Catholic Spirituality,  design + style,  Family Life,  feast days,  guest post

Advent: A Convert’s Confession

Kathryn the great agreed to grace this space with her presence once again, and for a piece that I wouldn’t have even thought of because…cradle Catholic. I love her perspective on Advent from a Catholic convert’s point of view. And you will too. (and I’m sorry this is posting a day later than I intended, but the respiratory plague of 2015 got me like horrified-face-emoji.)

Oh, and p.s. – I want to be a special child in her life. Because click over and check out the swank Star Wars soiree she threw for a very deserving little boy earlier this fall. Oh em gee the droid cookies alone….(T-minus 48 hours till I lay my peepers on The Force Awakens. But who’s counting?)

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Can I be honest with y’all?

Social media made me do it. Advent, that is.

You see, nineteen years ago I converted to Catholicism. You know, back when social media and iPhones didn’t exist. Weird, isn’t it?

I heard of a few Advent traditions once I stepped foot into a Catholic church, but my sum total take away from the many years of going to Mass was I really needed to buy three purple candles and one pink one to call myself a Catholic. My, my how far I’ve really come.

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Now, as a Catholic convert and mom of six, my husband and I celebrate the Advent season with purpose, with love and with a whole lot of Clorox wipes. Because, kids.

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During my growing up years, Christmas was shopping, the Christmas Eve service, pajamas the night before Santa came, decorating the house right after Thanksgiving dinner and putting up outdoor lights, pictures with Santa and a nativity scene. Oh, and I’m almost certain there was a Griswold Family Christmas showing in there, too. There was no Jesse Tree, no Advent calendar, no special Advent vs. Christmas songs, no absent baby Jesus’ until Christmas Eve, no Epiphany, no feast of St. Nicholas.

But, you want to know my other confession?

I didn’t get from there, to here, overnight.

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Our first Christmas as married Catholics included attending Christmas Eve Mass, then coming home to a wonderful dinner and opening up our one Christmas present (quite poor graduate students back then) before loading up the pickup and driving 15 hours in winter weather from Iowa to Texas to visit family back home. There were no special prayers, no feast of the three kings, no hullaballoo. And you know what? That’s okay, because it was the season we were in back then.

Today? Today, we have added bits and bobs throughout the years. Some we’ve taken away. But most of all, we’ve learned to love. All those traditions have taught us to do the one thing.

Love Jesus more.

Our mantle is adorned with stockings. Yes, our household celebrates both the Feast of St. Nick on December 6 and dear old Santa Claus on December 25 (one in the same, here). But, there’s a twist. St. Nick and Santa just bring fun little things—Christmas pajamas, some gold coins, a Christmas book or two, a family game and small little gifts. The big ones, the gifts our kids most desire, come from us. We do the “three gifts” in honor of the three kings. “Gold” is the gift they really want, “frankincense” is a gift for the body and “myrrh” is a religious gift.

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We have many nativity scenes, but none contain Baby Jesus. At least not until Christmas Eve when we race home after Mass and place him back where He belongs. A parent usually reads the Christmas story from the Bible, too.

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Before ripping into gifts, we pray over them first—for the people that made them, gave them and those that go without.

Service is a big part of our Advent preparations. Our family volunteers with Brown Santa, a project of the Travis County Sheriff’s Department, that provides a Christmas for families in need. Our children wrap the presents and place them, with great joy, in the boxes to be delivered. And, we either adopt a family or send anonymous gifts to those we know are in need.

Christmas cards are kind of a big deal at our house. I’m a graphic designer, so creating them is great fun. The kids join in the “assembly line” to mail them out, but our greatest joy? Receiving them in the mail. We keep the cards all year and pull one out each evening to re-read and then pray over that family. We love having so many gracious guests join us at dinner each night. There may, or may not, be elbows thrown as the kids “select” a card.


Family time is a priority, but it’s rarely picture perfect. There is hot chocolate making, “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie watching, confession giving, Christmas light oohing and ahhing and Nutcracker ballet watching. It’s all meant to get us to focus internally, on our family unit. There’s almost always a timeout, a little drama and some spilled hot chocolate. But, when we look back I’m always grateful we made the effort. It might not be pretty, but we keep at it.

