Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent for Our Family

Our family Advent stuff is in full swing.  (It is only Thursday of the First Week, though.)  Is it weird to say that anything Church related at all is "in full swing."  It sounds more reverent to say, "we have deeply and prayerfully entered into the mysterious realms of the Season."  Well, we have begun our family Advent prayers and activities, but the only mystery around here is whether anyone will sit through said prayers and activities.  Ok, I'm kind of not giving my kiddos enough credit here.  They have mostly been paying attention and participating, and I've been pleasantly surprised at how much they remember from the last couple years.

My friend, Mary at Better Than Eden, recently shared some of what her family is doing this year to keep the Season.  What an awesome list!!  I especially loved the concept of a family commitment to participate in each of the Corporal Works of Mercy during Advent.  I have gotten some lovely ideas from friends and from total strangers who post their Advent ideas on line, and thought I would likewise share some of what we do here.  Spoiler alert: it's nothing that hasn't been blogged about before...  it's just my little list of the ways we try to set Advent apart from the rest of the year.  We are trying in our feeble feebleness to join our family to the liturgical rhythms of the Church and to prepare our hearts and home for celebrating Christ's birth. Sometimes though, instead of actually doing all that preparing-of-my-heart through prayer, I'm just alternating between glaring at a  fidgety child and glancing pleadingly toward Heaven, while subconsciously emphasizing the wrong words of songs through clenched teeth... "CAPTIVE... MOURNS in LONELY EXILE..."  

All kidding aside, pray for me and my family, that our hearts will really be transformed this season.  And I will do the same for you.  

Advent Wreath

We began this year using the wreath blessing from last year's Magnificat Advent companion - my 2012 Kindle edition doesn't seem to have one.  Anyway...each night we've been singing O Come O Come Emmanuel as usual, but this year we are also learning some of it in Latin.   Occasionally weirdness happens when we try to sing using Ecclesial Latin since we're all kind of learning Classical Latin for school.

We have lit the wreath each night before dinner and eat by candlelight.  While it feels very symbolic and in general the darkness has prompted better dinner-time behavior from everyone, eating by the light of a single candle has posed some problems.  Especially if we let the baby crawl around on the floor...  Where is she?  Did she just put something in her mouth?  Was it a Lego?  No, I think it was a lima bean.  But we never eat lima beans!  Well, I can't see anything so it could have been a lima bean!  and so on...

Jesse Tree

Two years ago I started making felt ornaments for a Jesse Tree.  I managed to finish them in time for Advent last year.   This year it was so nice not rushing around getting a Jesse Tree ready.  It was just there waiting to be unpacked.  Love stuff like that!

I especially love this devotion because it's Scripture study with visual aids for ordinary people like me.  You don't have to be a theologian to get a basic appreciation for Salvation history and the Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled in Christ when you see it all laid out on your Jesse Tree.  I am SO grateful that colorful ornaments can still capture the attention of my children, because we are all learning from our Jesse Tree.  We rotate who will hang the ornament each night, and this year we are learning the song People Look East to sing as the ornament is hung.
I bought this book last year, although we didn't crack it open until this year.  I recommend it!  We're all enjoying the story of the little boy who, little by little, learns the stories of the Jesse Tree from a cranky (but really kind-hearted) wood carver.  

"What Can I Give Him?"

I found a bale of hay in the craft store for $3, so that meant we would be doing the straw-into-the-manger this year!   It also means we have a lot of straw laying around... anyone local need some????
Our straw represents the gifts of love we offer to Jesus (extra prayers, good deeds, sacrifices, and practising virtues)  I loved this idea for Shepherd's Pouches ... but we had already begun the straw, so I combined the two.  We decided that if we are able to fill the manger with straw, we will offer a financial gift to help children awaiting adoption in honor of our God come to Earth in the form of a child as well as in honor of the Holy Innocents.  (We'll probably make this donation even if we don't fill the manger, but don't tell the kids just yet!)  My husband and I are trying to remember that the straw is for us too.  I can benefit from the tangible reminder to do more for Him throughout the day, and I also hope that it will show our children that we grown-ups are being intentional about our Advent gifts, just as we hope they will be.
I chose to include the line from the beautiful poem (and Christmas hymn) In the Bleak Midwinter, by Christina Rosetti, because our Kindergartner is memorizing part of it during his lessons!
(prediction - if any Advent "ritual" is to go by the way-side this year, I predict it will be this one.  I will keep you posted.)

Advent Calendar

Just for fun!  This year the calendar holds slips of paper that offer clues to finding the "new" Christmas book-of-the-day hiding around the house.  They aren't really new, they're just from our growing collection of great Christmas books that I've squirreled away for this purpose.

Singing Books

I have read that some families try to refrain from singing Christmas songs during Advent, but I unashamedly say, we don't.  (Ok, maybe a little shame, but I just love them too much.  I have little self control when it comes to belting O Come, All Ye Faithful.  Especially the second and third verses.  True story.)    The other, more significant reason we sing Christmas carols during Advent is this... I use this time to teach my children the words (even second and third and fourth verses) so that they can confidently and jubilantly join in during Mass and household sing-alongs on Christmas Day and throughout the whole Christmas season.   We have many books that are illustrated versions of hymns that include a lot of the often overlooked verses.  Since none of my children are proficient readers yet, repetition and illustrations are the way to go!  Sometimes we use our "singing books", as we call them, when we're all together on the couch or at the dinner table, and sometimes I use them one on one snuggled up before bed.  "Singing books" have become a really special way in our family to learn new hymns and it's so awesome when the kids can bust out with something like all five verses of We Three Kings on the Feast of the Epiphany!


Isn't this stable amazing?  It has a light inside.  Did you see that part?!?!  My dad made the original for my mom many years ago, and it was on our fireplace mantel every year growing up.  My dad surprised my husband and me with one of our own as a gift for our first Christmas as a new family.  You can imagine the overwhelming emotion opening the large package and seeing this in there during my first Christmastime away from home! 

(So much for a short list. Haha!)  

May we have a blessed rest-of-Advent.
I pray we can build on what we've begun.
May these external signs and symbols and observances serve as guides for our hearts and minds.
Use our feeble efforts, Lord!
Despite the occasional prayer time nudging and poking, scowling and glaring, and the inevitable "whose turn is it to blow out the wreath candles" arguments, I pray that whatever we do during this Season will be worked on by grace, and that by His grace we will grow in love for our newborn King.
Jesus, make our family like your own Holy Family!  (Only by grace!  Because we are no holy family...)
Help us, O Lord!


  1. Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing...

  2. Awesome, T! I loved reading this. And the manger your dad built is incredible!! It looks almost womb-like to me. I hope that doesn't sound wierd... I think it's amazing!!!

  3. Wow, every bit of this is so awesome, Theresa! Honestly, you have so many amazing gifts. I may outsource my kids' schooling to you. Sound good? I love your reasoning behind the songs. And the ornaments are just beautiful. All of beautiful!


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