Catholic Spirituality,  Family Life,  feast days

How we deck our halls, Uebbing style {part 1 of an Advent series}

In true procrastinatory (or slothful?) fashion, today’s post is going up bright at early at the crack of, ah, noon. But is anyone else out there experiencing at bit of that jarring horror that is post-holiday break reentry? Bueller?

I’m also pretty sure we have a 2-year-old on our hands. Her destruction game is strong. And for some reason, the previous owners of our happy little home opted for swivel-mounted faucets in all he the bathrooms. SWiVel mOunTeD FaUcEtS. In case you wanted to, you know, flood the joint after you brush your teeth.

Moving on.


And, more importantly, Christmas.

When I was a younger mom and kind of new at homemaking and keeping human beings alive, I was pretty much just following in my parent’s footsteps and Christmas-ing like I always Christmas’d before. Which was fine! Which is fine. Save for the minor detail that my husband was not raised in the same family I was (which is convenient for genetic diversity, legality, validity of marriage, etc.) so, it turns out, we had different ideas of what to expect when you’re expecting (the Savior.)

The first couple years were a bit of a cultural collision of “don’t put that tree up till after Midnight Mass” and “it’s 8 pm on Thanksgiving night: do you know where your light up lawn reindeer are?”

Since then we’ve added a few more children to our midst, and now posses the clarity of hindsight and a teeny bit (just a teeny bit, seriously) of lived experience. So we’ve come to an agreement on what is really important and what is less than important and what would just be nice if it happened.

So, without further ado: our Advent plan, for now. For this season. For 2015, with 4 under-school-aged kids in a rental house with a limited budget and not as much sleep as we’d prefer to be logging. (I preface with these details because, gentle reader, it will be critical for your own seasonal satisfaction that you do what works for your family in the season that you are in, now. Not the season you wish you were in. Don’t be that mom that I was 2 years ago, pregnant as a humpback whale and whipping my fresh 3-year-old with a pipe cleaner Jesse Tree ornament, trying to keep him off the kitchen table where the Advent wreath beckoned him come and discover the chemical properties of fire + actual pine branches.

Don’t be her.

Or at least, don’t feel like you have to be her.

I read Kathryn’s piece this morning, and Bonnie’s too, and I was nodding and “mmm-hmming” along the whole time because there can be such a temptation, especially in the current social media climate, to look and see what other families are doing and worry “should we be doing that?” or, even worse in my opinion, disdain the tradition or practice they’re putting into place in their own home, for their own family.

Because the only thing we’re required to do in Advent? Get to Mass every Sunday. And Confession, too, if you’re able. 

That’s it.

There, feels better, doesn’t it?

If you’re feeling up for more than that, however, and if you want to see low quality pictures of Target dollar bin decor and foraged greenery from my yard, then look no further than my place. Here’s what our little family traditions look like, 6 years in and counting.

1. The Christmas tree. Always real. Because I love vacuuming and do not highly value my mental health, I suppose. Mostly adorned with shatterproof silver and gold balls from Target. And hung with loops of craft twine (much rustic) instead of those metal hooks (much grievous eye injuries).Usually we’ve gotten it on the first Sunday of Advent and usually – scratch that, every single time – it has died an agonizing, crispy death by December 19th. So this year we’re waiting till St. Nicholas’ Eve (did I just make that up?) to venture into the enchanted forest that pulls up outside our local Costco. We decorate it in stages each Sunday of Advent, beginning with the lights, then the ornaments, then the star. And I light it up for Sundays and feast days. Or whenever Joey pesters me long enough to turn it on for an hour or two, because he is a tiny Will Ferrel.

2. An Advent wreath. I bought 4 pretty black candlesticks at Target (<— I have an illness, don’t I?) a couple years back and now I just arrange the candles inside the perimeter of our (fake. So, so fake.) evergreen wreath and we light the corresponding candle each Sunday. Except this year I’ve lost the wreath, so they’re just arranged kind of minimalist style in a square of Scandanavian sadness.

advent decor 1

3. An Advent calendar. Found this gem at our local Catholic bookstore and the kids are obsessed. It comes with a sweet little prayer book with a (short!) corresponding reflection each day.