Decking the halls is one of my favorite parts. Some years, we’ve put it all up right after Thanksgiving dinner, but in recent years, we’ve been taking our time to pull it all out, knowing that we’ll leave it up a bit longer. We always shoot for Epiphany but sometimes the tree becomes a fire hazard. And, safety first. We used to have this elaborate hunt for the Christmas tree, but our favorite farm closed, so now we just go to the local HEB grocery store #lame. But, BUT, the joy is still there. I’m counting that as a win.

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After 19 years, we finally have a Jesse Tree! Y’all, I swore I was going to stitch these kick-tail ornaments. But, every year December would roll around and I would pledge, “next year!” And then Small Business Saturday happened this year and I said to myself, “Order it on Etsy.” And I did. We love our ornaments and the kids are really digging the new tradition. Old dog can learn new tricks. I’m proof.

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If Rome wasn’t built in a day, then neither was the Whitaker celebration of Advent. I bet yours won’t be either. I’m off to fish the Jesse Tree ornament out of my 19-month-old’s mouth and pray she doesn’t pull down the live tree. Happy Advent, y’all!

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  • Jeanette

    You are very right. It takes a long time to develop your traditions, but trust me, it never really ends. Because as each child leaves home, you will start to notice the reverse engineering process, too. The first kid that go off to college comes home that first year changed. The celebration begins to change, too. The kid that goes off to war is not there for Christmas, and that’s the least of your concerns. “Peace on earth” has a different meaning. One kid goes off to serve at a mission, and isn’t there either, but you are glad that they are doing just what Jesus taught them to do: serve others. They get married and live far away and have their own new traditions or perhaps have drifted from their faith and Christmas is more or less missing the central figure of Christ, but they see it more as a time for family renewal. There is the year when they are all gone and the Christmas tree events seem like a thing of the past. So does the Advent wreath. So do a lot of things. And you start all over again creating your new traditions. People probably say this a lot, but it is true: enjoy them while they are young! Childhood goes by very quickly and will take many twists and turns later on. That’s why our Savior came to us. Have a blessed celebration of Christmas!

  • Suzi Whitford

    Oh I have a confession to make too! I was also influenced by social media and fellow mommy bloggers like yourself who inspired my husband and I to embrace Advent and all the beautiful traditions this year!

    We both converted a few years ago and our family is growing. We’ve missed a few Jesse Tree readings but we’re trying our best to slow down and embrace the season. And to focus on our family unit and preparing our hearts for Christ.

    Frequent confession, saying no to too many activities and praying more has made our season beautiful and peaceful. Especially necessary before our second baby arrives in 6 weeks.

    Thank your sharing your beautiful Advent as a convert. I had no idea you were a convert too, so you have your story available? :):)

  • Jean

    I’ll second what Jeanette wrote. Our daughter moved into her own home last spring, our son and his family are on the other side of the country. Advent has been the two of us, my husband and myself – setting up the Advent wreathe, the nativity set (baby Jesus in the drawer until Christmas Eve), Wise Men on other side of the room. Though our daughter will join us for Christmas Day it’s not the same as it was when they were young and tussled over the Advent calendar. That said, we hold our traditions dear and have continued with them for ourselves. This year we attended three consecutive Saturday morning (6:30 a.m.) Rorate Masses. I baked for someone else, we gave money to those less fortunate. Our towering artificial tree was falling apart so we opted for a 4 foot tabletop size which we’ve set up in the usual location. It doesn’t hold all our ornaments but we’ve managed to hang our decades old treasures on it.

    Though my father was Catholic I wasn’t raised as one so I was confirmed in the faith and my husband converted when our children were young. We’d been adopting some of these traditions over the years and continued to add on to them. These time honoured practices are a meaningful way to teach our faith to our children and still, even on our own now, keep the memories of our child filled years close to us now we’re empty nesters. I think the most important thing about keeping Advent, whether as a mother to a young family or as a long distance Grandma is to keep Jesus at the heart of it all, and in our hearts.

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