cut down and set to work. Then I realized she was feeling left out, something she was too young to articulate verbally. I told my husband to let her hold onto the handle of the cutting tool together with my husband and son as they drew it back and forth to saw at the tree base. Suddenly, she changed in her entire demeanor, smiling and feeling a part of things.

    Many people during this time of year are particularly sensitive to their losses. Even after my children had settled into their life with us, they still experienced “anniversary” losses for many years. As we go about preparing and celebrating, it is important not to forget to help people who grieve over various losses to be a part of what is going on in our lives, to be part of us.

  • Suzi Whitford

    Jenny, thank you for posting. My husband and I are both converts and now that we have a small family, and another one on the way, we are opening our arms wide to living the Liturgical calendar. Happy New Liturgical Year by the way!

    We are starting these basic traditions in our family and I’ll post weekly how we are doing.

    This morning’s mass was utterly beautiful! We were courageous and sat three rows from the altar, normally we sit in the last row of church, three steps from the cry room. But this morning was different. I wanted to see the candle lit, I wanted to be close to the action, so I overcame my fears and asked my hubby if we could move up just a bit more. My 17 month daughter was in awe of all the action! I’ll post some pictures to my blog of how beautiful this morning was.

    I look forward to reading how other families embrace Advent!

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