4. Giving tree family. Every year we adopt a family with a couple kids and buy them all presents with part of our Christmas budget. I insisted we all go to Target (<— seriously what is wrong with me?) together on Black Friday in years past to get the best deals and so our kids could see us doing charity, gosh darn it, and like it! But this year I bought everything online (using Bonnie’s affiliate link by clicking through the Amazon button on her sidebar) and I’m making the kids sign a card. See? #Evolutionoftradition

5. St. Nicholas Day. They leave their wittle shoes under the (hopefully procured by this point) Christmas tree and in those shoes they place their letter to Santa/St. Nick. He takes the letters, leaves a treat (Christmas jammies and Nutcracker dolls this year) and a letter in return, adjuring them to prepare well for baby Jesus’ birth. They love it, I love it, and it saves the postage to the North Pole.advent decor 2

6. Santa. Speaking of controversy, I thought I’d either bring Donald Trump or Kris Kringle into the mix and mention that yes, we shamelessly embrace the myth of Santa and that no, I’m not worried that my kids will not believe in Jesus because we let them think St. Nicholas is actually holding court at the local mall. I’m seeing it as a kind of primer on the communion of saints. After all, St. Nick is still very much alive in Christ. Also? I think we might be culturally overthinking this one. I’m not sure 30 years ago our parents fretted so much about Damaging The Children with Dangerous Secular Ideas. Neither do I believe that Santa is actually all that secular. (Neither will I consider voting for the Donald. Don’t worry.)


Case in point? We happened upon the jolly old elf and his missus in a lobby adjoining our favorite library over the weekend and he had real glitter in his real beard and he told my kids that “every time a bell rings (shook silver sleigh bell at that point for emphasis) an angel gets it’s wings.” My 5 year old then told him he was “filling baby Jesus’ manger with pieces of straw earned for good deeds, so his bed would be soft and cozy” at which point Santa got teary eyed and leaned in real close and told my kids,

“He’s the reason I come, you know.”

So if you needed some kind of shot in the arm that Santa and Jesus were playing for the same team, look no further than Southglenn mall.

And that’s basically it. My own preparation involves as much online shopping as early in the season as possible, and this year I’m aiming for weekly trips to the confessional and some daily silent mental prayer. And, you know, picking up little people nativity figures over and over and over again. All day long.

Stay tuned for another installment from an even more organized and much more impressive mama later this week. But remember that it’s your home, so you get to call the shots. I’m just here to provide some un-Pinable images to help get the wheels turning 😉

advent series


  • Sarah

    I love this series and can totally relate to figuring this whole thing out with a husband who has different ideas (which are sometimes hard to care about? Like? Did I write that?) And children that are mine (obviously!). I do have one thought or comment on your Santa section. I am not disagreeing with anything you said regarding the jolly guy and don’t think letting kids believe is wrong/problematic/any of those other things… But…you said you don’t think thirty years ago our parents were fretting about this. I agree, they weren’t but I also know for the past few decades catechism has been often poorly done (at best…and at worst…yikes!) I don’t think my thoughts or question stem from Santa specifically but I do think it is good to consider ways we can do it differently to not get lost raising saints as previous generations have.

    Does that make any sense? I DO NOT WANT TO START TROUBLE!!!! I dont hate santa!!! Just a thought based on that one specific line and my own internal debate about how to do this whole thing myself!! 🙂

    • Molly

      I think one good thing we can do that our parents might have dropped the ball in is tying regular ol’ Santa to St. Nicholas without having to completely setting aside some of the games and traditions our parents started with us. Most of my generation (30’s-ish with kids) seem to really be focusing on making sure the St. Nicholas story is taught right along Santa if he’s “done” in their house – they want to have some of the fun their parents set up for them as kids, but want their kids to really know later on that “Santa” is/was real in his own way so that there’s some truth in the make believe.

      • Sarah

        We are of the same generation molly and I do think your suggestion is spot on. I was quite old before I really knew anything about the actual story of saint Nicholas. That is not a knock on my parents by any means, they are wonderful, but I think their own formation was better and they didn’t realize I wasn’t getting it the same way they did (at school or CCD as they called it in my day…ha!) Thanks for responding kindly to my comment, I was a little worried to be first and say that!

        • Molly

          Yeah I think growing up the adults I know who were the most hurt by the Santa reveal were the ones who had 1) no reality to replace him with when the truth was out (no St. Nick for Catholics or even just a “spirit of Christmas” for non-Caths) and 2)had parents who, usually good-heartedly, went a little overboard on it all (like everything was from Santa, etc.). I definitely think our generation can figure out how to balance it all out.

  • Congetta

    Love this!!! Was going back and forth about St. Nicholas and Santa! Forgive me, but I’ll be stealing your idea of putting the letter in the shoes!! Love your blog❤️

  • Suzi Whitford

    This is wonderful! I love the line “little people nativity figures over and over and over again.” That is SO my day now! It’s like the little set needs to be put up nicely because Jesus can’t lay on the floor!! 🙂

    This is the first Advent we’re celebrating as a family and I hope the little traditions we’re starting will last a lifetime! We’ve even made New Liturgical Year Resolutions (! Is that a thing?
    Or am I trying too hard?

    Thank you for your humor. I love your posts!!

  • Dorothy

    I love this. So real. We’re on our third married Christmas with a 14 mo old now. We don’t have any real traditions in place yet, and I love reading about the realistic and sweet traditions of others!

  • Karyn

    We celebrate St Nicholas day with letters and gifts. But I just never really wanted to get into Santa? I guess I’m too lazy to keep up the charade of putting out carrots for reindeer and such. I think there’s also something to be said for kids understanding that their parents make some sacrifices to give them gifts….that the gifts aren’t just made by jolly elves, lol. Thanks for a peek at how you celebrate Advent. As a convert, it’s been so helpful to get ideas from other moms.

  • melissa

    My kids are three and a half and two and people have been asking them about Santa and what they asked for for Christmas and they are all like…what are you talking about. NOT because I am anti Santa or because we don’t want our kids to believe in Santa, but I’m pretty sure out of sheer lazyness on our parts and having never actually mentioned Santa to them. Then again I was an only child, my husband one of two and I don’t think either of us believed in Santa for very long haha. I remember at a young age realizing that Santa and my mom had the same handwriting and that was that. This year I had big plans, but God and a nasty stomach bug knocked me down a few pegs and now we are : lighting our advent candle on Sundays, playing with nativity sets (sans baby Jesus until Christmas eve), and doing straw in the manger for good deeds. AND I have resolved to stay at home more and just in general try to slow things down and do less stuff. I LOVE reading about other peoples advent traditions!!

  • Molly

    I’ve been thinking our St. Nicholas tradition needs just a little extra oomph and have been contemplating the letter idea too.

    Our homes seem very similar – that’s about all we do to, though our tree goes up a little later (though I think that’s mainly because I need a week or two to tidy the house post-Thanksgiving before it comes out of the box).

  • Judith

    My favorite line: “Except this year I’ve lost the wreath, so they’re just arranged kind of minimalist style in a square of Scandanavian sadness.” Seriously laughing out loud (which, spelled out, I think holds true meaning more so than the overused “LOL” 🙂 ).

    Love all your traditions. When we light our advent wreath at dinnertime each night, we also sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” as a substitute for our usual “Bless Us, O Lord” grace. (Every year I promise myself that we will switch verses each week, but then I forget and no one wants to consult a hymnal when we’re hungry.) We also have a combo advent calendar/Jesse tree felt wall hanging. My MIL gave us the kit when our first son was a toddler many years ago. That year I thought, “I’ll make one of the felt pieces every day as our Advent activity!” So…I think I made about 5 or 6 the first year. Then we’ve added to the set every year, which works too. Right now we have a great story line going from the Creation up through about Ruth or so, then we jump to the Holy Family, manger, and Baby Jesus. Cuz I’m figuring Jesus doesn’t use anyway… We also have a great Playmobil nativity set that I think I play with more than the kids. One year our godson came and took apart EVERY. SINGLE. PIECE. Capes, staffs, beards, hair, EVERYTHING. Apparently Bethlehem did not have a good tornado alert system in place, because no one made it out unscathed. So having lost some key pieces, we bought an extra wise men set, and now we have a huge Magi party happening. (And hey, we’re not really sure there were only 3 anyway!)

    Happy Advent!

  • Laura @ Mothering Spirit

    Oh man. This is my favorite how-we-do-Advent post yet b/c 1) I laughed the whole way through, 2) I too have a Target problem that gets exacerbated every December, 3) this line sums up nearly every marital challenge of my life: “the minor detail that my husband was not raised in the same family I was.”
    Amen and amen!

  • Jeanette

    The feast of St. Lucia on Dec 13 as a good day for lighting our tree was a tradition I started later on when trying to figure out the right timing for putting up the tree. If your tree is fresh cut, it will last at least until the feast of the Epiphany.

    Totally relate to the husband not raised in same family thing. In fact, not raised in the same faith, either. Not only did I introduce Advent and Christmas to my kids, but to my spouse, who may or may not have the same level of interest or participation, let alone the same life experience of Advent and Christmas to draw from.

    We think of our home traditions, but it’s a great thing to participate in parish-based traditions, so in addition to the Advent Penance service, some have Advent Parish Missions, and I take advantage of attending those events. One parish had a family event that featured the Advent tradition of Las Posadas. Another parish had a large Filipino community, so they had the Simbang Gabi tradition. Our children enjoyed that aspect of Advent as well, and it helps them connect to the greater community of faith.

  • Diana

    LOVED this: “the minor detail that my husband was not raised in the same family I was.”. I mean, obviously good we weren’t but I swear most of our heated discussions stem from our parents raising us differently, decided whose parents’ house to go to when, etc. Made me laugh. Also, the Little People nativity…I pick that up MULTIPLE times a day. At least the Playmobil one is out of his reach!
    We aren’t “doing” Santa but SO. MANY. PEOPLE. ask him about it and it’s hard to find Christmas books about something other than Santa, besides nativity ones of course and we read/own plenty of those.
    I’ve tried to be more conscious the last few years about observing Advent and not just Christmas and focusing on the real meaning while also enjoying everything I love about this season – like baking, wrapping, etc. It’s a struggle but nice to hear from others managing a balance! Also, Target. Definitely a problem I share.

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